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ALL AH WE IS ONE: Trade Union battles

Tennyson Joseph, [email protected]

ALL AH WE IS ONE: Trade Union battles

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OF THE MANY EXPLANATIONS offered for the re-election of the Freundel Stuart Democratic Labour Party administration in 2013, the observations from DLP campaign manager Robert “Bobby” Morris, a post-trade unionist (post, not former), were perhaps the most revealing.

Morris attributed the DLP victory to the fact that the trade unions had stayed on the side of the Government in the period leading up to the general election. He offered further that a key sign of regime change in Barbados was strikes and labour unrest in the pre-election period.

Significantly, his smugness betrayed a certainty of assurance that the Government had little to fear from the trade union movement. Indeed, it was troubling that a party operative would so openly acknowledge his party’s gratitude to the trade unions, with little thought for the diminution of the trade union leaders which such a comment would elicit.

Perhaps this smugness was borne from the fact, exemplified by Morris himself, of the number of leading trade unionists with past and present associations with the DLP. 

Since the last election, and with leadership changes in the leading trade unions, the DLP’s smug confidence in a quiescent trade union movement has waned. So invested had the DLP been in the “right kind” of trade union, that its spokespersons have been unable to disguise their opposition to a new cadre of trade union leader that stands outside the traditional party identification with the DLP.

Almost immediately upon the election of new leadership in the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), and with the declaration and demonstration by the executive that the period of silent acquiescence in a moment of layoffs and hardship of workers had come to an end, the Government’s effort has been geared towards painting the NUPW leaders as irresponsible, immature and reckless.

An Orwellian rebranding of old trade unionists like Frank Walcott as “sensible and reasonable” has been adopted as the new party line to discredit the new trade union leadership.

In the past two weeks, a series of separate strikes by separate unions that have affected the vital air and sea ports, as well as the state water corporation, suggests strongly that Morris’ claim of a quiescent trade union movement no longer holds. Interestingly, an ongoing issue at the centre of the ongoing NUPW industrial dispute at the main airport revolves around the unwillingness of the new leadership to accept earlier practices . . . .

Given the perception of the DLP’s 2013 campaign manager that his party’s electoral success was linked to a friendly union movement, it is expected that in the months ahead, some pitched battles will be fought in the bosom of the trade union movement as a prelude to the coming electoral battle.

Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, specialising in regional affairs.Email: [email protected]