Sir Leroy Trotman who heads the Barbados Workers Union (BWU) has accused DIAMONDS International of firing 30 workers because they attended a union meeting on the weekend. Sir Roy has threatened to shut the country down if the foreign owned entity does not review it position. Caswell Franklyn who heads Unity Trade Union and veteran trade unionist has suggested Sir Roy should escalate the matter to the police – Barbados Underground
As long as there are workers whose rights are being infringed, or who work under substandard conditions, there will be a need for the trade union movement, or something very much like it.
This question only arises because people look on and judge the movement by the current crop of leaders. The unfavourable opinion of trade unions should really be an unfavourable opinion of its leadership. Most of them wear too many hats, sometimes openly but oftentimes clandestinely which result in the cause of the workers taking a back seat to the other agenda.
Another problem which can sometimes be regarded as a positive is that unions, for the most part, are democratic institutions. That being the case, as in parliamentary elections, the most popular, not necessarily the best equipped candidate, is elected to lead.
A good case in point to demonstrate the need to have a body to represent the interests of the workers is the Employment Rights Bill that is making its way through Parliament. The workers needed a strong voice but also an enlightened voice to secure and hold onto those rights that already exists. Instead, we saw the trade union movement being out-gunned by the employers’ lobby. This is not to say that the bill is not a step in the right direction, but the workers’ cause was not sufficiently represented in the final bill. Even though the workers’ representatives fell down with regard to the Employment Rights Bill that does not mean that there would not be future opportunities for a robust trade union movement to assert itself. But the workers need to come together to ensure that the right people emerge to represent their interests.
Just recently, a union with membership in excess of 10,000 members could not muster a quorum of 50 persons to conduct their annual general meeting. During their last elections, less than ten per cent of the membership participated. That same apathy has manifested itself in parliamentary elections, which has, in the recent past, resulted in extremely ill-equipped candidate being elected. People don’t only get the government they deserve; they also get the trade union leaders they deserve. However, we do not have people asking if governments are relevant.
The trade union movement is very relevant and needs to be protected for future generations from people who aspire to leadership whose main agenda is not the cause of the workers. If the movement ceases to exists, workers would be at the mercy of employers who want to make money without regard to the living and working conditions of the workforce.