There appears to be no love lost between Walter Maloney, the former president of the National Union of Public Worker (NUPW), and his successor, Akanni McDowall, who are engaged in a blistering war of words over the union’s direction.
Maloney today fired a vicious counterpunch at McDowall, describing him as morally inept and stopping just short of calling him a liar and someone who pads up the numbers to make himself look good.
The trigger for Maloney’ anger was a statement by McDowall at the opening ceremony last week of the NUPW’s 74th annual conference, that members had lost confidence in the NUPW under Maloney’s presidency, which resulted in thousands leaving the union.
The former union boss told Barbados TODAY his successor was unjustifiably tarnishing his legacy, even as he accused McDowall of overseeing a significant loss in membership.
“When [former NUPW General Secretary] Dennis Clarke and myself left the NUPW our membership was 9,700 people. The current membership is not more the 7,500 persons. It is not more. All I am saying is that sometimes a moral ineptitude is seen in people and it is currently now seen in this NUPW leader because one must tell the truth,” Maloney said.
In his address last week, McDowall contended that his executive had restored confidence in the union, which he said had been lost under Maloney’s presidency.
He said the union was at its lowest ebb in 2013 to 2014 following the NUPW’s “feeble response” to Government’s layoff of 3,000 workers.
McDowall also argued that since his tenure, which began in 2015, the union had regained nearly 2,000 members whom it had lost during the twilight years of Maloney’s leadership.
“The massive layoffs and our feeble response thereto resulting in mistrust in leadership has served to place the relevance of our organization and the movement at large under severe scrutiny,” said McDowall, who boasted the membership had grown to over 10,000 people.
However, Maloney, who led the NUPW for ten years, said contrary to McDowall’s boast, the island’s largest public sector union was currently haemorrhaging members.
He blamed this in part on the union’s demand for a 23 per cent pay rise for civil servants, while stressing that the layoffs did not have a significant impact.
“The fallout as a result of the layoffs was not significantly felt within the NUPW as some people thought. But I know right now that the numbers are vastly down because people have difficulty with what is happening in the union now,” he told Barbados TODAY.
“Asking for a 23 per cent increase is not a policy because you cannot attach a quantum to a policy. So what you are seeing now is that there is no movement because they are continuing to hold hard and fast for this 23 per cent increase, which any public servant would tell you is an outlandish amount,” he argued.
So concerned were three former NUPW leaders about the situation at Dalkeith Road, he said, that they requested a meeting with McDowall two weeks ago to try to persuade him to change course from the “perilous course he was taking the island’s largest public sector union”.
In addition to Maloney, the former president Cedric Murrell and Dennis Clarke, the retired general secretary, attended the talks, which Maloney told Barbados TODAY bore no fruit because McDowall was not inclined to listen.
“We had the president in a meeting that Dennis asked for, which was also attended by Murrell, because we did not like the direction the union was going and we were hoping that we could help the NUPW pull back some of the bad publicity it was getting . . . .I left with the impression that the current president is not about listening to anybody outside those whom he thinks he should listen to. I don’t think he is amenable to listening to those who are not saying the things he wants to hear,” Maloney said, while accusing McDowall of breaching the unwritten code of respect for past NUPW leaders.
“People must be willing to be morally upstanding. If you are going to make statements, make them in a way that you don’t try to destroy people’s character. You would never hear me attack the current president, just as I am not going to attack the president that was there before me. There is an unwritten code in any organization that you don’t criticize the person who was there before you because you were not there to understand the decisions that they took,” he stressed.