Veteran trade unionist Sir Roy Trotman has never been known to be shy with his words. He is a formidable public speaker and he has a reputation for being tenacious when he joins a fight.
Last week though, when he announced that the Barbados Workers Union, of which he has been general secretary for many years, had decided to leave the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados with immediate effect, he did a very poor job of selling his justification.
In a nutshell, he came over as someone who had failed to get his way and decided he was leaving the field of play. Now, we were not part of the events that led up to the union’s decision so we can’t say whether or not it was justified. Our comments are predicated entirely on what Sir Roy sold to the media, and what the Congress responded with in relation to his comments.
We are also mindful of the possibility that it might not have been what Sir Roy sold at all, but rather how the media practitioners who reported his statement handled the whole affair. But as the saying goes, “20 million Frenchmen can’t be wrong” — and all media houses basically reported the same thing.
One of the strongest points made by Sir Roy was his allegation of a conspiracy between his trade union colleagues and the Ministry of Labour to “marginalise” the BWU, and evidence of this was their vote to deny the union its apparent right, built on tradition, to attend the International Labour Organisation summit.
But until President of CTUSAB, Cedric Murrell, spoke yesterday, one could not help but get the impression that the BWU was not invited to be part of the Barbados delegation. As it turns out, it is that Sir Roy was not selected to go with a very specific title, that of “delegate”, meaning that his participation would be in a supporting role.
Perhaps we don’t understand the intricacies of trade unionism, but we can’t help but ask: Where’s the offence?
We are also bothered by something else Sir Roy said when he spoke of the voice of the BWU being diminished in the agricultural sector, where for decades it had been seen as the principal spokesman. According to him CTUSAB saw it fit to select a public sector school teacher to be the spokesman instead.
Then in typical Sir Roy fashion — in that style that almost invariably shouts afterward “I am not apologising to anyone” — he declares: “I don’t know the extent to which he would bring knowledge on agriculture, unless he is talking of someone playing cricket and the nature of the shots that the person would make.”
We, like most Barbadians, we suspect, don’t know of whom he spoke, but somehow the tone does not come over as complimentary. If CTUSAB has made a poor decision, why not dissect the decision for Barbadians, showing up the weakness, or even folly of their decision? Why attack the individual?
Now look at the issue as a whole in terms of what was reported about what Sir Roy said last Friday. The BWU used to speak on tourism, now CTUSAB wants to speak to tourism. The BWU used to speak on agriculture, now CTUSAB wants to speak on agriculture. The BWU used to speak for Barbados at the ILO now CTUSAB wants to speak at the ILO.
Again, maybe we don’t understand this thing called trade unionism, but if you join a larger body, do you not expect to cede some of your “power” for the larger good?
No one can take away from the record the immense contribution that the BWU and Sir Roy have made to Barbados. He and the union stand in a league of their own and all workers, whether they are members of that union or not, owe them both a significant debt of gratitude.
But an exemplary record does not mean you are always right or will always be the best man for every job. With all due respect, Sir Roy, your representation of your case last Friday was way off the mark. If you were in the criminal court sir, you would have condemned your client to jail.