Barbados owes a debt of gratitude to the local trade union movement.
Amid the current controversy over the Barbados Workers Union’s involvement in the International Labour Organisation’s upcoming annual conference, there are some who might lose sight of the bigger picture.
But today May Day, the time for workers to be in the spotlight, is as good an opportunity as any to recognise the outstanding contributions labour leaders and their comrades of past and current generations have made to the society.
More than that though, it is the thousands of workers of this country who are worthy of their moment on the national stage today.
We are all workers, whether we sweep the street or occupy an executive office in a managerial position.
Without labour, be it voluntary or paid for, societies large and small would stand still, development would stagnate.
Like their counterparts across the globe trade unions in Barbados have long fought for improvements for employees; better working conditions, increased pay and other benefits, job security, and general respect.
One of the worst things that can happen, however, would be if a sense of complacency sets in and these and other achievements are taken for granted. Barbados is the country it is – envied by many – because of the contribution of workers and the very existence of a trade union is predicated on the existence of labourers.
Yes there is a need for greater productivity, of course efficiency in the public and private sector should increase, and there are those gainfully employed who are not fully pulling their weight.
But at a time of continued harsh economics times, the end of which no one can accurately predict, it is the workers of this country who have toiled, many of them with reduced wages and employment opportunities, to earn the country’s living.
We therefore agree with the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados General Secretary Dennis de Peiza that it is important not to take things for granted and that there are still battles to be fought.
“Our history would have taught us that here in Barbados and across the English speaking Caribbean, the early struggles were based on championing the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual, and securing improved working conditions for workers. Much to the credit of the labour movement, it remains committed to the cause of representing and safeguarding the interest of working class people,” the CTUSAB official said.
This does not mean, however, that workers and labour exist or can exist on their own.
Without places of business or employers, be it government or private sector, there would be no need to have workers, and without legislation and laws to protect workers against various forms of discrimination their ability to adequately do their jobs would be several constrained.
Hence why the much praised Social Partnership is so important.
As important as it is, though, there is a need to widen and strengthen this forum of dialogue in an attempt to gain much needed national consensus.
All of this should have one objective in mind – improvements for the workers of Barbados.
In 2013 trade unions are as relevant as they were decades ago. The battles might be different and more subtle, but they still have to be fought.