The many challenges that continue to face the labour movement at the global, regional and local levels, requires that trade unions take a careful look at how they need to respond, and moreover, how to continue to make themselves relevant.
It would seem straight forward that the solution lies in the unification and consolidation of the movement. This is what most would come to expect, particularly since the labour movement is known to be the flag bearer of the slogan “Solidarity for Ever”.
Every right thinking person would therefore expect that trade unions would adopt the approach of unification. Any variance from this can easily lead the public to wonder whether such action portrays a case of not practising what is preached.
The placing of narrow self interest before what is good for the collective, can hardly be seen as a sign of commitment, loyalty, and the display of honesty, as it relates to the subjugation of sectoral interests to the national good.
In the Caribbean, the struggle for identity, power and control seems to be a legacy, which can be attributed to early trade union leaders who turned politicians. It may have all started with the attempt at regional integration with the establishment of the West Indies Federation.
The Federation came into being with the passage of the British Caribbean Federation Act of 1956, which gave licence to the establishment of a political union among the ten territories of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Montserrat, the then St Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla, Saint Lucia, St Vincent and Trinidad and Tobago.
The intent behind the establishment of the West Indies Federation was good, but alas it only lasted from 1958-1962. It is the case of one from ten leaves nothing that has today continued to haunt the Caribbean in its attempts at the unification and consolidation of the region. The limited success of CARIFTA and CARICOM are glaring examples.
The politicians have allegedly been blamed for promoting insularity and divide and rule tactics. The local labour movement has had its share of accusation, with many questioning the loyalty of leaders to the movement, as they make the journey from trade unionists to that of politicians.
The public condemnation of the trade unions which often heard, lacks justification, as in most cases the outcries are based on the lack of knowledge and are generally fuelled by gossip and perceptions.
But having said that, it may be true to say that in some instances, trade unions leaders are to take the blame for the public denigration of the labour movement, which in turn can be said to be contributing to the fall off in membership.
If the leaders regardless to their popularity or charisma fall below the expectations of people, they stand to lose the trust and confidence of the populace. How is it possible to laud your fellow man as brother, sister or comrade, to speak of decency and respect, to preach and promote the principles of democracy, but at the end of the day, it all appears to have no meaning?
Whenever such messages and signals are sent, these can have a deleterious effect on our nurturing societies. If it is accepted that right is right and wrong is wrong, then there is nothing that should stop the denouncing of any such behaviour. Change is usually a hard thing to accept, which for the most part is understandable.
It is a fact that the labour movement understands and accepts that change is inevitable. As a matter of fact, the philosophy of the labour movement is founded on the fact that it is an advocacy for change, as it seeks to protect, safeguard and promote the welfare and interest of workers and the society at large.
The labour movement cannot be seen as it biggest enemy. It has to accept and play by the rules that it champions as the ideals. If solidarity and unity are to be achieved within the walls of the movement, it requires the exercising of discipline, and finding of solutions to problems that arise from time to time.
This will be best accomplished through the process of consultation, dialogue and collaboration; rather than by way of the outdated adversarial approach.
* Dennis de Peiza is a Labour Management Consultant with Regional Management Services Inc.
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