The problem here is that we are going to have a neophyte, and at this time when the country is struggling and workers are being disadvantaged, we need someone who can hit the ground running.
–– Outspoken trade unionist Caswell Franklyn ahead of this weekend’s election of the new general secretary of the Barbados Workers’ Union.
Well, like it or lump it, Mr Franklyn, 38-year-old Toni Moore-Bascombe is now the woman in charge of the BWU.
And rather than go down the convenient negative road you would like to take us on, we prefer to savour this special moment in our history, when another one of our brightest and best has successfully broken the proverbial glass ceiling, and at what we believe is a most ripe and appropriate professional age for inspiring fresh hope and breathing new life into in an otherwise dying labour movement.
Indeed, when the late Sir Frank Walcott was first appointed to act as general secretary on November 5, 1947, and the following year on July 25 was elected general secretary at the annual delegates’ conference, he was but in his early 30s.
Sir Frank went on to distinguish himself locally, regionally and internationally, and we expect that Mrs Moore-Bascombe too, with time, will come to be regarded as Sir Frank was by C.L.R. James –– “as one of the ablest and most modern-minded labour organisers I have met in the West Indies”.
However, we do take your point, Mr Franklyn, that there is no time for any honeymoon. Neither do we think Mrs Moore-Bascombe was expecting one, given the tenuous state of our labour relations climate at the moment.
With worker apathy high and confidence in the movement running quite low, the new general secretary of the BWU has no choice really but to roll back her sleeves indefinitely and to “hit the ground running”.
At the same time, she will need to use all of her charm to gain the full confidence of her followers amid what is undeniably one of the worst periods in the labour movement’s history, with job losses on the rise and job creation on the decline.
And with all the challenges being faced economically, it is becoming increasingly harder for the unions to convince anyone, much less the employers, of their relevance.
Even the mighty Sir Roy Trotman, before cruising into retirement last weekend, was forced to come to terms with this new attitude of the employer, which “would suggest to a normal person that the authorities could not care less about their concerns”.
Long gone it would now seem are the days when the Grand Old Duke of York and his army of 10,000 plus men simply had to put out a loudspeaker to drive fear in the hearts of those who would dare to trample on the rights of even the most ordinary of member.
Today’s employers –– the Government included –– appear to be much more eager to challenge the union stride for stride in the midst of a deepening crisis, which Sir Roy acknowledges, has provided an opportunity for them “to push back the hands of time; take back by force, those conditions or those benefits that workers have struggled to earn”; as well as on occasion “reduce the dignity of work and the respect that the worker demands at the workplace”.
In such circumstances, the unions have been rendered impotent with hardly any muscles left to flex.
Perhaps what it needs now, more than raging testosterone, is a much softer feminine touch to repair the damage already done to this island’s Social Partnership and for a more reasoned atmosphere to prevail, be it at the level of the Industrial Rights Tribunal, at general council, or at the negotiating table where Mrs Bascombe-Moore will have to equally ensure that the rights hard fought for and long won by Sir Roy, Sir Frank, Grantley Adams and countless others, are not whittled away; that pay hikes for workers are not a distant memory, job security something of a misnomer and retrenchment the inescapable order of the day.
While attending to such weighty matters that affect worker trust, it will be interesting to see what posture and position Mrs Bascombe-Moore adopts and whether the BWU under her watch will be able to restore its once lofty position as the union of all unions in Barbados.
Happy retirement, Sir Roy! We look forward to see if Mrs Bascombe-Moore will raise the bar.