The following is the first part of the feature address, themed Together Towards Tomorrow, given by outgoing general secretary Sir Roy Trotman at the 73rd annual delegates’ conference of the Barbados Workers’ Union at Solidarity House last Saturday, August 30.
The occasion cannot present itself better than it does now for me standing publicly before you to praise and to thank God for choosing me as a vehicle and using me as a means of assisting in his instruction to Peter to “feed His sheep”. We are all his sheep.
I wish next to thank the institution of employers for recognizing that a successful Barbados lay then, and still lies today in the respect for, and adherence to, our neighbour’s rights which employers and workers alike have first to exercise as persons. My respectful thanks are extended to our Heads of State for favouring the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) with the gracious acknowledgement of Their Excellencies that the task of nurturing did not, as the fickle think, rest only in the periodic adjustment of wages or salaries.
Their Excellencies’ elevation of the main spokesman for labour to the Senate was highly appreciated. Governments over the years, including Parliaments and Opposition parties and Public Service bureaucracies all contributed to our effort to be faithful to our instruction. Of course, there had to be differences and though, perhaps once or twice, I may have called it wrong, it is accepted that public servants, generally have assisted the masses and our BWU as leader in that group.
Thanks to them.
Our BWU constitution is not one for which the public is under compulsion to join and under punishment for renouncing. Those thousands who have joined did so willingly and have our thanks for their support; those who left us have our appreciation for whatever contribution they made to the cause of labour.
Whether it was to remove discrimination or to involve those who are excluded; whether it was our effort to promote the cause of the disabled or to develop affirmative action for women and for the youth; whatever the challenge, we have been relentless in our efforts and fortunate in the degree of support we got from the Barbados masses. We have spearheaded the fight to have our Barbadians who left our shores treated with dignity and in accordance with universal human rights; we have and we continue to champion the cause of those migrant workers who seek to find decent work within our shores.
We did not have to fight alone. My thanks to all who assisted.
In much of this we were confronted by fear, by selfishness, greed and arrogance. Nonetheless we are grateful that those lambs were fed as part of the wealth we were directed to protect. In our organization these are but some of our thousand responsibilities. They will not be abandoned, we promise you.
This is not the moment for an historical account of the birth and development of a trade union umbrella body. It is one however for me to reflect on the fact that some of us captured and held the vision that underscores the mantra that Unity Is Strength and that Where There Is No Vision The People Perish.
I will be eternally grateful for those who saw the expanded role of the organization, rather than the personal advantage, and who faced the cynicism and, regrettably, the hostility of loved ones as they pursued that vision –– in my case, part of my sacrifice a political constituency which was considered reasonably represented and which I might comfortably have retained. For those other visionaries who also made sacrifices I solemnly thank you all, including those who have preceded us on life’s ultimate journey.
Mr Tweedledum and those others who helped us toil to create a national organisation to unite labour should be praised. To mention names here would be ungracious and unkind. Limited by human frailty I am bound to omit some officer or, better, some deserving foot soldier whose name should go the top of the list. Instead just let me thank all who helped.
We grouped; we did a good thing for Barbados; our nation benefited and was listed as an example to follow.
Thanks to all of you in the trade unions who helped. I have especially to thank my own Barbados Workers’ Union. The executive council noted my work organizing, negotiating and, also noted Sir Frank’s open pronouncement that I should succeed him. This was a humbling experience. The unanimous vote that was cast to effect my elevation has for me been equalled only by my daily effort, under God, to be always worthy of your trust.
Yes, there were days when the rudder either grew heavy in my hands or was tugged ungenerously to the side, and the even course of my steerage suffered. I am happy to report that, although we do not have a perfect record, we by and large managed to weather the storms. With the help of membership, shop stewards, executive council and good maps, we have berthed the ship which will now continue its journey under new captaincy. The maps were diligently prepared by those pioneers who sailed before. We should never abandon them.
The final word in this section must go to Margaret Lady Trotman and to Paula and Lesley our two gifts from God. The children no doubt would tell you of late pickups from school, or of cold shoulders or unkind words from fellow pupils and often from teachers. On the other hand, they attended organizing meetings in prams and soon learnt to outmanoeuvre their father as negotiators.
Margaret’s position was no easier at work, after work waiting for my late pickup or, scandalously, on those family group occasions when her husband would leave, sometimes in the middle of a meal, to keep some hotel open at Christmas, or to ensure that a ship exploiting Third World sailors could proceed out of the Harbour with the sailors’ cause adequately resolved.
To the three of them I offer my own Gold Crown Of Merit. This occasion should be one when the listener would allow me some latitude. I feel however that there is much that I wish to ask you to reflect on and that I cannot yield to the temptation to dream. I wish to speak particularly to the Barbados Social Partnership in the expectation that some parties may find occasion for reflection, and some will be able to clarify and correct some aspects of their labour management approach to the world of work.
Just on the fringe of the decade of the 1990s, three of us got together at what was then Sandy Beach Hotel, Worthing, Christ Church. John Stanley Goddard, later knighted, Darcy Boyce, then a director of Peat Marwick & Company, and yours truly. You may easily understand Sir John and me; so I have to state briefly that Honourable Darcy Boyce and his Senior Partner Mr Ken Hewitt were age-old advisors of the BWU, as they were of several other businesses on the island.
We all felt the fierce grip of the changing economic and financial times. I was not yet elected as general secretary; I was merely designated. But we felt that the issues before us could not wait. We started a relationship which took root and grew daily until John Stanley was taken away. Both Sir John and I came to rely quite heavily on Darcy up until the present day.
A few weeks ago when the BWU was faced with the question from Prime Minister Stuart regarding where the union stands in the Social Partnership, Darcy was there as Minister Boyce. He reminded us that there is and ought to be more that would bring us together as a Barbadian nation than what seeks to separate us. Oh, that we would all make that our declaration of faith.
I do not propose to dwell on our early meetings. I wish merely to say that we had no IMF crisis that was declared; but we had our fears and the overarching sense of destiny. Something was going to overtake us, and capital and labour had to position ourselves to weather whatever storm would come. You may want to cast your minds back:
1. At the beginning of the 1990s the Uraguay round of trade facilitation was essentially winding down and the business leaders of large economies were looking forward to Marrakesh (1994) and thereafter to the Singapore Summit which brought the World Trade Organization into being in 1996
2. At this time too, without necessarily intending to produce the results that they did, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank created and implemented a set of one-size-fits-all-measures which were intended to put all developing and underdeveloped countries in their places.Naturally this was not the stated objective. History will tell us that the developing world was struck by a debt crisis; it will advise that the crisis led to the application of structural adjustment programmes.
History will go on to proclaim that these programmes failed, sometimes suggesting that the fault lay with the country rather than with the policy. Everyone was supposed to lower barriers to imports, remove restrictions on foreign investment, reduce the role of the state in the economy, reduce spending on social welfare and emphasize production for export. These challenges were as fierce then as they are now.
They were new then. As happens whenever a major change is contemplated, we all have to concern ourselves with what the implications will be for us. Would world trade be really free trade? And would that free trade be fair trade, seen through the eyes of a Caribbean person?
The World Economic Forum was simultaneously bringing together the financial and commercial giants of the world, and we were being made to sing a new song: this time it was that the size of the fish in the pond was not going to be the determinant factor; the fast fish would eat up the slower fish.
And then too there was the recognition that a new wave of technology was upon us; those countries, those companies which could more speedily adapt to technological changes would propel themselves into riches, presenting decided comparative advantages. The new revolution was bound to lead to differences in speed, in relationships, in power and economic success.
We did not know; no one could tell! We recognized however change was about to take place. This was going to result in something of relevance and importance to Barbados, even if we were left to speculate on the character and structure. None of us three sought to discuss our individual gains or losses; we were concerned with how we could best pool our thinking and our connections into a framework that would position us to assist business and labour to treat with the changes in the optimal manner possible.
When in July 1991, Prime Minister Sandiford made his plan for a national response therefore ,there was already some level of appreciation for action which would lead the nation, above and beyond the self, in any response to levels which transcended personal or sectoral interests.
Many leaders in business, many political leaders, I do not say all, and labour responded not merely to the July call but to the wider recognition of the need for change. We were able to experience a new dynamic: Government leaders business leaders and labour leaders in serious, major consultations devising strategies that previously may have been the special preserves of individual interest groups.
I think of this and I am humbled by the feeling that what was done was good. No one up the hill or down the hill will convince me that the action was anything other than the seizure of a moment in time to rise to the call to help. You will hardly ever hear representatives of the employers or of trade unions seeking to make believe that the International Labour Organisation (ILO) is the only United Nations agency which holds interest. You will note however that it is respected as the only agency where the views of persons other than spokespersons for Government are given weight.
Over the past 95 years, this weightiness of the ILO has made itself felt; since at every critical stage of the development of the world of work, representatives of ministries of labour have been able to recognize the value of meaningful examination of the conditions under which each phase of development could or should take place. Different persons may have said it differently over the 95 years: but it is as true today as when the world leaders sought to find a way to express their will not to fan the fires of World War I.
Those leaders declared that “lasting peace can be established only if it is based on social justice”. This has to do with creating jobs and it has to do with increasing income. But it has to do with much more. Social justice relates to rights, to dignity and to respect and a voice for the working person. Of course, social justice must also treat the social economic and political empowerment of the many rather than the privileged few.
When Sir Lloyd Erskine started his series of tripartite social exchanges, I think it would be fair to say that the will to work together was good. The initial social dialogue mind set was in place and we had already managed to have some preliminary work done with the Barbados Employers’ Confederation and the Barbados Workers’ Union for the parties in the hotel industry.
To be continued.