Political scientist Peter Wickham has led a strident attack on the trade unions here, accusing them of committing the “unforgivable sin” of abandoning their membership in difficult times.
Addressing the 42nd annual general conference of the Barbados Union of Teachers at Almond Bay Conference Centre last night, Wickham contended that there had been a breakdown of trust between the unions and workers.
And he pointed an accusing finger at the movement, which he said had lost focus in its attempt to be politically and socially conscientious, and no longer rushed to workers’ defence.
His comments came about a week after industrial action rocked the island affecting business at the two main ports of entry.
“Sadly, in many of your efforts to remain politically and socially responsible, you have abandoned your members at a time when they need you most and this to me is an unforgiveable sin,” said Wickham.
“There are, of course, others who can and will forgive you but you have to work to regain their trust. I think that this is an effort where you would need to recommit yourselves to in years to come, that is if trade unionism in Barbados is to recover from this low point,” he said.
Speaking on the topic, Mobilizing Young Workers: Key to the Future of Trade Unions, the political scientist warned that the issue of trust would be the greatest challenge facing the trade union movement.
He urged union leaders to move swiftly to put out every industrial relation fire that they faced from now on because “you are being judged and watched by members and potential members”.
Wickham added that in order for the workers’ representatives to remain relevant they needed to identify constructive issues on which to engage
The Director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES) also spoke of a breakdown of trust between Government and the general population, arguing that the situation
had deteriorated gravely over the past three years.
“Nowhere that I have worked have I seen the breakdown of trust between the Government and the people, that I have seen here in Barbados.
“If you understand the nature of the problem that we have in Barbados then you would also understand the extent to which it would impact on all of us especially those of you in the trade union movement,” he maintained.
He argued that in the past Barbados had among the best run governments in the English speaking Caribbean, mainly because of the “unusually high level of trust” that existed between the governed and the various administrations.
“[However], I am sure very few would deny that this is no longer the case and moreover very few of you would deny the rapidity to which this change has taken place also reflects the extent to which the relationship of trust has been fractured,” Wickham said. (DB)