Historian and Principal of Queen’s College Dr David Browne has made a strong case for the trade union movement, arguing that workers would suffer immensely if unions were to become irrelevant.
The trade union movement here has come under much scrutiny in recent years as the country continues to grapple with tough economic conditions which have resulted in job losses.
Just last week the Employment Rights Tribunal ruled that nearly 200 retrenched National Conservation Commission workers were unfairly dismissed in April 2014 as part of Government’s cost-cutting programme.
However, the panel did not grant the wishes of the Barbados Workers Union (BWU) and the National Union of Public Workers to reinstate the workers, opting to order compensation equivalent to 52 weeks’ pay.
This angered the workers, some of whom accused the unions of not fighting for them.
Delivering a lecture last night on The 1937 Disturbances and the Evolution of the Barbados Workers’ Union, Browne said he was “disturbed” by those who contend that the global economic crisis would render trade unions irrelevant.
“I must say I felt very disturbed when I heard these comments. Anytime we allow the trade unions to become irrelevant, the capitalists would eat the worker for a meal. They would do it,” he told those gathered at the BWU headquarters at Solidarity House, Harmony Hall, St Michael, as the union began celebrations of its 75th anniversary.
Dr Browne argued that the BWU had made a significant contribution to the country’s social, political and economic life over the past 75 years, and said those who failed to recognize this as important were making a serious mistake.
“The BWU has been able to shape the development of our country and has made a significant contribution to the economic and social life of Barbados. It has embraced the responsible leaders that the British wanted in the 1930s. These leaders have made a contribution to the stability of Barbados,” the historian said.
The BWU was registered on October 4, 1941 as the fist legal trade union in Barbados.