Two Government officials have gone on the offensive against the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), suggesting that top officials of the island’s largest public sector union are in bed with the Mia Mottley-led Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP).
Addressing a branch meeting of his ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) in St Andrew last night, Minister of Education Ronald Jones joined with Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism and International Transport Irene Sandiford-Garner in launching the attack against the trade union.
It follows a warning issued just over a week ago by the NUPW President Akanni McDowall that the ruling DLP was seeking to influence the outcome of the union’s internal vote on April 5. In fact, McDowall had suggested at the time that the current challenge that has been mounted against his presidency by the NUPW’s Deputy General-Treasurer Roy Greenidge was “another attempt to prevent union from holding Government’s feet to the fire”.
At the opening of the union’s 73rd annual conference last Thursday, NUPW General Secretary Roslyn Smith further sought to underscore McDowall’s concerns, saying the union, which was once viewed as “a darling for agreeing to hold strain and not seek a pay increase for its membership” was now considered, not only to be “the worst institution in Barbados”, but also to be “partisan and mad” because it decided “that it cannot morally continue to support Government in this particular regard”.
However, without calling the NUPW by name, Jones spoke of trade union leaders “holding the hands of the political leader and marching up and down”, in a clear reference to participation of members of the NUPW’s top brass in the recent Opposition-sponsored national March of Disgust.
Prior to that, Mottley had also participated in protest action led by the NUPW in defence of workers at the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation.
In a spirited speech in which he also castigated Mottley saying, she thinks she must be the first female Prime Minister of Barbados, Jones was admittedly taken aback by the seemingly close relationship between members of the NUPW’s executive and the BLP.
“When we should be celebrating committed, focused, spirited young leaders in the industrial relations movement, what we are seeing happening is that now politicians are becoming industrial relations leaders.”
Jones also suggested that the founders of the trade union were turning in their graves, even though he was himself a teachers’ union representative before he became a politician.
“It used to be an industrial relations leader becoming a politician to further advance the cause. They became politicians to advance the cause of the labour movement, [but] today, there are politicians who become trade union leaders who are there first to advance their own cause, and secondly the cause of the BLP. That is as clear as day. If you call a rally, but your trade union leaders are holding the hands of the political leader and marching up and down, what does that say?” asked the former president of the Barbados Union of Teachers.
“We know that they meet. Every one of those persons on a particular side is [a] member of the BLP — strong and diabolical supporters of the BLP. . . so they are running as a team. They could as well call themselves Team BLP,” Jones told the gathering at the Alleyne School, Belleplaine.
His position was strongly supported by Sandiford-Garner, who also addressed the meeting in her St Andrew constituency, and called on the NUPW to “leave politics out of trade unionism.
“Your union leaders must not come to you as politicians. Leave the politics out of trade unionism, leave it out!” Sandiford-Garner advised.
She also likened last week’s NUPW annual conference to a BLP political rally.
“Someone who attended told me they were never more uncomfortable at a public meeting, furthermore a union meeting. . . . He felt as if he was at a Barbados Labour Party mass rally. He said he was sent by the Prime Minister, but he did not know the protocol. He felt like walking out. He was that uncomfortable.
I told him he should have walked out. The sort of things he told me that were said would have made me walk out, protocol or no protocol, because at some point you have to decide when you would not be politically correct,” she said.
Sandiford-Garner, who said she was invited to attend opening of the NUPW conference, said when she heard that the guest speaker was the BLP’s economic advisor Dr Clyde Mascoll, she threw away her invitation.
“You do not invite persons to your house to disrespect them. Not only did the disrespect come from the guest speaker, but I understand McDowall and other members of the executive were exceedingly disrespectful.
“I am going to be very frank with you my colleagues. Until the NUPW acquires respectful, mature, and disciplined leadership it can take my name off their guest list. I will not be attending any functions they invite Senator Garner to. I heard the [former] First Lady of the United States of America [Michelle Obama] said, ‘when they go low, you go high’. That is a different situation . . . . There will be rallies, there will be meetings, but when you invite people to your home you do not disrespect them. There has to be a line drawn. There is open and blatant disrespect now. The Prime Minister is called all sorts of names on social media. Then we hear about victimization,” Sandiford-Garner added.