Why would a presumably great and invincible ruling party, which boastfully declares it is marching on to a certain third straight term despite widespread dissatisfaction with its leadership and performance, stake so much on trying to influence the outcome of elections to choose the executive of a lowly trade union?
Such behaviour surely does not reflect confidence about achieving the stated political objective but seems more to have been driven by fear and insecurity. But, as the old saying reminds us, arrogance always comes before a fall and the embattled Democratic Labour Party (DLP) now finds itself in a rather embarrassing position because the big gamble it took did not pay off.
In re-electing the much-vilified Akanni McDowall to the presidency of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) with a landslide and solidly endorsing most of his team to continue serving in key executive positions, the rank and file membership came out in higher numbers to take a defiant stand against the contemptuous DLP behemoth and say a resoundingly loud ‘No!’ to such brazen political interference.
Given the considerable effort by the DLP over the past two weeks in particular to smear the image of young McDowall and discredit his team with the clear objective of manipulating public opinion in the hope of swaying NUPW members to vote otherwise, it has to be a particularly sweet victory for McDowall and Team NUPW. A lowly David has prevailed against a cocky Goliath.
Over the years, political observers have repeatedly expressed the view that whenever a government has lost the critical support of public servants, it is on the way out. If that is indeed the case, the outcome of Wednesday’s NUPW elections represents a strong repudiation of the DLP by public servants. With an approaching general election, it is obviously more bad news for the tottering Freundel Stuart regime.
The DLP’s seeming fixation with influencing the NUPW elections suggests it probably saw the contest as a sort of mini test-run for the upcoming mother of political battles in which the DLP will face the full forces of the main opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) and at least three other fledgling groups. As McDowall honestly acknowledged, the NUPW election was to some extent a face-off between BLP supporters, on one hand, and DLP supporters on the other. As such, it was a microcosm of the forthcoming national election.
McDowall’s Team NUPW was described by Minister of Education, Ronald Jones, as BLP-aligned while the defeated Team Solidarity was said to be DLP-affiliated. In some ways, Team Solidarity’s positions – for example, opposition to the 23 per cent pay hike which McDowall’s executive is seeking for public servants – reflected the DLP’s political narrative.
Since the resounding vote of confidence in McDowall and his team, DLP voices which were at the forefront of the coordinated onslaught from George Street, have gone remarkably quiet. Perhaps they are stunned by the magnitude of the DLP’s repudiation. However, Georgie Porgie, the increasingly high-profile DLP propaganda chief, could not resist the temptation to make a comment. He flatly denied accusations of DLP interference in the NUPW elections, even in the face of convincing evidence.
It is really time for George to take a break. Hasn’t he yet learned, after trying for so many years, that an effective propagandist must not only be convincing in his tone and style of delivery but also his message must be believable? Since he is claiming there was no DLP meddling, how would he explain, for the benefit of the general public, what seemed to be an orchestrated campaign from George Street, to discredit the McDowall team? Is he saying that it came together purely by accident and there was no DLP intervention whatsoever?
Strange things do occur from time to time but rarely ever in a case such as this. Two Sundays ago, at a DLP branch meeting in St Andrew, two high-level party functionaries — Ronald Jones and Senator Irene Sandiford-Garner — brought out the political executioner’s knife for Team NUPW. An impassioned Jones not only described McDowall’s team as comprising “strong and diabolical supporters of the BLP” but said it should be more appropriately named Team BLP.
Sandiford-Garner, a two-time loser in St Andrew who seems destined to achieve a three-peat, blistered the McDowall executive for showing allegedly “open and blatant disrespect” to Government officials. “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. …,” she said.
A week later, former NUPW President Walter Maloney was in George Street blistering the McDowall team as he presented the weekly DLP Friday lunch-time lecture. “I am really not happy. I have heard some commentators say that the union has become more militant but it seems as though they do not know the definition of militancy,” said Maloney, reputed to be DLP-aligned.
From the vantage point of a seasoned campaigner familiar with political tactics, the various DLP-associated comments over the past fortnight were, in my opinion, definitely not accidental but were part of a clearly orchestrated campaign to discredit McDowall’s team because of its BLP ties, even though having such affiliation is fully allowed under the laws of the land.
For more than three decades, the trade union movement was part of the DLP’s winning coalition. I cannot recall, in my 30-odd years in journalism and following politics, ever witnessing such a reaction from the BLP over union elections which known DLP supporters were likely to win.
But having betrayed the interests of Barbadian workers on two separate occasions, but especially so during the last four years, the Dems are understandably worried about shifting labour loyalty and fearful of a workers’ backlash electorally speaking. Which explains the DLP’s hysteria. The unions are getting out of bed with the DLP because the leadership recognizes that the credibility of the movement is at stake. Union leaders therefore have no choice but to recognize that workers’ interests must now come before any other considerations.
As McDowall himself put it, “Interfering with this election process shows the fear the administration has for the leadership of the union. That leadership held steadfast in its representation for workers and became the thorn in their side, as the continuous agitation was applied head-on, thereby handling the issues affecting the public workers of this country.”
McDowall’s landslide re-election is not only a resounding vote of confidence in his leadership but also provides a stronger mandate for his executive to proceed with its case for a 23% pay hike for public workers or whatever figure is finally reached through the negotiations process. Public workers who have held strain in the national interest and have not had a pay increase in nine years, are saying, justifiably, that they have had enough.
In this regard, the decision of DLP parliamentarians to restore their ten per cent pay cut, despite the country’s continuing economic challenges, has clearly served to strengthen the union’s position that the workers deserve to get a piece of the pie too. Will the embattled DLP government bow to these demands? In an election year, what previously might have been considered impossible sometimes suddenly becomes possible.
For public servants fatigued by fiscal belt-tightening, there is at least reasonable cause to be guardedly hopeful.
(Reudon Eversley is a Carleton University-trained political strategist, strategic communication specialist and longtime journalist. Email: email@example.com)