Three political scientists and a veteran trade unionist have thrown their support behind the trade union movement as it wrestles with Government over the recent hike in the National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL) and its failure to provide a coping subsidy for workers.
However, retired head of the Department of Government, Sociology and Social Work, University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Dr George Belle has gone the extra mile in warning that the combined force of the unions could potentially close down the country.
The island’s leading trade unions – the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU), the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT), the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) and the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) yesterday gave Prime Minister Freundel Stuart 48 hours to respond positively to their demands for a reprieve from the austerity measures announced in the May 30 Budget, or face a possible national shutdown.
The threat came after the leaders of the four unions aborted an attempt to hand-deliver their request in writing to the Prime Minister after Stuart said he was expecting one person to deliver the letter to him at Parliament, but was told that all the leaders wanted to be present.
In assessing the political developments today, Belle told Barbados TODAY that members of the group had showed mature leadership when they declined the Prime Minister’s offer to meet with just one of them.
He also suggested that Tuesday’s march for tax relief was justified, given the dire economic conditions that have been created by the current policies of Government.
However, Belle said the march should be viewed as part of a continuum, while recalling that during yesterday’s event BWU General Secretary Toni Moore and NUPW President Akanni McDowall could be heard saying: “Up de thing”.
His UWI successor, Dr Tennyson Joseph, also contended that success of the march should not be judged by the number of people it attracted, but as the first step in a series of actions.
Joseph also took issue with recent statements by Government minister Donville Inniss, who after being critical of the 400 per cent increase in the NSRL on the floor of Parliament had seemingly contradicted himself last weekend when he dismissed the union’s planned march against the tax measure as nothing more than a weight loss exercise.
While throwing his support behind yesterday’s march by the trade unions, political scientist and pollster Peter Wickham suggested that the trade unions might have to bring the country to a total standstill for Stuart to realize that there was a problem.
“I do not have a difficulty with a total standstill of the country. I have no problem with a 48-hour ultimatum. I think it will become necessary for the unions to go to the next step. The 48-hour ultimatum would not mean anything to Stuart,” Wickham cautioned.
Meanwhile, veteran trade unionist Caswell Franklyn contended that 48 hours was too much time, while arguing that it was high time the unions took a stand, with a view to getting rid of the current Government.
“The unions should have had this country shut down until the Government goes,” Franklyn, who is general secretary of the Unity Workers Union, told Barbados TODAY.
“How much more damage can this Government do? It is about time they go. This Government has done more damage to the island than Hurricane Janet,” he added.