Whenever a trade union embarks on a protest march, it is usually an exercise that reflects the solidarity among its members. The march should reflect support for a commonality of interest, purpose, or sympathies among the members of the union.
It is clear that every protest march should have a purpose for, without this, it could well be determined as an aimless exercise. It is therefore important that at the planning of any such exercise, there is a clear determination made as to the expected outcomes. This is important, if at the end of the exercise, the membership is to be satisfied that its participation and efforts were worth it and not futile.
Where there is a clearly defined purpose, it can result in garnishing community, national, international and even global support. A classic example of this can be found in the inauguration of Donald Trump, President of the United States of America, in 2017. History recalls that thousands of women gathered for the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., the day after Trump took the oath of office, to protest what was widely seen as a racist, sexist, and divisive political agenda.
The march became a worldwide day of action, as women around the globe took to the streets in solidarity. It is estimated that there were 600 marches worldwide.
An economic and fiscal crisis led to Barbados in 1991 experiencing its biggest level of worker mobilization. The trade union movement, under the banner of the Coalition of Trade Unions, led a solidarity and protest march. It was estimated that 30,000 persons, drawn from the public and private sector, joined in the protest march against proposed austerity measures introduced by the government of the day.
There was the threat of devaluation of the Barbados dollar, massive layoffs in the public and private sectors, and the imposition of an International Momentary Fund (IMF) Programme, that had serious implications for the reduction of Government’s social services programme. The proposed public sector eight per cent wages and salaries cut by Government, met with stiff resentment.
What was important at the time, was the existence of a national awareness of the devastation that the range of measures could have on the Barbadian economy and standard of living both in the immediate, short and long term. The key to the success of that effort, as was in the case of the Women’s March in Washington, DC in 2017, was the level of awareness, significance attached to the matter, and mobilization efforts which were evident.
A protest march by whatever name it is called, whether it is a solidarity or courtesy march, demands a high level of organization and mobilization if the event is to be successful. It also means that there must be a clear agenda and high level of transparency in what is being done. Where these conditions are met, a rallying call for support for any form of protest action is more likely to be forth coming.
The aim of any national form of protest action, should be that of attracting all persons in society, irrespective of colour, class, creed, race and political and religious persuasions. In the case of trade unions, it is best that the agenda should be framed by that body. However, with good reason, it may consider aligning itself with a cause put by another organization, which is of national significance, and/or interest to workers and working class people.
Trade unions should carefully weigh being aligned to any intended action in which a political party holds an immediate interest, for the simple reason that any association can potentially serve to divide the union membership. Trade unions should always be guided by the fact that a protest march is a strategic way to address and bring awareness to an issue and related issues. Holding a public demonstration helps educate the public about these.
(Dennis De Peiza is a labour management consultant with Regional Management Services Inc. Website: www.regionalmanagement services.com. Email: [email protected])