At a time when public servants in Barbados need strong representation more than ever, their main bargaining agent, the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), appears to be imploding from the top down.
Just last week Barbados TODAY reported on the latest attempt to force out the embattled President Akanni McDowall, who from all reports now seems to be more popular with the general membership than he is with certain key members of the current executive and not, as we have been made to understand, for lack of reason, or his own personal doing either.
While we do not wish to stick our noses where they do not belong, it must be said at this stage for the benefit of all concerned that “a house divided against itself cannot stand”.
And lest the NUPW forgets, its number one priority has and should always be its mandate to serve the needs of workers, just as the basis for having any political party is to represent the interests of its constituents.
Yet time and time again it would seem our leaders seem to fly off course, giving renewed credence to British politician Lord Acton’s view that ‘power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely’.
In a way, it also makes a mockery of the entire integrity debate that is now taking place in our very Parliament, given the general expediency that has come to characterize the way in which our society now operates.
The same can be said about our trade unions, which, through their actions, sometimes seem to display unshakable fealty and wholesale surrender to the politicians in such a manner that shatters the belief that they are in the workers’ corner.
Barbadian workers could very well be sent home by the hundreds in months to come, as the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) administration, the very BLP that Mr McDowall was accused by many of being in thrall to and in hock with, steps up its austerity programme.
That the union could be engaged in a nasty episode of infighting instead of preparing the workers for this eventuality, is shameful to say the least, and is a craven abdication of its duty to the dues paying members and all public servants.
Clearly from what we have so far seen and heard, there is no love lost between Mr McDowall and his General Secretary Roslyn Smith, who last week sought to make it clear that Mr McDowall did not speak for either her or the union when he reported to Barbados TODAY on the outcome of recent talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on the vexed issue of job losses.
In fact, she sought to make it clear that “the meeting with the IMF steered clear of any mention of job losses, and instead emphasized other ways to assist cost cutting such as flexi-time where appropriate, and more efficiency through technology.
“The union is therefore not prepared to accept job losses as a remedy to fix our debt problem,” Smith stressed.
This certainly is not the type of press statement you expect a general secretary to be releasing in light of statements made by her president, who had said that the union made it clear to the IMF that any job cuts must be minimal, if any at all.
Someone, therefore, is clouding the truth about what was discussed at the talks, and, sadly, we are left to try to work it out ourselves.
In further publicly chastising Mr McDowall over his remarks, Ms Smith suggested that he had “prematurely” gone to the press “with predictions of what the IMF may or may not do”.
In her statement, Ms Smith also seemed to make a distinction between what Mr McDowall was saying about the possibility of job losses and what she expected from the Mottley led Government.
In fact, she said: “The much welcomed initiatives implemented by the Mia Mottley-led administration through Social Partnership dialogue emphasizes the importance of, and has implemented policies which will essentially share the heavy tax burden between public and private entities.”
Therefore, while there is a sense that Mr McDowall is losing hope that job losses can be avoided, Ms Smith is still confident that every job can be saved. Only time will tell.
Our only hope is that either way there will be strong voices left around the table to legitimately represent the rights of the workers. The NUPW cannot now create a crisis in which it will be trapped, while our civil servants are thrust down the stairway to hell.