While president of the National Union of Public Workers Akanni McDowall appears set for a court battle with his general secretary Roslyn Smith, another executive member has shifted his loyalty and is making a bid to replace the leader.
In an exclusive interview with Barbados TODAY, the union’s first Vice President, Fabian Jones, who at one point wholeheartedly backed the current president, announced he was ready to enter the leadership race with less than a month before the nation’s public sector workers vote for a new executive.
Saying he now fears the NUPW has lost its direction, Jones argued that union leaders had allowed in-house fighting to detract from the union’s chief obligation of attending to the wellbeing of workers. He said this has prompted him to mount an election campaign that he claims is centered on unity, transparency, and renewed activism.
Jones declared to Barbados TODAY: “I am a man for all seasons and I know people will understand that if Fabian Jones is breaking the ranks right now to run for president, he must have a real fundamental problem with the way how things are being done right now and that is true.
In previous elections, Jones presented himself as an ardent supporter of McDowall even in the face of pressure from former union president Walter Maloney, he said.
Jones added: “Some may say it looks like a back stab, but the union is bigger than any one person. It is thousands of members strong, so if I have to do that for the betterment of the majority while probably offending one person, I will, because it is a duty and I feel duty bound to do it.
“I came through the youth league with Akanni. I saw him grow and develop and mentored under Walter [Maloney] and for a time I liked that the union was standing up and I was part of that and not being silent anymore. But that is only one aspect of it. The union as an institution has to be run on a day-to-day basis. There are rules to respect and there’s a way of doing things, which should always be based on consensus.”
The union’s pending election of officers at its annual general meeting on April 3 is to take place amid a longstanding rift between Smith and McDowall that has spilled onto the public scene.
On Thursday morning, Smith released a statement signalling her intention to sue McDowall for defamation over statements made to the NUPW’s National Council about Smith’s use of the union’s credit card.
Jones described the current saga as “unfortunate”, conceding that the union needed to take better care of its finances.
He said: “There was no theft or wild spending, but I would say that some procedural rules were flouted.
“At the end of the day, we are talking about the members’ money and I believe that the resources of the members should be used to forward their cause.
Making a case for his leadership, Jones declared: “I believe in frugality and not excess and I can assure the membership that under a Fabian Jones presidency, I’m going to lead with a conscience, fairness and love.
“I want to restore confidence in the union, because as we know, membership is dwindling.
“The successful operation of a union requires a certain level of harmony and I believe right now there is some tension between the current President, who is head of the executive and the General Secretary who is head of the secretariat. It’s all in the media.
“I want to bring harmony between the executive and the secretariat”
The trade unionist of 17 years’ experience has served on the NUPW’s youth league as public relations officer from 2011 to 2013, a floor member from 2013 to 2015, as 2nd VP from 2015 to 2017 and as 1st VP from 2017 to the present.
During his most recent term, Jones said he brought many workable solutions and ideas to the table in the interest of improving the lot of local public workers.
“I don’t really feel as though my views were taken and utilised. I was just like a voice in the wilderness saying ‘do it this way and do it that way’ and just being ignored.”
Jones added that his plans included a major push to get young workers interested in the union’s vision by using modern methods of communication to reach them and other workers who had become disgruntled with the union’s direction.
Jones said: “Young people are the future of the movement. Right now most of the members are older people and the young people are going to be a hard sell, because those are the ones who really suffer under the retrenchment programme.
“The NUPW as one of the oldest unions in the region is often sought by others for guidance and if our own people are questioning our strength and our relevance, it bothers me. I want to bring more harmony to the NUPW.”