Former Deputy General Secretary of the National Union of public workers (NUPW), Derek Alleyne, is concerned that the apparent internal struggles in trade unions in Barbados are hindering them from their mandate to protect workers’ rights.
Alleyne, who was speaking during the Astor B Watts lunchtime lecture as part of a two-man panel, which also included former ambassador to CARICOM, Robert ‘Bobby’ Morris, charged that there was now a lack of confidence in the trade union movement and the current leadership.
In his scathing remarks, he contended that while heralded trade union leaders like Sir Frank Walcott “stood tall for labour despite being a member of a political party,” the same type of dedication to workers’ rights cannot be attributed to the current crop of union leaders.
“I want to state today that the workers in Barbados will have to fight against the leaders of the unions, to have their positions made clear… When I look out around Barbados, as a former Deputy General Secretary of the National Union of Public Workers and also as a member of the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU), rather than espousing issues related to workers, we constantly are given issues related to the internal fighting of the unions,” he said while making it clear that all unions in Barbados were caught in this dragnet.
He told the audience that the labour movement built over the last 50 years is now under stress, not only because of macro-economic issues of the country, but more importantly, because of the internal struggles, which have led to an erosion of trust in the institutions.
“Trade unionism is based on collectivism and the most important component of collectivism is trust. The most vibrant institution in Barbados is something called a ‘meeting turn’. Most people in here throw a meeting turn and you don’t hear meeting turns ending up in court because it is built on trust. The trade union movement is built on this, so when you start to distrust your leadership and your other members, the trade union movement comes under pressure,” he said.
Last month Barbados TODAY reported that the ongoing acrimony within the ranks of the NUPW may be taking its toll on membership with a dramatic falloff in numbers by more than 30 per cent in the last two years.
The report quoted a source who revealed, “The problem was especially acute when all the infighting between the president and the General Secretary, Roslyn Smith, got into the public domain. The question marks over the use of the union’s credit cards, which also became public last year, did not help.”
In the latest public spat, five days after the union which she served for 47 years officially announced her retirement, 65-year-old Smith is now alleging unfair dismissal and is claiming close to half of a million dollars in compensation.
Alleyne charged that the weakening of the local labour movement also has a ripple effect on the region, as Barbados has long been the backbone of most of the regional umbrella trade union bodies. He argued that institutions such as the Caribbean Congress of Labour (CCL) and the Caribbean Union of Teachers (CUT) have been relegated to mere “paper institutions”.
“If at the national level, the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados (CTUSAB) is weak then CCL must be weak. The BWU and NUPW use to drive the CCL and as a matter of fact, the CCL’s office was located at the NUPW for over 25 years. The CCL no longer has an office identified anywhere, it has now a website. If that is the voice of labour for the region then we are in trouble… In 2019 the CCL is on its death bed,” he declared.