In politics, there are none so blind as those who don’t want to see. Political allegiances can make the obvious obscure. Party enslavement can turn an enlightening conversation on economic policy into a personalized attack on the size of someone’s nose or the degree of the individual’s hue. Idol worship not only elevates vacuous politicians into creatures of substance, it can confuse political pauperism with self-acclaimed pedigree. We have seen it here a thousand times, and such is the nature of our politics, we are condemned to seeing it a thousand more.
In the midst of much social hurly-burly, Senator Caswell Franklyn has frequently provided pleasing, unvarnished truth guided by his conscience, experience, and more often than not, the laws of Barbados. His voice has taken on greater significance since the mid-2018 retreat of the Barbados Workers’ Union and the National Union of Public Workers. Their flight into the hills has been akin to the silencing of lambs.
Conversely, Mr Franklyn’s commitment to workers, and the law especially as it relates to labour rights and governance, is to be commended. If Barbadians have been paying close attention, they ought to have realised that he has been correct in every public utterance he has made, be it the state’s tampering with the social benefits of some of the most vulnerable in Barbados last year, the unlawful appointment of a second deputy commissioner of police, the issues related to severance payments, the near-posting of a Canadian citizen to be Barbados’ ambassador to Canada, the dubious involvement of the government in aspects of the conduct of the imminent by-election in St George North, and other interventions he has made from time to time. And this has been so not only since his elevation to the Upper Chamber, but for more than two decades. Many years ago Mr Franklyn publicly challenged a decision made by a High Court judge on grounds that were echoed months later when the Appeals Court overturned the judge’s decision. His public pronouncements appear to be guided by clear thought and research rather than disregard for the intelligence of Barbadians or political affiliation. Long may his voice be heard in the corridors of power in the interest of working class Barbadians.
And at this juncture, his interventions resonate greatly because the labour movement in Barbados has become compromised, not by external attacks and intimidation, but through an internal condition that should not be allowed to metastasise.
Perhaps, Barbadian workers have now started to connect the dots that more than two years ago saw capital and labour join forces with political gatekeepers to march on the streets of Bridgetown. When workers took to the streets supportive of the two labour unions who sought unrealistic 23 and 15 per cent salary increases respectively, their purpose was pure even if unaware of other possible hidden agenda. Perhaps they never thought the outlandish request had at its core, political intrigue and the genesis of a greater plan that had little to do with them. The workers were responding to a woeful Democratic Labour Party administration that was floundering and had lost its way. But others seized the day.
Those that led them have concocted an arithmetic anomaly that has shown workers how a seven per cent salary increase offered by the administration of the day – and rejected – can be less than the 4.5 per cent their unions subsequently accepted from the new administration, and later topped up to five. Facetiousness can lead to fact.
When labour’s lambs marched with capital’s lions, the former perhaps did not truly appreciate that the much maligned National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL), imposed an up-front duty on businesses to contribute in a more equitable manner to the state’s tax collection processes. Workers would not have known that fewer than three years after the tri-partite pied pipers led them ‘a-singing and a-chanting’, that the abandonment of the NSRL would be followed by the merchant class having their taxes significantly reduced, while the working class would have theirs widely increased. While the water bills, fuel bills and supermarket bills of the marching workers went up, corporation taxes paid by their affluent co-marchers went down from 25 per cent to five. Significant tax reduction for holders of capital did not equate to increased absorption of labour in the pre-COVID-19 period. The pandemic has now given an excuse for maintaining current employment levels and more than likely further employment reduction in the private sector. The sound and fury paid off for everyone other than the workers.
Margaret Hilda Thatcher was beloved by millions and arguably, eventually detested by similar numbers. She was Britain’s longest serving prime minister and the first woman to be the country’s political leader. She believed in the deregulation of financial sectors and the privatization of state-owned enterprises. But perhaps one trait of the “Iron Lady” that became a hallmark was her approach to labour unions. She dedicated her efforts to undermining and weakening labour unions since she saw them as harmful to parliamentary democracy and economic development. Labour unions provided nuisance value for the British leader and she was intent on crushing their influence. Others in and outside the Caribbean region, whether to be found in the private sector or the corridors of parliamentary power, view unions in similar light. They make the occasional concession to labour, but often with ulterior motive. However, there are some, unlike Margaret Hilda Thatcher, who see the strategic prudence of using a Trojan horse rather than a battering ram to breach the defences of workers’ solidarity movements. The ultimate goal of such leaders is the retention of political power at all costs.
The Franklyns of this world are therefore very much needed now because the problems workers face have grown to be more.