What started out as a year of promise and some expectations for many Barbadians, has quickly degenerated into increased hardship, growing unemployment and spreading labour discontent. But in the midst of increasing signs of despair, some politicians as well as their acolytes and satellites have turned to the tried and tested diversionary strategy of chastising the media whenever their flimsy political undergarments are exposed. We recently had instances of the media being chastised by the state and, curiously, labour, for highlighting the concerns brought by workers and by one of the few individuals many of them openly verbalise as the sole agitator fighting their cause.
With Government seeking to control every narrative that it deems not flattering of its performance or public policies, the leadership of the country’s largest private sector union appears to be reading from the same script by unapologetic choice. It is instructive to note that on the same day that newly minted Government MP Toni Moore made her maiden speech from the floor of Parliament, workers of Club Barbados were on the streets fighting their own cause. That maiden speech would have been an ideal and symbolic moment to reassure those workers that “we got this” but that did not come.
Instead, what has been spewed has been the vilification of the media for doing their job and seeking answers to the questions being asked by workers. But the media have not been alone in attracting the ire of the new state and labour pairing. Opposition Senator Caswell Franklyn, seen by many as providing labour’s last stand in the prevailing environment, has also been the butt of attack for daring to question Government’s narratives. Mr Franklyn has put forward his opinion on the ramifications of the changes to the Severance Payments Act. Government and the Barbados Workers Union (BWU) have also stated their position. We do not propose here to examine the merits or demerits of the opposing views, but suffice to state two realities. Workers have not been taking to the streets in recent weeks because all is well on the industrial front. Whether the changes to the legislation have indeed left them at the mercy of employers or not, or have placed an extra burden on the state, or is being misinterpreted by those purporting to know, the reality is that there are workers who have been home for almost a year and are not getting all the benefits for which they would have contributed or for which the law makes provisions. They are gathering on the streets to protest, not to party. The second reality is that thus far he who has both been vilified and simultaneously courted by Government has been proven right in his every confrontation with the state thus far. And that reality was not created by the media.
There is a reason why the membership of the BWU has been dwindling over the past few years. And the likelihood is that the exodus will continue if workers feel dissatisfied with its leadership as presently constituted. Indeed, the collective leadership within the BWU or any other troubled labour movement, must make appropriate decisions for the whole if the perception is that workers are deserting the union because of the direction that is being taken or has been taken by anyone within the ranks.
It is also interesting to note the convenient nationalism that nestles in the bosom of some of the island’s stakeholders. During last week’s tripartite press gathering, one social partner had an epiphany where the suggestion was that the media must be wary of what it reports since the country was being observed internationally by investors or others who might be targeting Barbados for business or pleasure. This epiphany came against the background of growing industrial unrest that had not been staged, managed or fabricated but merely reported by the media. One could not but reflect on the excoriating remarks made in relation to Barbados’ sustainability and viability during the pre-2018 period, and ponder on whether the speaker had travelled to Damascus within the last few years. Reporting truths should not be conditioned by political change or sudden conversion.
We are in the midst of a debilitating pandemic and the Government carries a heavy burden. It has done well in several instances and is deserving of praise. The labour movement has served Barbados magnificently in the past and is also deserving of praise. However, when both misstep as all institutions do at some stage, they cannot and should not be allowed to twist the narrative to suit their purposes at the expense of workers, the media, or any solitary soldier filling a gaping void that has been created, some might suggest, in the name of capital. There are some things worth gathering to fight for.