If the predictions of a veteran trade unionist are correct, Barbados might be on the brink of witnessing the demise of the trade union movement.
According to leader of the Unity Workers’ Union (UWU) Senator Caswell Franklyn, this is an eventuality if the current president of the National Union of Public Workers’ (NUPW) Akanni McDowell is made secretary general of that body.
Franklyn was speaking following the distribution of a poster that McDowell called Support Good Representation and posted to a social media page on Sunday. The three-page document in which McDowell outlined why he was the preferred candidate for the position, caught the eye of Franklyn as it contained an image from several years ago of both union leaders participating in a demonstration against the previous Democratic Labour Party (DLP) administration.
Maintaining his belief that the image was used strategically to give an impression of McDowell’s legitimacy, Franklyn said that the current controversy that follows the NUPW head was mostly due to a “very silly man who thinks too much of himself” and who has the support of the Mia Mottley-led Government. He claims that the Government wants him there so they can “take control” of the union.
However, the outspoken union boss contended that this move, while redounding to the benefit of Mottley and McDowell, had grave repercussions for the entire trade union movement including its destruction through its failing credibility.
“The Barbados Labour Party (BLP) administration has taken over the majority of unions in Barbados and NUPW was half way in, this is to make sure they are all the way in now. The union will have no voice other than the Prime Minister’s voice because that is what Akanni will be mouthing,” Franklyn told Barbados TODAY on Sunday.
Characterising McDowell as self-serving and lacking knowledge on constitutional matters relating to the union, the Opposition Senator charged that the actions of the NUPW leader were causing more harm than good. He made reference to what he called a “staged” petition in McDowell’s favour as well as the acceptance of a 4.5 per cent pay increase from the Government after refusing to budge from 23 per cent with the former Freundel Stuart administration.
“You really feel the voice he was speaking was on behalf of workers?” Franklyn asked. “Toni Moore on behalf of the Barbados Workers’ Union they were asking for 17, she too accepted 4.5 but you could see now why, she is now MP for St. George North. They are all in the arms of the Barbados Labour Party and that is going to do no good for the workers and I don’t think any of them is interested in the workers. They are all interested in their own advancement,” he maintained.
Admitting that a relationship with union bosses and political parties was not unique, Franklyn said the difference between past and present leadership was integrity. The senator noted that former leaders with a perceived loyalty to a party had no difficulty opposing a government on issues that impacted workers. However, Franklyn believed the same could not be said of McDowell.
Franklyn denied he had an axe to grind, but maintained that his concern was foremost the workers of Barbados. He believes that the destruction of the second largest trade union, behind the BWU, is a possibility that all workers ought to be concerned about.
Franklyn added: “I would tell you the truth, it does not hurt me for him to win. Because I get more members from NUPW because of him. . . . . He is my best recruiter . . . but he is not the right person to head anything. If I’m going to be honest , he will destroy NUPW and I don’t want to see NUPW destroyed. I am where I am because of NUPW. I owe NUPW and I wouldn’t want to see it destroyed.
“I want to carve out my little area in the whole place – I don’t want all, but Akanni is trying to give me all. Right now this is political and his political colleagues will turn up in droves and vote for him and the Barbados Labour Party will be firmly in control. What is unfortunate is there are not doing anything right now to help the workers in this country. He is like the albatross around the union’s neck.
“He and this whole affair has brought the NUPW into disrepute. Everybody in Barbados is laughing at NUPW now because of him. NUPW looks silly and pathetic. . . . The union’s teeth are now only good for smiling. They are not effective. They have damaged the union movement almost irreparably because what happens with one union affects all the others especially on issues such as these because people lump you together.
“Do you know how many people left NUPW and tell me, man if they want anybody they would go for a lawyer, they done with the unions because of what is going on with the NUPW, also with Toni Moore, that union is barely struggling now because of the position she took but nobody is saying anything. CTUSAB is the same thing, that is almost fully paid for and sponsored by the employer. If your existence is dependent on the government you think you are really going to oppose them when it matters? You will put up a show and that is what is happening now. . .
“Government doesn’t have to control the unions but simply do your job and do it well.” (KC)