Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by this author are their own and do not represent the official position of the Barbados TODAY Inc.
by Daria Michelle Cave
One category one hurricane. 2000 houses in need of repair. Trade unions need to step up.
Government alone can’t do everything.
What to do. Throughout the world, one of the main pillars of trade unionism, is the fighting for, the provision of good, safe affordable housing for all workers.
Low-income housing does not have to be somewhere different to medium income housing nor high income housing. Most people want to live a comfortable productive civil lifestyle.
Around the world one can find trade unions playing huge roles in providing solutions for their members’ housing challenges. Whether developing, designing and financing trade union housing projects, advocating politically for, or cooperating with credit unions, trade unions have answered the call in many places to provide safe, comfortable, affordable housing for its members.
We see too around the world that when unions move away from providing these inalienable rights, (to shelter, to education, to health…), membership falls and their political clout weakens. Both public and private sector workers, in the lower income bracket face increasingly severe housing challenges, even inside construction booms as a result of house and land prices… geared towards a tourist market.
Trade unions and credit unions strategically intervening in the provision of housing for its members, will be an important step in moving unions to truly taking care of its members. In mitigating any pending crisis in housing, this will simultaneously strengthen and reinvigorate the trade union movement in the eyes and hearts of its members.
Tackling housing will arguably usher in more affordable housing, decent housing for all income brackets – despite type or scale, by providing lobbying for good housing initiatives from the government, by advocating for and supporting partnerships to provide housing developments for members from all walks of life.
We see in Italy and the USA at times the huge union lobbies, able to incorporate the affordable housing issue, into their industrial negotiations.
Trade Unions in Germany and Uruguay have partnered with other civilian-led initiatives such as tenant associations and cooperative movements, to lobby for and begin providing better housing, These partnerships show what can be accomplished when unions concentrate on the real needs of their membership.
When Trade Unions proactively collaborate with cooperative movements and organisations, they are augmented with political support but are not beholden to it, as their work goes beyond – as the trade union member is directly interacting with their members, providing the… whatever assistance they may need to secure ownership of their home.
With Trade Unions supporting the establishment of housing cooperatives, developing them to take care of both tenants and owners’ needs and wants, maintaining the integrity of housing developments, we could see trade unions becoming the most important provider of affordable housing in the island and a model, for the world to duplicate.
Trade Unions in providing housing solutions or alternatives to their members, will have to participate in all facets of the construction, negotiation, funding, allotment and mediation involved in housing developments. Though this resource and financial investment would be the greatest investment in the unions’ housing developments, it would be the greatest help, assistance to its members, and would require honest and trusted leaders at its helm.
With some members wanting or needing homes on a rental basis, there are examples of union-run or union partnered housing developments, which have been run most successfully.
Unions in collaboration with local government in Milan, New York, Croatia, Sweden and Switzerland, have experimented with co-ownership housing, rental schemes, social housing initiatives – connecting owners with prospective tenants and vice versa – with strict rules of regulation prices, codes of behaviour, number of tenants and the like.
Financing and developing these different types of rental-based housing cooperatives, whether in partnership with government or the private sector, provides an opportunity to trade unions to take care of one of the biggest worries of their members.
Partnering with independent housing organisations is one way to develop good housing alternatives for members, partnering with government initiatives is another, and going out on their own to develop housing developments for its members, is yet a third.
What is clear, the trade union must step in to ensure safe, comfortable and affordable housing is its purview – affecting every member of a trade union.
In Barbados we have an interesting environment where regulatory, institutional and political requisites work often happily in harmony. Trade unions’ potential housing interventions are highly needed today when we have reports of below standard living conditions, workers spending a higher and higher proportion of their earnings on housing and have burdensome house loans to repay.
The crucial key to trade union initiatives into housing, may very well be the partnerships with the civil, private and/or public sector.
We have seen some successful while others have stalled. Unions can here work together with architects, with contractors, with builders, to develop these housing developments for our members.
The scale on which trade unions do this, is really a product of need and want. Whether developing housing cooperatives or organising a housing agency or creating a building partnership, trade unions can work together, giving their members all of the information for them to make the best housing decisions to suit their needs and wants.
Trade unions can provide for different groups of workers/members, for instance, frontline workers housed in closer proximity to their work places, lowering commuting time and costs, supporting members like this, is a tremendous social benefit for all.
The renovation of some crown properties by such a housing initiative, in exchange for rental accommodation for members and their families, might very well be a mechanism assisting in the reinvigoration of the downtown corridor.
The trade union can be a very useful support for its members, there is no doubt.
Everything from whole developments to providing legal aid re housing, providing a revolving housing fund, providing advocacy and lobbying employers for housing related support, is the ambit of the trade union.
Strategic partnerships will be called for to achieve good, safe, comfortable and affordable housing complexes for the members of trade unions.
In these, everyone from members to NGOs, housing experts, government bodies and credit unions, can not only strengthen the trade union but more, mitigate a housing challenge to so many of their members.
Daria Michelle Cave is a teacher, a beekeeper and a council member of the NUPW.