On Monday morning, we woke to the news that our public transport service was crippled by a work stoppage at the Transport Board. The action forced the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology to close all public schools.
And while many on social media and radio call-in programmes berated the hundreds of workers who stood their ground, it was a timely reminder of the power of the people.
On Monday, the bus drivers exercised their right – the right to protest.
Ironically, it was days after Martin Luther King Day was celebrated in the United States. In his final speech, I’ve Been to the Mountain Top, the day before his death, King spoke about standing up for one’s rights.
“. . . . Somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of the press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right,” he said.
Some Barbadians were of the view that the Transport Board workers exercising their right to strike was a selfish act due to the disruption it caused. A call-in programme moderator suggested that the workers appeared to have acted in their own interest with little or no regard for fellow Barbadians. He was disturbed by the fact that the public was not made aware of the grievances as the dispute unfolded.
A few callers shared how the disruption affected them and said the drivers and the union could have said something in advance so systems could be put in place.
One person on Barbados TODAY’s social media platforms wrote: “I wish all of them would get fired and hire people who care about work. School kids on the road can’t get to school because of this stupidity.”
The striking workers were criticised by many who lamented that their morning routine was affected negatively by the work stoppage.
The action, which had the support of the Barbados Workers’ Union, was due to matters that remained unresolved. According to general secretary Toni Moore, nothing or little was done since the last meeting with the Prime Minister, the Minister of Transport, management and the union held in May 2022.
“Those who had responsibility to pick up on the issues failed to pick up on the issues and today is where we came, having gone through meetings with the Labour Department – seeing a number of issues that were before the board remaining before the board without getting due attention and this is where we are. There comes a point in time where workers would have enough and say that they have had enough and today was one of those occasions,” Moore told the media.
She later reported that Transport Board management agreed to meet with the union between next Monday and February 28 to discuss outstanding matters such as payment, acting arrangements regarding retired workers, the structure of the quality assurance department which she said developed into several human resource matters, operators working on public holidays and other working arrangements that could have implications for commuters.
However, if by chance we wake up on the first day in March to another strike, hopefully, those who were so critical of the workers would know that the issues were not resolved.
For those concerned about the “timing” of the work stoppage and the fact that they were not forewarned, that is the nature of strike action.
A strike is intended to get the attention of the powers that be – in this case, the management of the Transport Board.
A strike is intended to cause disruption so that those affected by the action would be reminded of the importance of workers.
A strike is intended to seek a resolution to unresolved, contentious and prolonged issues.
Ultimately, a strike is intended to demonstrate the power of the people.
Organised strikes under union watch are born out of revolts and rebellions. While we have come to a place where there is “order” in uprising, the concept remains the same.
If an employer is informed of the intent to strike on such day at such time, does that not give them an opportunity to put systems in place in order to carry on their operation.? How is that effective for the striking workers trying to get the attention of said employer?
Should Bussa have informed the slave masters when he and other slaves would be rebelling? Should those in the 1937 riots have placed posters around town saying that they were planning an uprising on July 26?
Yes, we have moved past that point to more civil and cordial relations but at the core of it is still a group of people coming together to stand up for their rights – which is essentially their right.
We are glad that attention will now be paid to the myriad of issues that the workers of the Transport Board are facing.
We are glad that unlike the striking tourism workers of 2021 and the striking nurses of 2022, the Transport Board workers got immediate attention and some promised action to their concerns.
We are glad that the BWU showed up for a segment of their paying members. We are glad that management has committed to negotiations.
Above all, we are glad that modern-day Barbados was reminded about the power of a united people who believe that their concerns are not being heard.