Once again the nation has been treated to a childish outburst from Sir Roy Trotman, the grandfather of Barbadian trade unionism, over an issue that is as relevant to a nation up to its neck in economic problems as it is for a shopper forced to join the back of the queue. We all know, as a nation, that Sir Roy, who ought to be the elder statesman of industrial relations, is capable of crying like a naughty baby who has thrown his toy out of the pram. To my mind, he has no sense of statesmanship or of good leadership and should be sent out to graze by his members.
Sir Roy got his smalls in a twist when, it is alleged, members of the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations voted to deny the Barbados Workers’ Union, of which he is general secretary, a place as part of the delegation to the International Labour Organisation meeting.
It appears, even to those of us not connected with the discussions, that it was a snub, whether intended or not, a small matter that Sir Roy could have drawn to the associate members’ attention.
But, true to form (I even get the impression he did not consult his executive colleagues, and indeed a move of such magnitude should be voted on by all the union’s members) he decided he would walk out. It is consistent with the impression I have of him as a poor negotiator – it is his way or no way.
I can well imagine that Sir Roy, a big fish in a small pond, likes the idea of parading on the global stage, even if it is a peripheral organisation like the ILO, but to call it quits because he did not get a pick is ridiculous.
Once again it is Sir Roy Trotman and the Barbados Workers’ Union, once a proud representative organisation of ordinary working people against the battalions of the plantation owners and commodity importers, who, it is clear to my mind, is now blackmailing his colleagues in the movement.
There was a time when the BWU, under the leadership of Walcott and Blunt, had no more ambition than to represent the lighter men, warehouse workers and the others who slaved all day on the wharf shipping crocus bags of sugar and other goods to and from ships moored in Carlisle Bay. It was hard work and those of us, young men and women, who witnessed that pressure could only dream of never having to work so physically hard for a living, however dignified.
Walcott, Blunt and their colleagues, in a modest office at the junction of Nelson and Fairchild Streets, would provide the leadership that the union needed against unscrupulous importers and their under-managers. It was trade unionism at its best. Workers were happy to save with the union and every May 1, along with their families, will go off to King George park to have a wonderful day out. It was one of the joys of my pre-teen years.
Analysis and Conclusion:
Sir Roy is consistently proving himself to the biggest stumbling block to the progress of trade unionism in Barbados and, in many eyes, runs the BWU like it is his fiefdom. He comes over as a bitter and twisted man, who has no effective grasp of reality but sees only his deeply flawed selfish ends and his flawed pride. To any ordinary person, his is a myopic vision that does not even see clearly the long-term benefits of his active and former members, but does everything to alienate those young men and women who should naturally be his future member.
Sir Roy should be the elderly statesman of Barbadian – nay, Caribbean – trade unionism, instead he is the angry, grumpy old man who appears to be contorted with illusions of grandeur and like King Canute, wants to hold back the hands of time. He is from another age, a time when post-holders just had to turn up at work and the people would genuflect to them; he is from an age when our leaders did not have to justify their positions or authority; a time when just having a title or a paper qualification meant you were the top of the tree.
These are different times, when every one of us must justify our place in the order of things, no matter who we are. Once we have become redundant, exhausted our relevance, then we should quietly leave the stage to the next generation. Sir Roy has overstayed his welcome and should take a bow and exit the stage. As long as he heads the BWU he will be seen as the symbol of everything that is holding Barbados back from progressing in to the 21st century. Sometimes his authoritarian nature prevents people who would normally want to throw their weight behind organised Barbadian labour to back away. His behaviour on this issue, even if he has a moral case, is juvenile and unbecoming, and certainly betrays his position as the elder statesman of Barbadian trade unionism. He should walk away with quiet dignity and let the people, in moments of reflection, realise what they had done.
But, equally, the undignified desire by the minister to publicly apologise to a man who is beside himself with his own self-importance demeans that high office of state. What Sir Roy should be doing is mentoring the minister, sitting her down and offering mature advice about the need for a job creation programme, about the sad state of the economy, and how Barbados could re-direct its industrial relations and trade unions policies to go beyond the old and obsolete collective bargaining principles to include representation for working people from the cradle to the grave. This is far more important than attending a junket with the ILO, which can only add to his deluded sense of self-importance which makes very little contribution to the betterment of Barbadian organised workers. Instead, Sir Roy has become a political autistic with a vocabulary that has stopped at pay rise and strike, there is no middle way. Given that the minister of finance and the governor of the central bank have lost control of the economic debate, it is an ideal opportunity for the trade union movement to take control and dominate that intellectual public space. This is what their members expect, sound leadership, positive guidance, clear and dynamic policies.
Sir Roy is picking a fight over trivia because he has no ideas, his intellectual cupboard is empty. In the final analysis, Sir Roy will find himself on the wrong side of history, defending the middle aged and old in their cosy jobs while the future of the nation, those aged from 16-25 walk the streets and hang out on the blocks without jobs, training or a decent education. Rightfully, while defending his current members from exploitation, he should be creating a level playing field for his future member s by showing them that the union cares. At some point members of his union must call a halt to this ego-driven Shakespearean drama and rid the nation of this menace. Someone must step up to the plate and, metaphorically speaking, be the Brutus to Trotman’s Caesar. One good thing about Sir Roy’s behaviour is that he once more has shown the idiocy of the so-called Social Partnership, and the lack of basic trust at its very core.
Sir Roy has a blind side when it comes to calculating social dividends, as he demonstrates by avoiding taking part in wider public debates preferring to simply sit on his pile in Hindsbury Road and pretend all is right with the world. It pains me to say it, but as a nation we deserve the leaders we get. For the good of Barbadian trade unionism and of the membership of the BWU, he should go.