Dr. George Brathwaite

The George Brathwaite Column – Labour Must NOT Yield

Submitted by Dr. George C. Brathwaite

“Unless you have a group of people in this country who are prepared to redress the imbalances, to see things in the broad, social context; to see the economic importance of legislation, the economic importance of development, the psychological importance of removing distinctions between one class of the community and the other, then you are asking for trouble.” – (Premier E.W. Barrow, 1964).

In this article, an attempt is made to make sense of the character of Barbadian society and economy, and to raise concerns in which the trouble is here. There is the marginalising of labour that culminates in growing inequalities across the nation. Moreover, the very tripartite relationship that is supposed to lend some efficacy to the working partnership among trade unions, employers and the government for improving chances of economic growth has been rendered “fragmented;” and is “adversely affecting the labour landscape” according to John Pilgrim of the National Productivity Council.

In real terms, Barbados has reached a crisis zone that is clearly identifiable by such phenomena as widespread uncertainty, lack of confidence by the governed (as is often expressed to the governing), a sheepish population that finds comfort in sweeping crucial matters under the carpet for the sake of expediency and survival, and an industrial relations climate that shows signs of excruciating frustration. Many of the events that either raise consciousness or call for acute concerns occurred and are still happening under the post-2008 Democratic Labour Party (DLP).

An editorial appearing in June 2015, indicated that: “In a relatively short period the industrial relations climate in Barbados has moved from cool to warm – and is now threatening to shift to hot.” What are the related dynamics underlying this crisis? A plethora of ridiculous issues, some unsettled, emerged in Barbados with the Government often to be found at the centre. Ministers of Government twiddled their thumbs, and waited for the worse (recession) to blow over as if leadership did not matter.

In the past few years, there has been the targeted humiliation of labour unions (i.e. secretariats and memberships). The personalised onslaughts have become part of a covert strategy to divide, silence, and co-opt union leaders and their advocates if necessary. Government, spurred on by local capitalists and opportunists, has presumably declared by all means necessary in order to neutralise labour strength and any solidarity or workers’ power. The Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT), the Barbados Secondary Teachers Union (BSTU), the Barbados Workers Union (BWU), the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), and the Unity Workers Union (UWU) have all lamented the treatment of workers in Barbados’ public and private sectors.

Perhaps bearing the brunt of criticism has been Mary Redman of the BSTU, Akani McDowell of the NUPW, and Caswell Franklyn of the UWU among others. They have been critical not only of government’s treatment of the unions but of severely limiting the workers. Franklyn has lambasted other unions for more or less selling out their memberships when secretariats seem to misconceive their roles and relationships. According to Franklyn, “the workers need to tell the unions they are paying them, so carry out our mandate or else!”

Beyond the obvious intra-union cracks, there are perplexed and impoverished workers such as those unceremoniously dismissed on April 30, 2014 from the state-owned National Conservation Commission (NCC). These workers, like many others before them, were exposed to callous and calculating behaviour from the Government and/or official agencies. Subsequently, the Employment Rights Tribunal (ERT) ruled that the workers represented by the NUPW and by the BWU “were unfairly dismissed” during Government’s public sector retrenchment. That retrenchment exercise saw more than 3,000 workers being sent home by a Government that had a short time before – perhaps as a 2013 election gimmick – promised that there would be no retrenchments in the public service since the DLP understood the crux of job security.

That was the bait. Workers were repeatedly tamed in the lead up to the last general elections in Barbados. The forces exposing the DLP’s shameful record between 2008 and 2013 lost the moral authority to lead as perceived in the eyes of the electorate, and thus went claim to form a new government. Be that as it may, the record divulges that the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados (CTUSAB) suggested that the NCC workers should have had their jobs back since these workers met with unfair and prejudicial treatment from the relevant agency, and should not have been dismissed in the first place.

Historically, labour has been capable of flexing its muscle when matters of existentialism (i.e. survival) arose. However, by February 2013 the unions, for the most part, moved around Barbados like centipedes with their stingers removed. Cowardice entered labour’s camp, and pitched a position suggesting that the principle of strike action and protest marches were not to be followed in the national interest. Really? The government’s ploys together with those hooked in the nets of ‘yardfowlism’ managed to squash solid resistance to the austere and draconian measures that became official DLP policy, consistent with recommendations from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The unions, although standing with the workers were less audible nationally than should have been the case.

Distinguished professor of Anthropology and Geography at City University of New York, David Harvey argued that: “The creation of this neoliberal system has entailed much destruction, not only of prior institutional frameworks and powers … but also of divisions of labour, social relations, welfare provisions, technological mixes, ways of life, attachments to the land, habits of the heart, ways of thought, and the like.” Barbados may have been squeezed prior to 2008, but since then, the country is pinned and ready to be counted out unless labour re-emerges.

To that extent, labour in Barbados remains inconsistent and relatively weak. In this closing stage of 2016, and moving into the precinct of a possible general election year, labour unions must be repositioned to reclaim potency and increase membership numbers. Whereas labour unions “provide a mechanism for dialogue between workers and employers, which helps build trust and commitment among the workforce and ensures that problems can be identified and resolved quickly and fairly,” it is clear from the practices of the current DLP administration that speed and genuine attempt at justice are extraneous tools in their quiver of options.

DLP Ministers are unlikely to fully appreciate the nuances and demands of labour. The current industrial relations climate was precariously shaped by those who peppered labour and pauperised workers for over five years. Indeed, it is not surprising to hear the government, business, and some within the unions continue with their misplaced berating of labour commitment. Several have suggested that Barbadian workers’ input to the economy is far less than required, and that the he/she has a poor work ethic punctuated with high absenteeism and low productivity. Employers’ associations contend that they are squelching with unproductivity in an era in which competition, productivity, and the trappings of neoliberalism go hand-in-hand to drive economic growth.

Guyson Mayers, a columnist writing in the Barbados Advocate, contends unproductivity of labour in Barbados is “the hint of our people’s laziness.” In addition, Mayers pointed at ‘poor management’ in a way not too dissimilar from the pronouncement made by the Minister of Finance in his 2016 budget wrap-up when he rebuked management and senior officials in the public sector. There is greater merit if the Minister had casted attention on self-examination and self-criticism. Nonetheless, the prevailing conditions that are antithetical to labour have not gone unnoticed by the likes of Toni Moore and Caswell Franklyn.

Moore in 2014 asserted that: “It is unfortunate that in Barbados … the message of productivity as a concept has been undermined and exploited by those who treat its relevance merely in pretentious and opportune terms.” Franklyn asserts that: “This political inconvenience [of broadsiding workers] is being remedied by hiving off strategic segments of the Public Service and converting them into statutory boards, where a Minister of government can sit in the background and manipulate, through his board, who would be hired, promoted or fired.” These statements represent serious indictments on the current administration, and arguably, put a stain on all preceding administrations whose intent was adverse or hostile to workers and labour.

More than a year ago, Reverend John Rogers advised union leaders that they “must not become so caught up in the politics of the day,” and that to do so means “that you lose sight of who you really are and who you are called to be.” Surely, the Reverend must know that the struggle of labour has always been immersed within the construct of society and politics, and within the mesh of labour and production. Russian intellectual Leon Trotsky argued that “the character of a society is determined by the character of its economy,” and he further contended that “the character of its economy is determined by its means of productive labour.” Likewise, the 2014 report The National Employment Policy of Barbados agreed that “there is a direct inescapable linkage between employment and the state of the economy.” Therefore, Rogers’ message although couched in good self-awareness is nonetheless contradictory regarding the challenges and realities facing society and economy, and labour and productivity in Barbados.

The national fight has got to be both spontaneous and orchestrated against the wretched dilemma of institutionalised incompetence and political disruption. Ministerial confusion and deliberate dirtying of the waters for the exploitation of workers must stop, because those forms of interference are together breaking the backs of the Barbados working and middle-classes. Today’s politicians and labour must accept that Barbados’ best chances for soaring, both economically and as a society, still abound in building human capital and providing opportunities for the nation’s workers. It is vital that state officials harness the potential labour pool and ensure that more people become educated, trained, and nourished in order to bring about personal development and achieve market perfection together with higher production.

(Dr. George C. Brathwaite is a part-time lecturer in Political Science at the UWI-Cave Hill Campus, a political consultant, and up until recently, he was editor of Caribbean Times (Antigua). Email: brathwaitegc@gmail.com )

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24 Comments on “The George Brathwaite Column – Labour Must NOT Yield”

  1. Well Well & Consequences October 4, 2016 at 7:45 AM #

    The black majority need to get rid of the classism being practiced between them and on them………put the political class of asses in their place. ..they are the dummies practicing, enabling and condoning classism.

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  2. Pachamama October 4, 2016 at 8:34 AM #

    Labour has yielded so much that its back has been broken.

    Barbados can never regain that industrial relations ethos now lost.

    There is really no difference now between labour leadership and capital.

    Once lost that culture will be nearly impossible to recapture.

    Like

  3. William Skinner October 4, 2016 at 9:05 AM #

    The writer seems to think that the marginalization of the workers movement/unions started five years ago or under the current regime. The war on the workers started way back in the closing stages of the 60’s and has continued under both administrations(Dees and Bees). For example Barrow legislated salaries before he lost the government in ’76. Tom Adams then opposition leader screamed on the floor of the house that he would never legislate salaries. He won the government and proceeded to legislate salaries. Pot calling kettle black. So , that was the real start of the war on the unions-both parties abandoning the collective bargaining process. The seeds for the eventual watering down of the workers movement were planted a long time ago; what we are seeing now is really nothing new for those who don’t see our country through the lens of Roebuck and George Streets.

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  4. George C. Brathwaite October 4, 2016 at 9:20 AM #

    ” William Skinner.
    There certainly is not a single argument to suggest that “the marginalization of the workers movement/unions started five years ago or under the current regime”. What I did say and it is irrefutable that the post-2008 administration has been the worst, i suggested it fooled the people in the election campaigning of 2013, and there has been ‘targetted’ humiliation at the Unions and their hierarchies.
    Now if you want, we can look at the mergence of labour and the legalisation of unions in the early stages of the last century. The fact is, it is unnecessary. We are examiningissues that have a direct bearing on today and indeed with their implications for the next few years.
    You see it as strictly Roebuck Street and George Street because perhaps it is you that may be uncomfortable with the play that political parties impart on unionism; however, the bigger problem for me is how to get unions to the level of consciousness regarding their potencies and strengths.
    It matters not if it is the Dems today and yesterday it was the Bees. More critical is that workers and their unions must be respected, and from time to time, they must exert their power through intity and solidarity.
    Stop seeing the messanger as the devil and examine the detail.

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  5. Vincent Haynes October 4, 2016 at 9:33 AM #

    Does a different to the past work environment exist requiring a new thinking by unions?

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  6. Bernard Codrington. October 4, 2016 at 10:29 AM #

    Well said George.
    The fundamental issue is that the countervailing force which the workers unions once provided to unbridled capitalism and greed has weakened since independence and especially so over the past 7 years. A just and fair society requires that the Trade Union movement be not neutered. The attempt to marginalize the trade union movement by legislating how the fruits of production should be shared and the process to arrive at the share that the workers should have. This was done in an attempt to stop a few shops from opening and in the name of industrial peace.

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  7. Bernard Codrington. October 4, 2016 at 10:41 AM #

    @Vincent Haynes
    Yes the past organization of producing the National Income has changed; and so has the composition of the National Income .So yes there has to be some tweaking of the methodology of GOB, Capital and Labour. But the democratic process must be maintained and Labour has a right to negotiate the price at which it will offer its services. Negotiation like haggling is still the safest route.

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  8. Bernard Codrington. October 4, 2016 at 10:47 AM #

    Absenteeism,uncertificated sick leave,increased NCDs are symptoms of a round about route for Labour and Management to reduce input of service to match the compensation.

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  9. Exclaimer October 4, 2016 at 10:49 AM #

    @ Dr. George C. Brathwaite,

    I agree with your contribution. However i’m surprised that you have failed to mention that our government made the case some two years ago that it was determined to bring in foreigners to breathe life into Barbados.

    Do you expect these foreigners to play by the rules when they make the decision to employ Bajans of the soil? The gains made by the union movement since the time of our independence will be reversed.

    You should expect an increase in foreign labour. Bajans will not subjugate themselves to a foreign employer who fails to comply with our local employment laws.

    Like

  10. chad99999 October 4, 2016 at 11:30 AM #

    Do the lazy scholars at UWI ever bestir themselves to track over time, for each Caribbean island, the distribution of income among landlords, businesses and households (and among different classes within the household sector), so that we can see whether inequality is getting worse, and if so, how the situation varies from one island to the next?
    That would help us answer the question of just how effective unions are in protecting workers from “unbridled capitalism”.

    Like

  11. Pachamama October 4, 2016 at 11:33 AM #

    It’s amazing how otherwise intelligent people would always, like slaves, blame workers for the demise of systems.

    It must be always lazy workers or the lack of productivity, another way of saying the same thing.

    It could never be the failure of the capitalist class itself, but workers are to be the scapegoats.

    Nobody ponders if workers are to give up gains why not do so for a stake in enterprises, some of what the capitalist class has, as joint owners or outright owners. This calculus is never considered seriously, not even by trade unions themselves.

    Yours is the behavior of modern day house niggers, with degrees.

    Did someone what to convince us that slavery is not the order of this day?

    Like

  12. Well Well & Consequences October 4, 2016 at 12:51 PM #

    Many people with degrees never studied calculas, not even in university. ..lol

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  13. Well Well & Consequences October 4, 2016 at 12:51 PM #

    Calculus. ..

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  14. Well Well & Consequences October 5, 2016 at 4:28 AM #

    http://www.nationnews.com/nationnews/news/87706/wages-docked-shut

    I never liked this slimy looking dude from Divi. You do not dock employees pay because of a natural disaster that they were not responsible for…an act of nature.

    It’s the labor department to put an end to this nasty practice. Employees are not your slaves to illtreat.

    Apes Hill, the racist pigs Cow Williams et al were given taxpayers money for investment according to Dumbville Inniss, why is taxpayer’s money given to these greedy pigs and the same taxpayers are having their pay docked because of an act of nature and a national shutdown called by government.

    The labor department needs to put an end to that, employees are not slaves, they are people with families.

    The slaves in parliament need to stop picking up taxpayers money and give to these arrogant pigs in Apes Hill who believe they have slaves and are just mooching off the taxpayers and have been for over 30 years.

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  15. George C. Brathwaite October 5, 2016 at 9:25 AM #

    http://www.nationnews.com/nationnews/news/87706/wages-docked-shut

    The dollar means everything to these businesses, NOT the well-being of their staff.

    Like

  16. Bush Tea October 5, 2016 at 9:54 AM #

    @ George
    Bushie don’t bother to read your articles seriously anymore….
    You are obviously just mekking a lotta shiite sport.

    First thing you do is start by quoting some shiite from ancient history …and from another world altogether…. then you go down a line of illogic that stresses a bushman….
    …and your conclusion is ALWAYS that the DLP government are shiite-hounds….. something that even AC acknowledges.

    Boss, this 2016.

    ANYONE ….who seeks to compare the required role of the union now … to the era when EWB made the above quote is on a side-track that is guaranteed to waste Bushie’s time.

    The whole AIM of life is CONTINUOUS DEVELOPMENT….. not to maintain the same shiite that our great great grandparents did.
    Why the donkey should unions be fighting management in 2016?

    In 2016, Bajans should be SHAREHOLDERS and OWNERS.
    In 2016, Bajans should be be the ones making the rules in the boardrooms
    In 2016, 5% of the population, and a few foreign corporations should NOT own every shiite
    In 2016 Unions should have worked themselves OUT OF business… as there should be no need for Bajan OWNERS to exploit THEMSELVES as workers.

    When will you put that PhD to good use …and bring sone innovation and creativity to your analysis…?

    Like

  17. George C. Brathwaite October 5, 2016 at 10:08 AM #

    @ Bushie
    Thanks, when are you going to do your PhD or come out of the closet and start sharing meaningful things with people? Why you so envious and bitter? Please, do not read anything, write instead (with sense of course). Stop mekking an asshole of yourself. Go fix your dress, your panties are showing.

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  18. Bernard Codrington. October 5, 2016 at 3:32 PM #

    @GCB,

    Why are you treating Bush Tea so ? Come on! You need to have a sense of humour. Pick some sense out of the apparent nonsense. He seems to think the battle between capital and labour is over. You and I know that it is likely to be perennial since there will always be a need for a countervailing force to keep the dream of a fair and just society alive. Man is basically selfish and the greed of those who control wealth and the bulk of national income will not disappear in three generations . So have some patience. Similarly, he like me, is impatient with the fact that there is no ownership of the commanding heights of the economy by these great ,great, great grand children of slaves. If you are going to be an effective teacher you will need a lot of patience and a compassionate and open mind.

    Like

  19. Bush Tea October 5, 2016 at 8:42 PM #

    LOL @ Dr. George @10.08 am
    Boss, yuh like yuh growing some balls yuh…
    Man…yuh just lambaste Bushie in cuss….
    …and almost got away with it too……cause Bushie wasn’t planning to come back here – so sure he was that you would just slink off and begin work on next week’s nonsense column…

    But George, …that was not a very tactful response…
    It is not very circumspect to, using your own REAL name, get all riled up- and cuss a BU pseudonym – who could well be your boss, neighbour, student, or even closer…

    tut tut!!

    That aside, your 10.08 response is even more retarded than the original article.
    Boss…Bushie has been sharing THE MOST important message that can POSSIBLY be shared in this world of ours for the whole life of BU….. long before you arrived… or even managed to extract your’PhD’ from whichever reluctant university it is….
    Called the GOSPEL, it is the good news about the unbelievable purpose of life itself – the opportunity that has been offered to mankind to come to know life …. REAL LIFE…

    As an aside to this message, Bushie enjoys the back and forth of the petty discussions in which we engage here on BU as we ignore the pearls and jewels and wrestle with the shiite and the jobby such as economics, management /labour relations etc.
    However, even by THAT standard, your offerings make NO SENSE…… nor do you ever attempt to justify or defend your posits…
    Shiite man! mostly you do not even respond …even to harsh, honest (if somewhat insulting) criticism…. which you now seem to equate with ‘envy and spite’.

    You are not very smart George …as even you must now have deduced. Certainly not smart enough to get away with writing about things that you do not understand.
    Don’t be like Froon and Stinkliar …and persist in imposing yourself on us – week after damn week – when it must be clear, even to you and AC, that you are not up to the task…

    Go in peace – and look for some other shiite to do when the week come do…

    Like

  20. Bush Tea October 5, 2016 at 9:11 PM #

    @ Bernard
    It is not that Bushie thinks that the battle between capital and labour is over.

    It ls that Bushie thinks that the level of thinking that needs to be brought to the table must rise above that which existed back when Crawford and Barrow argued on the matter.
    In any perennial battle between labour and capital – in an albino centric world (which is our reality) capital wins hands down.
    Solutions must therefore rise above workers battling against management – especially in a world where organisational efficiency and productivity are critical to the very survival of the same business that sustains BOTH the capital and the labour.

    One can excuse Caswell or other union leaders taking such a line about ‘not yielding’, and spewing their various battle cries. But proposals for solutions and ‘PhD level thinking’ surely needs to raise the bar….
    Why should it be implicit that Bajans, after 60 years of free education, living in a country in which they are over 80% majority, …and where they make up the rules…. be represented in the ‘workers’ classification?
    What level of thinking assumes that ‘capital’ should be independent of ‘labour’? Was this not the stated intent of ‘enfranchisement?

    The unions failed us by not leveraging their significant influence to create laws to require that portions of all employee’s labour inputs into organisations be converted into share equity. They failed because they fell into the same trap as George does now when he falsely – (following standard albino-centric philosophy) assumes that capital and labour are mutually exclusive, not interchangeable, and inevitably in conflict.

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  21. chad99999 October 6, 2016 at 8:19 AM #

    The power of capital over labour depends not so much on ownership rights themselves but on the concentration of those ownership rights in the hands of a tiny group of individuals.
    If ownership rights are widely distributed, capital ceases to dominate the power structure, and power shifts to managers. The managerial class replaces the owners as the top dogs in the system.
    It is almost impossible to conceive of a modern, urbanized, fast-moving society that is not dominated by a relatively small power elite, which is why economic and social inequality is a problem that will probably never go away, whether the system of economic organization is capitalist or socialist.

    Like

  22. Pachamama October 6, 2016 at 8:28 AM #

    George Brathwaite

    Do you really think in this age somebody will envy you on account of a PhD?

    We were not aware that an old man like you getting a PhD is no achievement really. If you were 15 years old, well then you will be rightly envied.

    Well, well – we really have a problem.

    What we should be worried about is the number of these trained ponies we can hire to make the rest of the world believe that this planet is flat.

    It cost about 600K a years to have people like you articulate issues you yourself do not believe. How many of them do we have on our payroll.

    At least Mia has one!

    Like

  23. David October 6, 2016 at 9:05 AM #

    @chad99999

    Interesting comment, you should try to expound on it.

    >

    Like

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