Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Celebrating trade unions

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SEVENTY-FIVE YEARS ago there was a watershed event in Barbados with the disturbances of that year, 1937.
It changed this country in a very positive way and one of the outcomes was the establishment of the trade union movement. No one can deny that organized labour has contributed significantly to the development of this island since then.
So today when delegates and specially invited guests gather at the Barbados Workers’ Union’s (BWU) headquarters at Solidarity House for the start of its 71st annual conference, there is reason to celebrate the good that this union and all the other unions here have done by contributing to Barbados being a better place to live, work and do business.
We accept that the unions have not been right all the time and that their actions have not always been agreeable or even in the interest of the majority. However, we accept that generally they have worked in the interest of the nation.
Anyone following this island’s history would see this from that perio dwhen the unions, but moreso, the BWU, worked in tandem with the political parties to advocate and push for significant changes which we take today for granted. We speak of legislative benefits ranging from social security to paid maternity benefits to paid holidays.
The events of the 1990s when the unions joined with Government and the private sector to establish the Social Partnership, the Productivity Council and the National Initiative for Service Excellence, show a responsibility on the unions’ part that highlights a partner who has the country’s welfare at heart.
The BWU’s venture into building of a housing complex, its joining with others to emphasize the education and training of members and their branching out into the cooperative credit union movement, indicates a holistic approach which can only redound to the benefit of all Barbados.
But these are changing times and the unions, despite the good that they have done, now face new challenges. Many college-educated children of union parents now look with disdain at the labour organizations even though these white collar professionals tend to appreciate what the unions did for their parents.
We focus on those things that are wrong with unions, exemplified by their support often times for bad habits in the workplace. The high level of absenteeism and the low productivity afflicting many unionized businesses, whether in the private or public sector, are but examples of things that the unions must decry. Some people would want to believe the unions are a spent force, especially when they get body blows in public disputes with employers.
But we cannot welcome their demise. We recognize that when unions are powerful, they boost the incomes of not only their members but also of non-union workers. At the same time, we would extol the value of unions in increasing corporate profitability, controlling wage demands and policing the workforce.
They are critical partners to ensure Barbados’ economic and social stability and development.

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