Full Disclosure
February 17, 2006
Unions begin with “you”

The presence and accommodation of Trade Unions within our socio-political context is not simply another minor aspect of labor relations, but it is better characterized firstly as a depiction of a deep seated strength in our version of democracy, and secondly it acts as further evidence that those who sell their labor are still allowed a voice in what in many instances could appear to be a wilderness.

The historical development of unions depicts a transition from a period wherein even the notion of the formation of groupings short of a union was dispelled, to the present, where many have allowed the benefits of unionization to bear fruit. Today there is far greater tolerance in our legal jurisprudence supportive of unions. The Supreme Law of the land as outlined in the Constitution provides the right to associate, which cements the right to join and be a part of a union. The irony however, is that those who should be seeking their rights through unions appear in many instances either not to be organized or in many cases are simply carefree. {{more}}

Where is our consciousness?

One must never be distant from the truth in adopting the view that the relationship between employees and employers operates within a perfect world. Issues ranging from paternity leave for men with pregnant wives to basic questions of wages, working conditions among many others are only a few of the matters which unions are forced to address. Yet many workers do not support such ambitions but prefer to sit as onlookers being satisfied to settle for an “Oberserver’s status”.

There are many reasons however, why some workers refrain from being a part of the collective. These reasons vary from personal conservatism to reasons of mismanagement of unions in some instances giving little confidence to the members. If one takes the approach that “strength is in numbers” then it is interesting to rationalize how the cause of a union may be effectively advanced and translated into a respected bargaining force, within the context of any mini-state jurisdiction with an extremely small and fragmented workforce. For instance, in a population in which there are under 70,000 persons within the economically active age group, 9,000 of whom may be unemployed and 5,000 self employed, these statistics can impair Trade Union growth and development. Those are the odds but we must press on.

The way forward

In recent weeks we have heard many calls being made by unions. Workers must rise to the occasion, or run the risk of being marginalized. A high level of consciousness is needed in this regard. Settling for less is settling for nothing. With the free movement of workers though the Caribbean region anticipated in the not too distant future one can only envisage an even greater need for Unionization to advance the concerns of the workers.

Whilst there may still be much to be desired from some unions locally, regionally and internationally, the St. Vincent Teachers’ Union must be commended for its very forthright approach to representation. An analysis of the work of the Teachers’ Union in recent times has shown that it is made of stern mettle, strong leadership and must be commended for raising the bar in trade union bargaining.

There is strength in collectivity. We must move from the old approach that unions are only needed when something goes wrong. This negative approach to unionism is not only inhibitive but goes to the very purpose of such organizations.

Therefore, we must organize the collective to function effectively. In so doing we must ensure that such an important weapon in the armoury of a worker is protected, since any successful attack on a union, no matter how minute it is, is an attack on democracy and must be dispelled with a great sense of urgency.