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UK Unions’ and LIAT pilots’ strike – Lessons for SVGTU

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Fri, Dec 9. 2011

Editor: The world and region have witnessed and continue to see the unfolding of the dispute of United Kingdom Trade Unions with their government to protect the interest of the workers. We are also seeing the stance of the LIAT’s pilots in defending their colleague who was fired/victimised.{{more}} The question is, has SVGTU’s leadership learnt anything from these struggles of workers’ unions?

In the UK, union leaders have been mobilising their membership for months, articulating their concerns to the British government and sensitising the population of the situation that confronts the workers and ‘would-be’ workers. Unionists and workers were seen at the workplaces of their members and in the public advocating, mobilising and doing the work on behalf of their members, with one aim, ‘defending and protecting their members’ interest.’ Pamphlets, leaflets, flyers, radio and television programmes and commentaries were distributed, seen and heard. The unions’ leadership had singleness of mind and purpose in the defence of their members’ benefits, rights and privileges.

In the case of LIAT’s pilot, the moment their colleague was fired, other pilots and LIAT Unions’ immediately took action. They knew that if they sat and did nothing, then they don’t know who next LIAT’s management would fire! They are being ‘their brother’s keeper’ while ‘nipping the problem in its bud’.

Neither the British Unions nor LIAT pilots and Unions are intimidated by the position of their governments, Prime Minister – nor are they trading politics, personal promotion or interest above the interest of their members, colleagues or union.

In Saint Vincent, the SVGTU’s leadership has witnessed the most brutal attack on the union, including an attempt at ‘de-recognition’ of the union, dishonesty by government in implementing the Collective Agreement – Contemptuous treatment by the government and its agents, among other attacks. However, the responses have been profoundly different from that of the UK partners and LIAT pilots and workers.

The People’s Movement for Change (PMC), not SVGTU, was the group to picket government for the teachers who are being victimised and the dishonouring of the Collective Agreement. The SVGTU has not sent out a leaflet, flyer or hosted any serious programme to mount its case and demand respect for its Agreement. In fact, the teachers’ president was the first one, without legal advice, to say ‘that the union’s Agreement can’t stand.’

The leader has since told the media ‘not to let the issue die.’ The News reminded him that it’s not the media’s responsibility to defend his members and he must say what he and his executive will do to defend the members and the union’s rights and benefits. Another weekly, SEARCHLIGHT, challenged the teachers’ Union leadership to be serious, make sacrifices, and not to let the benefits struggled for by their forerunners go to waste/be in vain.

More recently, the SVGTU’s President, Ronald Clarke, told teachers ‘to go back to their schools and mobilise.’ Again, the buck seems to be passed and the ‘leadership’ did not visit a single school to mobilise, sensitize, or tell the members what the union intends to do to defend the union, its rights, and members. In fact, commentators like Renwick Rose and others have asked the union to get serious and represent not just the teachers, but to give leadership to the working people.

The responses in the UK and LIAT compared to SVGTU’s are interesting and stark. In the former, the leadership and members are leading the charge to defend their benefits and colleagues. In SVG, the Teachers’ Union ‘leadership’ is calling on the media to do their job. Indeed, the PMC made a move that the union is afraid to make ‘picket’. LIAT’s Unions are pledging support for fired LIAT pilot. In SVG, the Teachers’ Union refuses to report their issue to the Caribbean Union of Teachers (CUT), saying ‘it will embarrass government.’ In the UK and LIAT pilots’ case, their leader is standing up and rubbishing government’s unsubstantiated talks. In SVG, the SVGTU’s Leadership is virtually silent in articulating and responding to government’s mis-informatation and indefensible position. In parts of the UK, Opposition parties, Labour and Green members of Parliament stood by the unions and carried their fight in Parliament – in SVG, the union’s president calls pledges from opposition supporters and all people to join and rally with the union ‘hijacking’ the union’s rally!

Editor, I do not know if there is anything the SVGTU’s leadership, members and the entire trade union movement in SVG can learn from these struggles, However, I am of the view that we should see how to separate our personal interest and desires from those of the unions and members. We should also see that when one colleague is attacked, that is an attack on all members and the union.

SVGTU’s leadership ought to see that when, for example, our PM, Dr Hon Ralph Gonsalves, condemned the pilots for standing up to the abuse, victimisation and irresponsible behaviour of LIAT’s management, the pilots did not ‘coil their tails’ and stop their justifiable action. They did not abandon or betray their brother. They plan to stand firm and widen and deepen their action if justice is not done to their colleague! They did not leave a void for a PMC to do it for them. They did not ask the media to do it for them! They did not abdicate their responsibility and ask others to lead. They did it and continue to do it, because they believe it’s right. Can SVGTU, especially, and other unions learn anything from the UK unions and LIAT pilots’ and unions’ action?

Otto Sam

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