Dominica Public Service Union: "Celebrating Our Achievements, Shaping our Future"
The Following is an Address Delivered at the DPSU 75th Anniversary and 7th Biennial Conference at the Dominica Public Service Union Headquarters on Valley Road on
Wednesday April 30, 2014
By Alvin Thomas
Let me begin by stating how delighted and pleased I am to be present with all of you here this evening at the Dominica Public Service Union headquarters.
Wow!!!! It feels so good to be here and I am filled with a deep sense of pride and excitement, just as all of you are, to be celebrating this union milestone.
It is also with a deep sense of humility that I accepted your kind invitation, Bro President to address this gathering as we observed the 75th Anniversary and 7th Biennial conference of the Dominica Public Service Union.
Those early pioneers of the movement who are still here with us today and as well as those who have gone be yonder must be looking down on us here tonight with a certain amount of pride and jubilation.
What then, can I say to you my fellow comrades as we celebrate and observed this milestone together?
As someone who was afforded the privilege by you the members to play what I considered to have been a small contribution throughout this 75 year history and development of the Dominica Public Service Union - DPSU, I want to say thank you for having given me that opportunity to serve this August body.
You, who are here serving today, are doing so standing on the shoulders of these early pioneers, the brave men and women who 75 years ago accepted the call to be of service to their fellowmen and saw the need to form the Dominica Civil Service Association.
The theme that you have chosen for the occasion – "Celebrating Our Achievements, Shaping our Future" is indeed appropriate, as we look back on those 75 years as a movement and as we will together attempt at positioning and shaping the DPSU for the future.
You will agree that seventy-five (75) years of representing the interest of public sector workers as well as developing leaders throughout the public service was no easy feat, and is a commendable achievement worth celebrating. How many other organizations here in the Commonwealth of Dominica can honestly speak of a 75 year history of actively representing the interest of its members.
Allow me to put into some perspective the existence of the Dominica Civil Service Association as an organization, the formation of the Dominica Civil Service Association, precedes the United Nations as an organization, the UN having been founded in 1945; the Dominica Labor Party in 1955 and yes, well before CARICOM in 1973.
Throughout that seventy-five (75) year history we have seen the rise and fall of governments, attempts at failed federation, as well as what can best be described as the changing of the guards; from Crown Colony rule to Associated Statehood and then to Independence. As a movement, the Dominica Public Service Union - DPSU has surely stood the test of time and I have no doubt will continue for a very long time.
In speaking on the theme "Celebrating Our Achievements, Shaping our Future", against the background of a seventy-five (75) years history would take more than just an address this evening from someone who was a small part of that history.
Members both past and present can speak more directly to some of our achievements over the years.
However, it is worth mentioning the following areas; members group medical insurance, scholarship to members' children, establishment of a credit union, mini mart, increased membership, community outreach program, and improved public relations and workers education. The current leadership needs to be commended.
I believe it is also an opportune moment as we celebrate that milestone for those of us who have been a part of that history to look back and in retrospect to recall what impact the union has had on our lives as public sector workers and as citizens.
Many trade union trailblazers have been responsible for keeping the union's flame alive. Again, for fear of not accurately representing the records, I will resist reading from a short list or even a long list of the names of those individuals who throughout that period in history contributed and shaped the direction of the union. But it would be remise of me, if I did not make special mention of some individuals who were a part of that history.
Join me as we salute some of our pioneers; John Bully one of our founding member, other past leaders like T. A. Boyd, Wendell Lawrence, Clive Butler, Alick Larzarre, Jerome Barzey, Christopher Maximea, Osborne Symes, Charles Savarin, Reggi Elie, Milton Green, Bertilla Ettienne, Anita James, Clement Carty, Ralph Elwin, Arthur Smith, John Alexis, Colemore Christian, Jennifer Astaphan, Irene John, Steve Ferrol, Beniot Bardouille, Sonia Williams, Steve Joseph and of course our current General Secretary Bro Thomas Letang
As I address you this evening, there are also several individuals in the public sector; including heads of departments, ministers of government; past and present civic leaders in the public and the private sector, who in some shape or form owe their personal and professional development to the DPSU and what the union represented and continues to stand for.
There should be no doubt that our public service, our society and our country is in a much better place today as a result of that seventy-five (75) year history and the union's contribution to the Commonwealth of Dominica.
Brothers and sisters, when these early pioneers back in 1939, seventy -five (75) years ago, saw the need to establish a Civil Service Association, a staff association as it was then, to represent the interest of civil servants; the rank and file civil servants, it was against a strong commitment of fearlessly having a voice for these civil servants and to represent their interest without fear or favor.
It was also a way of building solidarity among civil servants, since the association then was not yet a trade union in the true sense of being a registered trade union. The establishment of the Dominica Civil Service Association however, facilitated that process leading to what is now the Dominica Public Service Union, that vehicle championing the rights and interest of public sector workers.
We must therefore, never lose sight of that and as members, we must never allow this right to representation to be taken away or negotiated. We must guard and defend at ALL time this workers' right to union representation. This must NOT change and, I repeat NEVER be compromised.
During my research for this presentation, I stumbled upon a copy of the then weekly edition of the Herald Newspaper, dated December 1, 1962 (some fifty-two years ago) with a news story I would like to share with you. The caption read 'Civil Service Week Swings Gaily Along' – The Opening
The article reads: 'Under the chairmanship of C.S.A Secretary J. A. Barzey, President Wendell Lawrence led off the opening night by declaring a well delivered speech. He was quoted as saying, "We have had to face opposition from certain people who do not think it is in their interest for a strong Civil Service Association to exist"
CSA President Wendell Lawrence was at the time referring to the attempts by individuals including civil servants to undermine the work of the association. Brothers and Sisters, not wanting to have a strong organized union is not anything new which the leadership has had to confront, and will continue to be an obstacle that we will and have effectively overcome.
Let me say then to the many skeptics who continue to espouse the idea that unions, and I guess that includes the Dominica Public Service Union, have outlived their usefulness, to say to them how totally misguided and misinformed they are.
Rest assured, that as long as workers; and in particular, public sector workers continue to be marginalized and or taken for granted by their employers, the Dominica Public Service Union - DPSU will be that voice for all public sector workers as it has been for the past seventy-five (75) years.
Again, let me repeat, public sector workers will continue to be organized and be represented by the DPSU. My message for you brothers and sisters is as the Brakes once said in his calypso 'Let us keep the candle burning'.
The big question is how then; can we successfully shape that future as referenced in the theme chosen? Let me first warn you that there are no easy answers and or solutions.
In an ILO report published in 2001; titled The Public Service in a changing Labor Market, the ILO went on to state and I quote, 'We are living in an age where change in the world economy is occurring faster than ever before. The resultant impact on the labor movement can be of great benefit or can bring numerous problems'.
It means therefore, that the current union leadership must be agents of change; and be challenged to respond to the current economic landscape and work environment. I will also respectfully submit that we must, and I repeat MUST embrace the future and commit to that change with the same level of commitment, values, courage, vigor and persistence that our union pioneers displayed as, they too, navigated and was able to overcome some of the turbulent times during that (75) year history.
I would like to borrow a quote from Gary Lew, author of the book "Our World War" which states "This is your world. Shape it or someone else will." - And to say "This is your Union. Shape it or someone else will.
I am however, fully confident and have no doubt the Dominica Public Service Union – DPSU and its current leadership along with the members will be able to effectively respond to the many challenges confronting the union and shape that future. A future that is very promising and exciting. And a future filled of opportunities.
As I address you this evening, there are a number of issues facing public sector workers in the region and the Dominica Public Service Union in particular. Keys among these issues will be the impact of globalization and the advancement in technology.
In this era of globalization and the impact it has had on workers, as well as the intending effects the advancement of technology is having in this future world, we will be witnessing a new generation of workers and union members.
This 'new generation' of workers and members will think differently. It is a generation weaned on immediacy, instant gratification, democracy and the global reach of social media.
My five year old grandson can better navigate the iphone and the kindle than I can, even at that tender age of five. This should come as no surprise to those of us who have these youngsters showing off on us on how to use these gadgets.
He is going to be one of those 'new generation' of workers and union member of the future. The workers and union members' of the future right here in the Commonwealth of Dominica will be no exception. These workers are going to be the biggest agents of change that should not be ignored by the union.
Consider too, for a moment the scale of Facebook and Twitter with one billion and 500 million users respectively. If they were countries, they would be the 3rd and 4th largest nations in the world.
The impact technology and social media has had on the workplace and society at large, cannot go unnoticed. Because of technology's pervasive influence on our lives, we need to reconsider our relationship with it.
Let me draw reference to the two US Presidential campaign and elections of President Obama which was driven to a large extent by the effective use of social media; the way in which the Democratic Party was able to effectively finance their campaign as well as reaching out to their constituents was remarkable. On another front, the recent people's unrest in Egypt started off with a blog and the use of social media, and for the most part was driven by young people.
This is a new way of building and fostering solidarity around issues of common concern.
Is there room for social media in the way we conduct union business in the future, and build solidarity among our members? The point I am trying to bring across to you brothers and sisters, is to underscore the impact that technology is having in accelerating the pace of life, as well as the consequential impact social media will play even in the labor movement as we attempt in shaping that future and building solidarity.
My advice is, Do not panic, If you resist technology, you lose. If you ignore technology, you lose. If you deny technology, you lose. Just to remind you that Pope Francis now tweets to his Cardinals. Laugh
How then can we begin the process towards shaping that future by embracing some of the emerging values of this new generation?
To begin this dialogue I would like to focus briefly on the following two areas; (1) greater involvement and a stronger inclusion of this 'New Generation' of workers, as well as (2) the Institutional Strengthening of the Union.
I am submitting that the future of the Dominica Public Service Union - DPSU will be dependent on a greater involvement and inclusion of this 'new' and maybe I should add youthful generation of workers.
We must constantly find new ways of keeping our young members energized and involved. They are going to be the 'touch bearers' that will help shape the future of the union. Let me move to another area and touch on that overused word – Globalization.
In this era of globalization, public sector workers and union members in particular, cannot afford to approach this global economy from a narrow interest in mind. The common good and solidarity of ALL workers will be paramount.
At all levels within the union, there has to be that common good and coming together of this 'new generation' of workers in order to effectively respond to the impact and challenges of globalization. Just think back, for a moment, to the reason the CSA was founded back in 1939, during an era of economic and social challenges of the 1930s that was sweeping every territory in the Caribbean. Brothers and sisters, this has to be, and must remain as one of our guiding principles as we approach and shape the future.
Back in 1975, some thirty-nine years ago when as a young civil servant, I became a member of the union, I was part of the then 'new generation' of civil servants.
Strange as it may seem now, there was no form of social media as existed today, no internet, blogs, Facebook, Twitters, You Tube, Instagram, iPad, and the iPhone. I still recalled distinctly how we produced the union newsletters with the use of a manual Gestetner copier, no 3D printing as our now 'new generation' are familiar with. Looking back, I will say what an experience that was. Notwithstanding, many young civil servants including myself were able to commit to what the union stood for.
The leadership at the time allowed for that to happen.
This current leadership needs to embrace the opportunities that this 'new generation' workers bring to the movement. And you the members must be engaged and involved as I and the many of the other young civil servants were.
As I address the issue of involvement and inclusion, gender inclusion is so critically important, and should not go unnoticed as you chart the future for the DSPU.
What do I mean by gender inclusion?
In today's world, it is no longer acceptable to deny women the opportunity to achieve their fullest potential in as we shape the future of the movement. Again, during my active involvement in the union, I recalled the pivotal role played by women in the movement. Our sisters were right there alongside us the brothers in the struggle.
This new generation demands opportunities for all and insists on tolerance, respect and fairness for all. Women and the young workers are a strong inclusion of this 'new generation' of workers.
Let me now turn to the issue of Institutional Strengthening.
This is not a new area of interest, but one that will continue to generate much debate as we shape the future of public sector unions; and of course, the Dominica Public Service Union.
In a Research paper presented for an International Colloquium on Union Renewal: Assessing Innovation for Union Power in a Globalised Economy, and published by the Canadian Public Service Union - CPSU. In commenting on this issue, the paper noted "If it was not clear before, it is now crystal clear, that our labor force must be protected, and in this regard the Canadian Public Service Union - CPSU – (and I will substitute here) the Dominica Public Service Union -DPSU have an important role to play".
The paper goes on to note that "The CPSU – (and I will again substitute here) the DPSU of tomorrow must be more proactive, be a partner for progress and support the important principle of equity and transparency."
What this means brothers and sisters is that the Dominica Public Service Union - DPSU must strive to have a greater influence over the strategic decisions of the employers, especially the government, who must regard their role as a modern employer. We too, and by that I mean the union must shape that debate and process.
Beginning with the public sector, we have learned that good governance is the bedrock of economic success. Without strong institutions like a Dominica Public Service Union, good polices cannot be developed and implemented.
It was Franklin Roosevelt who once said that 'The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little' This is what a strong and organized institution like the Dominica Public Service Union - DPSU will ensure.
The Dominica Public Service Union - DPSU must therefore ensure that they are active stakeholders in any and all public sector reform initiatives that continue to sweep the region, and in particular, the Dominica Public Sector.
The leadership within the CPSU and I will add, the DPSU will need to take on the role of facilitators, problem solvers and coaches; and not merely carry out the role of interventionist, again I am paraphrasing from a statement contained in the above referenced research paper.
Additionally, the DPSU will need to assist with the creation of a cadre of effective managers as well as a conducive work environment, where public workers are free to perform their duties in a professional and efficient manner without inappropriate intrusions and are not subject to the unfair labor practices of discrimination, victimization and unfair promotional practices.
Brothers and sisters, I am sure a lot more can be said as it relates to institutional strengthening, I hope you get the point I am trying to bring across and that you can relate to the issue and its impact in shaping the future of the Dominica Public Sector Union - DPSU.
Let me conclude. I see that I still have your attention, which is good.. As we gather here this evening celebrating 75 years as a movement with the many successes and challenges, the next five, ten, fifteen, twenty or even twenty-five years will be defining moments for the Dominica Public Service Union - DPSU as the members and leadership continues to chart its course in history.
But more than that, I believe that the DPSU leadership is standing in the antechamber of a rapidly changing global economic and labor environment.
It will be an environment marked with new challenges, new opportunities, new circumstances as well as new modes of thinking and acting.
Yes, this changing global economic and labor environment along with the 'new generation' alluded to earlier in my presentation will call for, and will require, a new approach in the way DPSU responds to the challenges of the future and shape that future.
What we need today is a 'new moment in history' that embraces the values of this 'new' generation, greater involvement, inclusion and solidarity among members as well as the capacity for institutional strengthening at the leadership level. That will be the responsibility of many of you gathered here this evening.
In closing, I will again warn you that there will be no easy answers, and or solutions, to the issues that I have just raised, but just as the leaders before us were able to sustain the movement for 75 years,
I am very confident that with the commitment, courage, persistence and a willingness to adapt to change, this organization – the Dominica Public Service Union - DPSU will surely be celebrating another 75 years.
Let me assure you that I stand committed and in solidarity with you and ready to assist in whatever way possible.
My best wishes for a successful and rewarding 7th Biennial conference.
Solidarity Brothers and Sisters