Dr. Francis Severin
Dr. Francis Severin

Dominican society is becoming "unreceptive" to persons who think, analyse and express their thoughts; these persons are deemed to be unpatriotic.

Head of the University of the West Indies (UWI) Open Campus Dominica, Dr. Francis Severin told the Waterfront and Allied Workers Union (WAWU) 43rd Annual General Meeting last week Thursday that this tendency was somewhat disconcerting.

"I wish to say in very lucid terms, that this is a potentially very treacherous posture to assume and which every trade union organization must guard against since it is loaded with many outlandish implications," Dr. Severin said.

In fact, Dr. Severin suggested, true patriotism or loyalty to country is "loving our country sufficiently to point out where there are wrongs, inequities and injustices".

However, he added, true patriotism goes beyond the "concept of country"; it involves one's mode of interaction with other Dominicans.

"If we plot against our brothers and sisters, carry falsehoods against them, and attempt to take away their livelihoods by maliciously undermining them because they think differently from what we hold as sacrosanct and untouchable, then surely, we cannot claim to be patriotic to country," he said. "At worst we are narcissistic."

Dr Severin was the featured speaker at WAWU's anniversary celebration and 15th Biennial Delegates Conference. WAWU is one of Dominica's oldest trade unions. Over the last 43 years, the union has changed its name from the Port Branch of the Dominica Trade Union, to the Seaman and Waterfront Workers Union and then to WAWU. It was the first union to organise workers of non local banks such as Barclays Bank and the Royal Bank of Canada. This year WAWU celebrated its anniversary under the theme: "Consolidating on the Past Gains with Effective Representation."

But despite its successes, Dr. Severin said, WAWU and the other trade unions here, and in the Caribbean, are now going through what he described as their toughest period in their history and thus traditional responses to disputes and to collective bargaining have to be modified.

"The workplace today is different from what it was not very long ago," he said. "This point might even strike you (excuse the pun) a little more when you grasp that the days of overt forms of industrial action or conflict, especially strike action and "sick-outs" are all but over".

Nonetheless, Dr. Severin told members of WAWU that they should "pre-empt" the factors that causes strikes and other forms of industrial disputes. He said poor communication, absence of cooperation, violation of collective agreements and inhumane and abusive attitudes of management to workers are some causes of industrial disputes. He suggested that the setting up of a mentorship system may help to 'nip any sign of discord in the bud."

The trade union, he suggested, must encourage its members to seek formal and informal training and acquire skills and work attitudes which will contribute to these workers' indispensability to their employers. Additionally, when bargaining on behalf of its members, the union must go beyond requests for mere basic needs, the UWI Open Campus Head advised.

"WAWU must orient its members beyond the basic physiological and safety needs of water, food, sleep, sex, clothing, and shelter. These are important but tend to be the typical variables that management and those who hold power may flaunt before employees in order to make them salivate, drool and crawl," Dr. Severin said. "Self-worth and dignity are more important than financial gains, especially ill-gotten gains. Do not allow anyone to cause you to salivate at the sight of materialism and thereby enslave you indefinitely".

On the issue of political campaigning for the upcoming general election, Dr Severin told members of the union that WAWU should join others in demanding "a noise free" election campaign.

"Let us be sober, clear-headed, serious, and sedate," he said. "I invite the various religious leaders to speak clearly and cease being inconsistent, incoherent, shifting and fickle on these important issues."