Left to right: Trade Union leaders- Kertiste Augustus; Celia Nicholas; Thomas Letang and Bernard Nicholas (DTU)
Left to right: Trade Union leaders- Kertiste Augustus; Celia Nicholas; Thomas Letang and Bernard Nicholas (DTU)

At the moment the public service unions, i.e. the Police Welfare Association, the Dominica Association of Teachers and the Dominica Public Service Union are squandering a golden opportunity to force their demands on the government of Dominica.

But unfortunately the leaders of these unions are apparently incapable of seeing beyond their noses; they cannot see that if they combine their resources government will inevitably come to the bargaining table as meekly as a lamb to the slaughter.

Apparently, Thomas and Celia and Jefferson have not learnt the value of the statement that the enemy of my enemy is my friend and that they have to forget their personal differences and come together, even for the narrow and temporary objective of salary negotiations. For an institution whose motto is "unity is strength", the heads of the Dominica trade union movement are bent in promoting their idea that "divided we will fall, but who cares?"

So as Labour Day 2017 approaches, we have another opportunity for serious re-flection on the significance of the event and an additional occasion to reassess the effectiveness of the trade union movement at this juncture of Dominica's development. Most persons will readily admit that there have been some major changes, mostly negative, over the past 30 years in trade unionism.

In the Seventies, for example, Labour Day provided an opportunity for workers to celebrate their status as a newly organised work force and to savor their strength as effective and powerful collective-bargaining units.

But over the past three decades, the observance of Labour Day has been rather lukewarm as this important anniversary lost much of its meaning. Labour Day or May Day, as it is also called, is no longer an occasion for workers of the world to scream "unite!" as they frequently did during the period when Communism was at its zenith. Remember Karl Marx's famous statement? "Workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains".

On May Day during that period, workers used that day to contemplate the gains that their ancestors achieved during the period from the abolition of slavery to the attainment of political independence. But today, young workers no longer have enthusiasm for collective bargaining and generally they do not comprehend the import of the May Day. To many youth May Day, observed in Dominica on the first Monday in May, is merely part of a long weekend during which matters pertaining to national productivity has to "chill out".

In fact, our response to May Day is so indifferent that today the Dominica Labour Party government, a party formed by E.C Loblack and Shand Alfrey to champion the rights of poor workers, is busy planning the official opening of the Roseau West Bridge on May Day with apparent negligible concern that this distraction will have a negative impact on the observance of worker's day, May Day.

But the decline in the strength of trade unions is not a Dominica, or a Caribbean phenomenon. It is worldwide. You may recall that former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said after she won a significant battle against the militant unions of the Seventies that she had "tamed" the unions as if they were creatures of the wild that had to be domesticated. Thatcher's sentiments are still very much in vogue today especially among members of the private sector. Similar declines in trade union strength and militancy occurred in countries such as the United States of America, Israel, France, Argentina, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. A few years ago the International Labour Organisation (ILO) reported that union membership had declined by as much as 45 percent in many countries; that decline has continued unabated. Although there are no current statistics to compare the loss of union membership in Dominica, anecdotal information indicates that that decline has been significant.

The experts suggest that globalization is one of the main causes of the decline of unions in the Caribbean, and world-wide for that matter. They suggest that this phenomenon has integrated the population of the world and expanded international flows of trade, investment, labour, capital, knowledge and information. Improvements in technology, especially communication technology, have also accelerated the "globalization" of industries and the integration of markets. Since goods can be produced at low cost due to the availability of cheap labour in some areas of the world, jobs have been transferred to those areas of the globe. The transfer of these jobs has had a significant impact on the traditional mode of doing business in the region and has forced Caribbean businesses to implement measures to enable them to compete in the global economy. Subsequently, jobs were lost in all sectors of the economy. That change has had profound implications on the relationships between employees, employers and unions.

As unions' bargaining power weakened, they sought new ways to maintain influence. That new realism has forced them to seek new areas of partnership and to abandon the confrontational attitudes of the past.

A poignant example of the decline in union power and militancy was the weak response of the Dominica Civil Service Association to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) influenced structural adjustment programme of the Pierre Charles Administration in 2003. Recent events, such as the on-going salary negotiations between three public service unions and Government, are other poignant examples of the unions' impotency.

The point is almost everyone agrees that that the time has come for a new focus on the creation of a trade union congress. So members of the various trade unions should be telling union leaders Thomas and Celia and Curtis and Rawlins and Bernard that there is no valid excuse for further delaying the establishing a trade union congress and so they need action now.

We also suggest that discussion on the formation of that congress should occupy a large part of May Day 2017. Other educational sessions may be organized to inform and educate workers of the changes occurring in the global market place and the real state of the Dominican economy, their impact on employment opportunities, wages and standards of living in the Caribbean. Undoubtedly, an educated and united workforce is the best defence against the tide of change that unions are being forced to swim against today and in the near future.