Joanne MacPhee, top left: 'She never taunted or coerced anyone'. *File photos
Joanne MacPhee, top left: 'She never taunted or coerced anyone'. *File photos

Describing last week’s labour activity as disturbing would be putting things far too mildly. 

As I sat on the balcony at Pickled Onion, BIU members marched in vast numbers down Front Street.  I observed chanting, and I also observed shouting at a car driver who was trying to make their way down the road. To call it “a peaceful protest” would be a bit of an exaggeration in my humble opinion.

Much has been said and written about the behaviour of Joanne MacPhee, who possessed the audacity/lunacy to protest against the protestors. Though I think she was well within her rights to do so, I also think it displayed incredibly poor judgement, at the least for her own sake (and that of other patrons).

Nevertheless, contrary to what has been repeatedly alleged, I did not observe Ms MacPhee taunt, intimidate or coerce anyone. I also saw no indication of drunkenness. 

Ms MacPhee protested, in similar fashion to those who were protesting in the street. Claims that she is a racist who tried to incite a riot serve the purpose of shifting responsibility from the person who resorts to violence to the person who is the recipient of it. This is akin to claiming that it’s your fault that I punched you first. Nothing she said justified a violent response, and had her words been shouted by a black person, protestors probably would have similarly dismissed or ignored her altogether.

It’s this particular point which brings me to the issue of leadership and politics. 

Ever since the 2012 general election, far too many of our leaders have repeatedly been discussing violence as if it is a justifiable reaction to perceived social injustice, whether it be factual, illusory or fabricated in nature. 

Similarly, far too few leaders have been speaking out against violence and the inevitable consequences that always fall hardest upon those who engage in it. This is not by coincidence, as the last election loss makes clear that if you can motivate labour to come out to the polls, you may likely see a very different result. 

But let me assure you that there’s nothing quite like the fear of being caught in a riot to open your eyes to how close we all are to the proverbial edge of self-destruction, and how easy it is for the instigators to point a finger at someone else.

Upon reflection, I’m certain that I’m not alone in wondering exactly what success has been achieved. Six out of 10 employees are still redundant, and the BIU seems not to care one whit about the non-unionized workers. 

Additionally, we are none the wiser as to whether or not Fairmont actually violated the Collective Bargaining Agreement. But for argument’s sake, let’s assume that Fairmont was entirely wrong.  If this was the case, then this would be precisely the type of situation to bring before arbitrators. A transparent arbitration ruling would’ve provided the union with proof (instead of mere allegation) of employee rights being denied.  It would also have sent a strong message to investors that their capital is adequately shielded by common sense and law.  

Unfortunately, the union’s demand that the redundancies be reversed prior to an arbitration hearing actually made the arbitration process itself redundant. And, at a time when Bermuda desperately needs to show investors that it can reasonably adhere to a dispute resolution process, we have instead made it clear that their capital is exposed to unnecessary business interruption and civil unrest.

“What about BIU workers’ rights,” you say?  Well, what about the rights of the thousands already unemployed who desperately need new investors to open, operate or renovate, hotels? 

What about the tourists who paid to vacation here, yet had their rights to peace and safety trampled upon when tempers flared on Front Street? What about the rights of taxi drivers who depend on those same tourists who are now quite likely to consider alternative vacation destinations? 

What about the rights of taxpayers who have paid for public transport, mail delivery, trash pick-up, etc.? What about the rights of business owners to effectively manage their business? And yes, what about the right to protest against those who are protesting?  Succinctly, the rights of BIU workers are not all that matters, and our modernized labour dispute resolution laws are there to balance out the various rights of all parties concerned. When we disrespect those laws, everyone ultimately loses.  

In case you haven’t noticed, we are now down to our final major hotel group, and last week the BIU decided to shut down both of their properties instead of participating in the arbitration process. Now imagine for just one moment if the owners decided to hold off on their current renovations or shut down the hotel altogether. No hotel, no work, no taxes, no concessions to give and billions of dollars of debt…  A message sure was sent last week, but was it the right message?  I think not.