Long gone: The former Sonesta Beach Hotel on the south shore. Was it effectively sunk by the union? *File photo by Leah Furbert
Long gone: The former Sonesta Beach Hotel on the south shore. Was it effectively sunk by the union? *File photo by Leah Furbert

FRIDAY, AUGUST 31: Everyone will be pleased to look forward to Labour Day on Monday.

The only trouble with Labour Day is that it has been hijacked by organised labour — which in Bermuda, as elsewhere in the world — really means a tiny minority of the labour force.

In the US and UK, organised labour is now less than 10 per cent of the labour force in private business.

By far the largest group of organised labour is now government workers.

Few employees who work in international business are union members, and even fewer take part in Labour Day marches. The real question is, why do the majority of the labour force in Bermuda, as well as elsewhere, fail to join trade unions?

The answer is because unions do nothing for their members, and apart from minor issues can do nothing for them.

Those who are members are hoodwinked into joining on the false notion that their wages are higher because of union leadership. Indeed, I would go as far as to say that just about everything people think they know about unions and the level of wages is just plain wrong.

The standard myth is this: Before the creation of trade unions, workers were exploited by ruthless capitalists and their wages were a pittance.

However, riding to the rescue, like the US cavalry in an old grainy black and white movie, was the BIU. Without the union, workers would be doing an 80-hour week, earning buttons not dollars with no vacation pay, and no medical insurance.

This distortion of history is at odds with the facts.

Employers rarely exploit their workers, because capital works hand in glove with labour to produce prosperity. It simply does not pay to have an unhappy staff.

I say rarely, not never, as there is still a small group of short-sighted employers who abuse their powers. They are the exception, just as the exception to the rule with regard to employees are those who call in sick whilst they enjoy a day at the beach.

Pig-headed policies

As the old saying goes, there is nothing worse than being exploited by capitalists, except not being exploited by capitalists.

Thanks to pig-headed economic policies, employees are being left to their own devices — which means no wages, and for the first time ever in Bermuda, unemployment.  

Indeed, over the past three years or so, many Bermudians have lost their jobs because hotels and international companies have trimmed back on their activities.

In the case of hotels, the BIU has made it impossible for hotel owners to make a profit so that no major hotel has been built in Bermuda since 1972.

The three minor hotels recently built or expanded, namely Newstead, Tucker’s Point and The Reefs are all under some form of outside financial control. Jobs and businesses have disappeared. In short, people are experiencing poverty.

This is not at all surprising. Those of us who remember the early 1980s recall quite clearly that BIU members invaded the dining room at Sonesta Beach Hotel and intimidated the guests, as well as the workers who had ignored the BIU strike call.

This was really the beginning of the end for the tourism industry. Far from helping their members enjoy security of employment, the BIU cut the financial throats of their members. Not surprisingly, Sonesta Beach eventually closed its doors.

There is a failure on the part of the BIU leadership to appreciate the fact that labour and capital are hugely dependent on each other. Capital without labour means machines (or hotels) with no operators.

Labour without capital looks like North Korea or the former East Germany. People are miserable, hungry and lowly paid.

Now it is true that workers of today are better paid than they were, say 50 years ago. The reason for that, however, arises not from activities of unions, but from higher productivity of the workers due mainly to better tools and investment by employers. For example, few construction workers use picks and shovels but now employ advanced tools. Office workers do not use typewriters, but computers.

Because there are now fewer employers, there are fewer jobs, and fewer jobs means poorer Bermudians. All over the world there is no shortage of labour, but everywhere, including Bermuda, there is a shortage of capital.

Unions want their members to think that capital is something possessed and deployed only by bankers, the rich, or the elite. But we workers are capitalists too — every time we save and invest, buy a share in the company, contribute to a pension fund, or start a business of our own we become, indirectly, employers.   Workers and employers are not natural antagonists, except in the eyes of the Neanderthal union leadership.

The BIU and other unions must love poverty, because government policies which they support, create so much of it. 

Let me make a suggestion. On even years have a Labour Day; on odd years have an Employers’ Day. This might help people to understand that workers need employers, and employers need workers. Nobody needs unions. 

Happy Labour Day.

• Bob Stewart is a businessman and author.