FRIDAY, SEPT. 14: Dear Sir,

‘Axed workers ask: Where’s our cash?’ That was the Bermuda Sun’s recent headline on a story about former workers at the White & Sons Grocery store in Warwick.

So much for Bob Stewart’s assertion that ‘nobody needs trade unions’.

The trouble with economic gurus of Mr. Stewart’s mindset is that they wish they were back in the days of feudalism, where the poor peasant knew his place; to serve his lord and give all his labour to creating wealth for those who ruled over them.

Bob Stewart would be quite at home in the world that English writer and social commentator Charles Dickens wrote about, with its grinding poverty; workhouses; child labour and a pittance paid to the labour class in the early days of the beginning of industrialize Britain.

Bob Stewart states that he will tell us why we do not need trade unions, but he fails to answer the most important question; which came first — the severe exploitation and injustices experience by the working class or the creation of the trade union movement?

“Employers rarely exploit their workers” states Bob Stewart; well perhaps he should talk to Bermudians who have been laid off and whose health insurance and pensions have not been paid by the employer.

An investigation of Bermuda’s labour market might find that failure to pay employees’ health care and pensions — taken directly out of their wages — is more common than we have been led to believe.

I understand why the Bob Stewarts of this world are so anti-union, because organize labour and the trade union movement is the only thing that has stood in the way of their attempt to amass as much profit for the owners and shareholders of their economic concerns — while paying their workers as little as they can get away with.

It even applies to those employed in the so-called white collar jobs. When the upper management of their companies either ran their business onto the rocks or lost millions in dubious investments, they found themselves walking out of their former workplaces with their pitiful cardboard box of belongings, while the upper echelons of the same company were given golden parachutes worth millions of dollars — and even stock options in other economic concerns. No sign of a benevolent employer here.

It is a popular myth pushed by historical revisionists like Bob Stewart that the 1981 strike sparked the decline of Bermuda’s tourism industry.

Struggle

Unfortunately for him, there are many of us who where part of that historical labour struggle who are still around and know the background that led to the 1981 strike. I co-wrote a book with fellow trade unionist Leleath Bailey, ‘Labour on the March’, which traces the creation of Bermuda’s trade union movement, from the birth of the teachers’ union to the civil service union to Joe Mills’s dock workers union and the Bermuda Industrial Union. Also included is my personal recollection of the events of 1981.

The then-leader of the former United Bermuda Party government Sir David Gibbons had declared long before the event of the 1981 labour struggle that the Bermuda Industrial Union was the main adversary; that was what led to the 1981 labour struggle and before it was over, the workers had made quite clear that if you attempt to break the union, you will break the country.

The great irony concerning the 1981 strike is that it need not have happened if the Gibbons government had undertaken to negotiate with the union in good faith and had not stopped the hospital board from reaching an agreement with the union.

Both hospital and government blue collar workers had been involved in  protracted wage negotiations for over a year and at the end of it all, the government ended up paying out more for a wage settlement than would have been the case if they had arrive at a negotiated settlement with the BIU.

Even the then-head of the Chamber of commerce was prompted to go on national TV and promise they would look into the concerns of the workers.

I make this point in response to Bob Stewart’s attempt to downplay the role of the trade union; without the trade union movement in Bermuda, we would have a less equitable society.

Without the workers’ perseverance, we would have less consciousness of civil and human rights-principles that the labour movement has constantly struggled for, to bring about a better society for the working man and woman.

The labour movement has empowered them to finally claim their true place in the success of Bermudian society.

Alvin Williams

Warwick