Closing the Recycling Centre a Backwards Step

This is just a short post alerting leaders that I’ve got a new piece on Bernews right now concerning the news the announcement yesterday that Government is to ‘suspend’ operations at the recycling centre based at Government quarry.

In this piece I mostly highlight how this announcement raises more questions than it answers and warn that this decision may prove to be a false economy – providing some short-term savings but risking greater long-term costs.

I am also concerned that this is a move towards privatisation, although I don’t discuss that issue in the piece itself – which was an immediate ‘reaction’ piece.

I hope to release a follow-up piece which highlights alternative policies towards recycling, building on what I’ve already stated publicly in the past, be it in my 2012 platform [pdf] or subsequent statements.

LTTE’s & Plagiarism

Bemused & Astonished…

I have a letter to the Editor (LTTE) in today’s RG – it replies to a LTTE published last Friday which selectively quoted from a rather obscure 2007 post of mine critiquing a speech by Dr Brown, the then Premier.

I won’t lie, I got a little kick out of having the RG publish a photo of Leon Trotsky by the way… :-)

The initial LTTE does correctly quote me, but selectively so, as it misses a bit where I explicitly state that my comment was not meant to be taken literally – that I was making an analogy concerning internal party democracy rather than actually stating that Dr Brown had translated a speech by Trotsky from 1919-1921. Trotsky MIA

One thing about this site is that ‘behind the scenes’ I can see certain statistics, things like readers, unique hits, where clicks are coming from and what they click on, what posts are more popular, etc.  It also has a feature that shows me what search engine searches have led to my site – and what post in particular.

On reading the initial LTTE I took a look at that latter feature.  I could see that in the last seven days prior to that LTTE someone had found that 2007 article using a search for ‘Ewart Brown plagiarism’.  I can only surmise that someone was looking for evidence to write such a letter for the purpose of deflection, of turning the criticism away from MP Leah Scott and back onto the PLP.

Furthermore, I think it’s reasonable to think that this person then used the ‘find’ feature to search the post, rather than read the entire post and resulting comments.  If someone searched for just ‘plagiarism’ they would find the two quotes used in the letter and completely miss my explicit statement that the comment about plagiarism was not meant to be taken literally.

A Challenge

Despite my LTTE clearing up the matter, I have absolutely no illusions that this will be the end of the matter.  Due to the divisions and prejudices of our society and its resulting political partisanship, people will believe what they want to believe, the facts be damned.

I will however extend a challenge to those who want to insist that I’m guilty of hypocrisy on this matter.

If it is true that Dr Brown plagiarised a speech of Trotsky’s from the 8th and/or 9th congress of the Russian Communist Party (as my comment, if taken literally, implies), then one can easily enough review Trotsky’s speeches.  One could event trawl through his entire writing, beyond the confines of 1919-1921 if that initial search proves fruitless.

If Dr Brown plagiarised, then just as the original Hello Beautiful source for MP Leah Scott’s article was found, so too could the original source from Leon Trotsky.

If one can’t find it, then what I explicitly said at the time, that I was making an analogy about the sentiments, as a criticism of what I saw as an attempt to stifle internal party democracy and the organic vibrancy of organised labour, would stand, no?

And if it is found that Dr Brown did indeed plagiarise Leon Trotsky, one can bring that to light and lay out my alleged hypocrisy for all to see.  I’ll make a public apology – I’ll even walk the length of the island in a pink dress as some form of public atonement.

I know for a fact that no such speech by Trotsky will be found, but I challenge anyone to try.  We can even approach the disciplinary committee of Bermuda College to rule on it – heck, lets make it a learning moment for all about plagiarism and integrity, and I can even raise money for a charity during the walk.

I’m willing to put my proverbial money where my mouth is – will my detractors?

The least I’d ask of the original LTTE writer is a public apology in the RG.

I’m certainly guilty of some clumsy writing.  But not hypocrisy on this plagiarism issue.

Bizzaro Island?

It’s often said that ‘Bermuda’s another world’.

We are indeed a bit of a bizarro island.  I note with some degree of bemusement how some commentators are using the original LTTE, and my follow-up, to accuse the PLP of being communist.

There’s some irony in using the writings of a socialist criticising the PLP for not being even social democratic, let alone socialist or communist, to argue that the PLP’s communist.  Certainly some twisted logic there…

 

Hi there…

My apologies to regular readers – I’ve been somewhat awol blog-wise.

After the week of labour action at the end of January I’ve been focused on my PhD research, which is kind of a priority.  As a result I’ve put the blog somewhat on the back-burner.

I haven’t been completely absent though.

Plagiarism?

I’m actually referenced, along with the blog, in a Letter to the Editor (LTTE) in the RG concerning the whole fiasco relating to Leah Scott.  I’ve written a reply, also in the form of a LTTE for the RG, and I hope it will be published soon.  As such I’ll not add anything further in relation to this particular LTTE at this time.

On the matter of Leah Scott’s plagiarism fiasco I’ve also got a press release on Bernews.

Basically, I argue that she shouldn’t have plagiarised in the first place, but having been caught out she had an opportunity to fully apologise and use it as a ‘learning moment’ to hammer home to our students the seriousness of plagiarism as an academic offence. Instead, she acted disingenuously and it’s because of that disingenuity that – to me – warrant her to resign as the Junior Minister of Education.

Or be made to resign…

Voting Rights for Prisoners?

I also have an opinion piece, complete with a draft amendment to the Parliamentary Election Act 1978, arguing that granting votes to certain prisoners (those with a sentence of less than 12 months – or with less than 12 months remaining on their sentence; or on parole) should have the right to vote.

I argue that this is in line with the concept of restorative justice and, while the link didn’t go into the published article, is also in line with the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights concerning voting rights for prisoners.

Mini-Platform on Drugs – Alcohol Section

In addition, I have released the first part of mini-platform on drugs.  I wrote this last summer but have held off releasing it for some time.  I’ve decided to release it in part, section by section, beginning with the alcohol part.

Point Counter Point

Not too long ago I published an article asking “where’s the BTUC?”, noting that the lack of response to the press conference by the Premier and the Minister of Finance yesterday was detrimental to the organised labour movement, and I was arguing that the BTUC need to respond soon and, more specifically, rebut the points made by the Government there. Point2

Well, shortly after that, the BTUC did exactly what I was advocating and have released a rebuttal to the Government’s press conference last week.

Point1

Needless to say they’ve got quite a radically different perspective of the events in question, and seem quite (understandably) angry.

BTUC statement Jan 30th 2015 (pdf)

As I noted previously, the trust relationship between the Government and the unions was in tatters last year.  The genesis of this week’s crisis highlighted that and further eroded what little trust remained.

It’s hard to imagine there’s any trust, whatsoever, remaining after the last 36 hours.

My previous post, calling on the BTUC to respond and rebut argued that without the BTUC’s response the Government is able to selectively reveal some proposals, and to do so without context.  I argued that this seemed, to me, a deliberate attempt to sow division and play off different factions of the working class against each other – specifically against the organised labour movement (the unions).

The rebuttal by the BTUC would appear to largely gel with my own reading.  It makes clear that the more controversial proposals (cap on financial assistance in particular) were not those of the unions at all, but proposals from the Government instead.  Indeed, the BTUC response states the following:

“The first four (4) items discussed were ‘caps’ on Financial Assistance, Consolidation of Schools, Travel and the Agricultural Exibibition.  Recognising that they were pre-approved items from the Cabinet meeting on Monday, January 26, 2015, the BTUC after some discussion agreed that if these cuts are to be made, it was the Government who must justify its position on these contentious items to the public.  The BTUC wondered why the Government needed permission from the BTUC for such cuts.  The BTUC realised it was a sad way for the Government to place accountability on the BTUC for their political decisions.”

Yeah, the language there clearly expresses the breakdown in relationships between the two sides and directly challenges the Government to clarify who put forward these proposals.  In the press conference yesterday this was somewhat ambiguous – with the implication from the Government side that this was a union proposal.

The rest of the BTUC’s document provides context to other decisions which were absent from the press conference yesterday, especially the increase in GEHI contributions for spouses (explaining that the unions recognised that GEHI is currently underfunded).

The BTUC document provides a reasonable account of the Wednesday talks, and it challenges Government to refute it.

“The BTUC categorically rebuke the falsified allegation and the slanderous remarks made by the Honourable Premier, Michael Dunkley JP, MP and the Honourable Minister of Finance, Minister Bob Richards JP, MP.  We call upon the persons who were actually in the room, Dr. Derrick Binns, Mrs, Cherrie Whitter, Mr. Anthony Manders, Mr. Gary Phillips, Mr. Martin Law, Mr. John Harvey and Mrs. Jonelle Christopher to authenticate the accuracy of the above mentioned.”

While the relevant civil servants involved would not be able to do so (it would be a breach of civil service orders), but the hired negotiators for Government (Gary Philips, Martin Law and John Harvey) are not under such orders – although its likely their contract with Government precludes revealing such information.  Only an order from the Premier would allow the release of the authentication the BTUC challenges the Government to reveal.

I’m not sure what the Government were thinking here.

Did they expect the BTUC to not respond to the provocation of yesterday?  Or did they expect it, but calculated they would be able to solidify their own support base and sow enough doubt to achieve whatever they hoped (sow division and confusion, both among union members and between the unions and other sectors of society?)?

The BTUC have picked up the gauntlet thrown down by the Government in their provocation on Thursday.  They’ve picked it up and directly challenged the Government to refute the account they’ve given of the Wednesday talks.

There are two questions (well, and sub-questions) now

  1. Will the resulting duel go ahead or can some resolution be achieved in advance?
    1. Will the Government consider itself check-mated by the BTUC’s rebuttal and concede – removing furloughs and sticking with the agreement of the Wednesday talks?
    2. Or will the Government continue to provoke a confrontation with organised labour?  If this is the case the resulting actions are the fault of Government, not organised labour.
  2. If the duel is to proceed, then ‘when’ and ‘how’?
    1. Will we see a return to ‘Occupy Cabinet’?
    2. Will we see an expansion of the ‘occupation’ to other key points (Cabinet, House of Assembly, Clifton for example)?
    3. Will we see mass action like last week, or targeted and rolling action?
    4. Will we see novel actions develop?
    5. What can we expect for the resumption of parliament, I believe on February 13th?  And for the Budget?

I still think the BTUC should go one step further and release their full proposals from earlier in the Budget Reduction Working Group talks – they claimed to have proposed savings of up to $65-85m (I’m not sure of the range, but I figure they’ve put a low, medium and high range in their valuations).

Right now it’s all point counter point.  The question is what’s the next thing to expect, and when?

Where’s the BTUC?

UPDATE – Shortly after I published this article – within an hour or so – the BTUC released their response to Government.  Nonetheless, I think the thrust of this article remains relevant, especially my reading of the divide and conquer tactics being employed by the Government. I’m going to review the BTUC’s statement and plan to post a new article concerning it shortly.


 

Since the Premier and the Minister of Finance’s press conference yesterday, largely reversing the understood resolution to the crisis announced by the BTUC the night before, there’s been no public response by the BTUC to date.

question mark

While there’s likely a reasonable explanation for this – I imagine they’re furious and meeting in private to work out the best reaction – their lack of response so far would appear to be to their detriment.

By not responding – even to say something along the lines of ‘we’re disappointed at the apparent reversal of the situation from what we were led to have been a satisfactory conclusion to the problem, and we’re meeting to discuss our next steps, we’ll be holding a press conference at X time/date where we’ll give a more detailed comment’ – they’ve let Government dominate the discourse.

Additionally, by failing to release their own proposals (remember they said they came up with savings of $65-85m), they’ve given the opportunity to the Government to selectively highlight some of the ‘agreed’ cost-saving measures without providing context or the union’s perspective on them.

We quite simply don’t know if some of these proposals were something the unions agreed to reluctantly and why – or if they got additional concessions in some form of horse-trading. For all we know, looking at the cap on financial assistance for example, perhaps the Government proposed a much more drastic cap and the unions realised they couldn’t prevent ‘a’ cap but instead negotiated the least draconian cap they could. We just don’t know, and we’re left guessing.

Which I can’t help feeling is the Government’s intention in releasing these selective proposals without full context. I get the impression that the Government is trying to sow division by pitting different sections of the working class against each other.

Focus the unemployed reserve army of labour – the ‘lumpenproletariat’ to use a close Marxist term – at the throats of their union brothers and sisters. Alienate whole sections of the public with the loss of the carnival of the Annual Exhibition/Ag Show. Mention the hot potato topic of consolidating schools without clear context (are we talking moving pre-schools out of rented private sector properties and consolidating the staff and students at nearby under-capacity publicly-owned pre-school properties or something else?) and try to turn parents against the unions?

Divided we fall is the union mantra. And what better way to respond to unprecedented displays of workers solidarity and union unity than trying to subtly (well, perhaps not so subtly) divide and conquer?

As it stands right now, it’s not clear that the three days of unprecedented labour action actually won anything concrete from Government. The press conference last night was a pretty much veiled threat of ‘accept furloughs or we’ll force an equivalent on you’.

This is pretty much an echoing the letter from the Minister of Finance from last week that if the unions didn’t agree to an extension of furloughs then Government would unilaterally force the equivalent through ‘the reduction of salaries of Government Employees equal to the savings achieved in the current financial year by the furlough’.

So, yes, the Government can’t force furloughs on the workers. But they can get the equivalent pound of flesh through unilateral action.

The longer the BTUC takes to respond and rebut the Government, the longer its members will be left confused and the greater will be the anti-union sentiment among the wider community.

So, where’s the BTUC?

Acting cautiously is something to be commended, and it’s wise to ‘be watchful always’, but don’t leave it too long to respond and give your side of the story.

Quick thoughts on the current situation

I intend in this post to just put down some quick thoughts on the current situation; apologies for them not being fully worked out – just putting them out there for the sake of encouraging feedback!

  1. The actions of the Government have solidified and unified organised labour in Bermuda.
  2. The actions of the last day have shown the workers what power they can have and set a precedent to build on going forward.
  3. Despite this, questions must be asked of the union leadership:
    1. Have they capitulated to the Government too much and too quickly?
    2. If so, why?  What caused this?  Were they misled, or were they afraid of something? If so, how, or what?
    3. What is the role of Reverend Tweed in all this?  I respect him and I think the People’s Campaign is great, but the actions here were the unions.  And yet Reverend Tweed seemed to be involved in the negotiations with Government.  Why?  He’s not elected by the members.
    4. Were union members adequately involved in the decision making of the last few days?  If not, why not, and how can that be handled better going forward?
  4. The BTUC should release ALL of the proposals they’ve put to Government.  Both originally and subsequently.  Right now we only know what the Government has agreed to, and the Government has every interest in being selective on this, and spinning it to their advantage.  The BTUC should let the people know what they proposed and why, immediately.
  5. Following the confusion from last nights talks, with two rather different interpretations coming from the BTUC and the Government, the question has to be asked of whether any further negotiations should be conducted privately.  Perhaps its time for the BTUC to insist that any subsequent negotiations be either down in full view of the public, or at least with selected journalists present.  Alternatively, at the very least, the full minutes of these negotiations should be released now.
  6. In the three days of action we saw an unprecedented level of organisation, with provision of food and shelter at the occupation of Cabinet Lawn, and even entertainment.  We also saw the beginnings of community mobilisation to deal with (a) supporting the workers; (b) dealing with waste management; and (c) transportation for workers.  In this we saw an embryonic new form of society, a participatory and grassroots system, based on both the workplace and the neighbourhood.  These were only embryonic, but point towards future developments and an alternative social and economic model.

What now?

Earlier I wrote about the apparent resolution to the crisis of this week.  I chose to give this article the title of ‘Resolution, maybe?’.

I can’t but help look back at that title as being somewhat prophetic now.

Not too long ago the Sherri Simmons Show of Magic 102.7 FM read out online a letter they had obtained.  This letter is from the Premier and OBA Leader Michael Dunkley, and it’s addressed (as I understand it) to his party’s membership.

And shortly thereafter the Premier and the Minister of Finance, Bob Richards, held a press conference discussing the upcoming budget and the fruit of last nights discussions.

The letter would seem to pre-figure this press conference, and the Sherri Simmons Show have kindly provided me with the transcript of the letter.  I copy below the text as I received it (except where the text I received was underlined I’ve put into italics as there’s, strangely, no underlining option here).

Mr Dunkley’s Letter

January 28, 2015

Dear colleagues and members:

Three days of protests have ended with union leaders heading back to the negotiating table, as we have been urging them to do from the start.

This is a good result.

Agreement to get back to business was reached this afternoon, and work on issues that will help us prepare the upcoming Government Budget is again underway, as I write.

As Premier, I am pleased union leaders were able to move beyond their rigid position of no further talks unless furlough days were “off the table.”

The resumption of talks means that new savings identified by the Cabinet will be considered.

As I said in my public statement this evening:

“With the savings identified by all parties, we continue to work towards the goal of reducing the operating cost of Government in accordance with the strategy outlined by the Minister of Finance in his Budget.”

“With that in mind, the Government and the BTUC agree that continuing the furlough day will be considered as a last resort.”

“It is important that we now turn our attention to the work at hand which is demanded of us by the people we serve, and to ensure that we continue to function; working together to restore the promise of Bermuda for all her citizens.”

Working together has been our aim in this process.  The Budget Working Group the Government formed last year, with union representatives at the table, was an unprecedented step, undertaken in good faith, to complete the Budget-making process through collaboration.

We are now back on track to make decisions that will help us get government finances back on solid footing.

While I appreciate that disruptions to public services over the past few days has inconvenienced many people, these disputes sometimes serve a good purpose, which is to re-set people’s thinking to what is important.  In this particular instance, I think it is the recognition that we all need to play our part in order for our beautiful Bermuda to succeed for all its people.

Good sense has prevailed, and the work now continues.

Thank you and good night,

Sincerely,

The Hon. Michael H, Dunkley,

Party Leader

Thoughts on the letter

I’m sure everyone who reads this is going to interpret it in their own way, although I imagine ones reaction to it will largely be if you support the workers or not.

I imagine that for those opposed to the actions taken this week will read this as a perfectly reasonable letter.  No doubt some will think the Premier should have been more critical of the unions and outlined punitive measures against them.

For those who stand with labour – which includes myself – I reckon this letter will come across as a combination of patronising and directly insulting.

Portraying the unions as ‘rigid’ seems quite hypocritical when the only ones being rigid here are the Government.  The unions have been almost overly accommodating.  In using the phrase ‘good sense has prevailed’ implies that the unions actions were ‘without sense’ or, at least, ‘bad sense’.

In general I see the tone of the letter as dismissive and anti-union, anti-labour.

As I said though, I’m sure one’s reading of the letter is very much a matter of ones position either towards labour or in favour of the OBA.

Today’s Press Conference

Shortly after the BTUC announced, at the conclusion of last nights three and a half hour negotiations, the Premier made the following statement:

“I was kept abreast of discussions throughout the night.”

“Towards the end of the evening as I was getting the updates I instructed our Government team that I did not wish anything to be said to the press until the Minister of Finance was comfortable with the final numbers.”

“Unbeknownst to the Government team the BTUC made a press statement.”

“I have not even seen the financial numbers.  Until we get the sign off on those numbers I feel the BTUC have acted way too quickly and that is disappointing.”

“I have reached out to Mr Furbert and expressed in no uncertain terms my thoughts to him.  I informed him that they did not act in good faith and at the very least showed a glaring lack of courtesy.  I appreciate the commitment of the working group tonight, it is indeed disappointing that it had to end like this.”

Which in hindsight gave an indication that the resolution in question might not be as resolved as first thought.

And today we have a press conference which basically stated that, according to the Minister of Finance and the Premier, the additional cost savings agreed on last night, were insufficient.

While they didn’t explicitly say so, the fact that the premise of the talks last night was that the reinstatement of furlough days would only be a ‘last resort’ IF the additional savings were insufficient to meet the proposed budget reductions for the coming Budget, well, it seems pretty clear that the Minister and the Premier are saying they intend to force furlough days on the public sector, whether the workers like it or not.

Throwing Down The Gauntlet?

The statement by the Premier and Minister would seem to indicate a reversal, of sorts, of the resolution to the crisis.  I’m not sure if the unions will be able to interpret this as anything other than a direct challenge, a throwing down of the gauntlet.

The question now is will the unions pick up the gauntlet?

After the last three days, I don’t think the unions have a choice otherwise.  To have led the most impressive direct action of organised labour in Bermuda for over three decades, to then not have actually won anything is unthinkable.  The members simply will not stand for it.

I don’t think the unions have formally reacted yet.  I think though that’s just a matter of time.

Resolution.  Maybe not.

If you ask me, things are going to get even rockier…