A Divided Island?
One thing about this moment has been its ability to shine light, yet again, on the social divisions in Bermuda.
It’s also shown a clear disconnection between the online commentators on the RG and Bernews and the reality on the ground – or, rather, that those dominating online discourse do not generally represent the same group taking action on Cabinet Lawn.
This isn’t exactly an earth-shattering revelation; at most it’s just a another confirmation of what most suspected already.
One of the key refrains I’m seeing made in these posts (be it online comments or on other blogs/social media/forums) goes something along the lines of:
“Why are these public sector workers striking? Don’t they know how good they’ve had it? Private sector workers have had it bad since 2008 – these public sector workers have had it good. They’re so selfish – we need to teach these unions a lesson!”
The above is, of course, a paraphrasing, I concede. However, I think it captures the general sentiment.
To me I find the statement to actually be an argument IN FAVOUR of more unionisation – of private sector workers unionising.
Being part of a union ensures that you have greater rights and protection at work. It provides workers with a say in how the workplace is run, and ensures the employer/management to treat you fairly.
In fact, union representation actually improves the relationship between management and the workers, allowing for a more efficient workplace (for one thing it reduces employee stress, increasing productivity). Unions don’t create problems – they seek to resolve them.
Even if one has good relations with ones managers, managers can be replaced – especially as we’re seeing with the recent move towards mergers. There’s no guarantee that ones good relationships with management will always exist. Unionisation ensures that even if management changes, relationships between workers and management can remain consistent.
One reason public sector workers have been able to preserve their job security better than the private sector is simply because the public sector has strong union representation ensuring that the workers – their members – interests are being addressed.
In the private sector we see, far too often, the capitalist owners and their management deputies continuing to profit, through short-term redundancies (which provide them short-term profits) while failing to address the long-term real profitability of the sector. Strong unions can resist this and push for more sustainable solutions – in some ways strong unions in the private sector help save the private sector from itself and its self-destructive tendencies.
This complaint about the plight of non-unionised private sector workers is part an attempt to divide and conquer and part a misdirected reaction.
Yes, the plight of non-unionised private sector workers is troubling. The solution to that isn’t to make the plight of unionised public sector workers equally troubling, but rather to learn from the strength of unionisation and unionise the private sector.
And perhaps this is why certain class elements are prone to venomous criticisms of the union action in question. It’s not in their interest to see the public sector, through their unions, show an alternative potential relationship of employer-employee.
And this also explains perhaps the interest certain class elements have in reducing the power of the public sector (and its unions). Right now the workers rights and conditions these workers have offer an alternative model that non-unionised private sector workers can be inspired by.
In other words, the problem is that the unionised workplaces and defense of workers rights represent the threat of a good example. Thus the need to try and demonise them and divide them from their non-unionised allies.
Right now private sector workers are in a precarious situation – and those working for companies involved in recent mergers are in a particularly uncertain situation.
It’s not too late for them to join a union.
Even if the union is not certified as the bargaining unit for the workplace in question, workers can still join as individuals, and benefit from the specialist expertise that the union can offer – which can be key in dealing with uncertain situations.