‘But private sector workers have been hurt too!’

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. togetherness-3-1265745-m

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.

4 thoughts on “‘But private sector workers have been hurt too!’

  1. You don’t have much faith in private sector employees and employers to mutually decide what is the best outcome, do you?

    Cutbacks in the private sector are due to economic reality. It is highly doubtful that unionization could overcome those realities

  2. You are clueless almost beyond measure and are a real case study in the Dunning Kruger effect.

    Business owners have every incentive to address long-term profitability and they do! They own the business today and they’ll own it tomorrow and in 20 years! Bermudian businesses are incredibly good about taking short-term losses to keep people employed through hard times.

    As for the record of unions creating problems look what they did in this case. All the government ever wanted was to keep the Bermuda government from careening off a financial cliff which would have extremely severe effects on everybody, government workers most of all. After months of negotiations, missing repeated deadlines, the budget time came so the Unions decided to go to war on accounting, went on an illegal strike, and accomplished precisely nothing.

    The suggestion that international business workers affected by a merger form a union is also stupid beyond measure – again, probably because you’re clueless. The reason jobs are vanishing is because you don’t need two people to do one job. For example, you don’t need two CEOs because only one person can do that job at a time – so one is redundant. No amount of unionization or striking would change that. Even if you did magically decide to have two CEOs then that doesn’t mean that there’s actually work for two. That’s an extreme example but it holds from the top to the bottom of an organization. You don’t need two payables clerks, two treasurers, two accountants because generally the only difference pre and post-merger is that the values on a spreadsheet are higher.

    Learn something about labour markets, supply and demand, and marginal values then come back when you have something to offer.

  3. I think you’ve slightly misunderstood my point.

    I wasn’t arguing that a merger involving unionised workers would require duplicated positions.

    I was arguing that a unionised workplace affected by a merger would be better able to defend their members interests – ensure that their members get a better deal out of said merger. That might be they would be better able to protect their members from resulting redundancies, or that they would be able to negotiate better redundancy packages for their members.

    Yes, some businesses do indeed take a long-term profit view. That, however, has not been the prevalent case in business trends for some decades now, where short-term profits is the focus, largely due to the dominance of speculative finance capital. Not all companies adopt that, and many, including in Bermuda (especially those that are Bermudian owned) are more likely to adopt a more patrician approach of taking sacrifices before adopting the strategy of redundancies. However, the trend does remain towards short-term profitability in capitalism in general.

    And, quite frankly, just because someone owns a business today does not mean they’ll own the business in 20 years from now. I’m sure you’ve heard of mergers, acquisitions and hostile takeovers? There’s no guarantee of long-term business ownership.

  4. Jonathan,

    Put aside the issues of approach to the problem for the moment.

    If we were able to make the assumption that all of the TU income generating proposals were workable and accepted, there still remains – as I understand it – a shortfall in the budgeted savings needed.

    The size of the Govt payroll has to be tackled, along with any other savings that can be made. The payroll should never have reached the size it is – as a PLP MP said recently – but that is where we are today. You can take a temporary solution approach, (as now) presumably in the hope that “it will get better”. Or you can take it head on and eliminate salary cost permanently. Neither approach is pleasant. Each approach has it’s +’s and -‘s.

    In the final analysis, however, the reality is that something has to give. We can’t continue as we are.

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