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.
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.
Needless to say they’ve got quite a radically different perspective of the events in question, and seem quite (understandably) angry.
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
- Will the resulting duel go ahead or can some resolution be achieved in advance?
- 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?
- 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.
- If the duel is to proceed, then ‘when’ and ‘how’?
- Will we see a return to ‘Occupy Cabinet’?
- Will we see an expansion of the ‘occupation’ to other key points (Cabinet, House of Assembly, Clifton for example)?
- Will we see mass action like last week, or targeted and rolling action?
- Will we see novel actions develop?
- 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?