LABOUR DAY was observed on Tuesday with the usual sabre-rattling and marching through the streets of Fyzabad. While the day’s events were a reminder of the importance of the labour movement as an advocacy group within our society, Joint Trade Union Movement leader Ancel Roget’s call for a national day of “rest and reflection” on September 7 was as familiar as it was tone deaf.
Labour has a right to highlight issues affecting the interests of its membership. As a democracy governed by a Constitution that enshrines the right to form associations and hold beliefs, public demonstrations are an integral way in which the public agenda is shaped and focused.
“We maintain that ours is a sacred duty to provide a voice for the voiceless and we stand in defence of those who are most vulnerable in our society,” Roget said on Tuesday.
Yet, labour’s rights do not empower it to exceed its bounds. The wider population that has to bear the brunt of strike action does not elect trade union leaders. Nor are policy decisions within trade unions taken in a manner that reflects the diversity of their membership. Trade unions may be good at voicing disquiet, but they need to do a better job of listening.
What would be the purpose of yet another day of “rest and reflection?” Time and time again, this tired old tactic has been rolled out in various guises to varied effect. Just last year, Watson Duke asked public servants to rest and reflect. A few months earlier, postal workers were also asked to do so. Before them, teachers. Roget himself has called for a national shutdown. These gestures almost always fail to bring about any positive results for all concerned.
No one disagrees with the union’s concerns over crime, the state of the economy and the job market. But adding yet another unofficial holiday to the calendar is not a measure anyone wants at this time when the challenges to our productivity are higher than they have ever been.
Rather, the trade union movement should heed the call of President Paula Mae Weeks to acknowledge the vagaries of the world economy and the finite nature of our own resources. The movement should faithfully stick to its own decision to participate in the tripartite council set up to take labour concerns into account in governance.
In this regard, we welcome labour’s decision to return to the National Tripartite Advisory Council. While the work of the council needs to be faster, it is on course to make a far more meaningful contribution than any day of rest and reflection ever will.