“For I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal.” – Jeremiah 30:17

At the end of June 2014, Inshallah, I would have completed 21 years as a weekly columnist. The column currently appears in the Barbados Advocate’s Business Monday under the caption of “Serious Business”. It is also sent digitally to a growing list of readers.

I have enjoyed chronicling my experiences, sharing opinion and receiving global feedback, whether in person or by email, which has been very gratifying. One common response is the appreciation of the readers of the use of biblical texts at the beginning of the column and, what’s more, ensuring that the text, the title and the content harmonise. They often ask which comes first and my response has been “it depends on the inspiration on the day of writing”.

Some people have expressed amazement at the commitment to the task, which I regard as a compliment, but I see it merely as a discipline which is made easy by my many interests and the many activities in which I have been involved over the years. I am never short on ideas for the content of the next column.

I have attempted to stay away from “hard core” political commentary and in that way I have honoured the caption of the column. I have now reached the stage of my professional life where I am considering formally publishing some of my life’s experiences in book form, e-book and/or hard copy, hopefully for the benefit of posterity. In this context, the resource base of more than 1,000 columns will undoubtedly stand me in good stead. At the risk of sounding immodest, I sometimes have cause to look for a topic which I recall that I have written about before only to be pleasantly surprised as to the quality of the discourse several years ago and more so its continuing relevance today.

This was a case in fact as I started to write this column. I saw a Guest Column in last Thursday’s edition of Barbados Today (online newspaper) entitled “Unions Unsuited” by Wayne Cadogan. Wayne’s opening salvo was “During the 1940s to the 1980s trade unions around the world were powerful; they had teeth and would bite very hard. In those early days, unions worldwide would fight for workers’ rights and in many cases were successful in defending the blue collar workers from unscrupulous employers”.

In conclusion, he said: “Although the unions do not command the same power as in the past, those at the top still have to fight in order to maintain their big salaries and perks. It is only for this reason that the unions are barking, because they know that the times have changed worldwide and unions do not command that same type of power as in the past… the reality of it is that without the blue collar worker who makes up the vast majority of the union, they will not be able to sustain the membership to run the union. It’s only a matter of time before the unions in Barbados suffer the same fate as their counterparts worldwide.”

I empathised with Wayne’s message and recalled that I had written an article suggesting an alternative strategy for trade unions. I searched my database and found that I had written a column on “Governance and Leadership” on November 26, 2006. Here is an extract: “A major challenge is to get the governance right. This hinges on a recognition of the relative roles of the social partners, as I have said so many times before, in this column. The diligent pursuit of the social partnership model implies developing an optimal strategy towards the achievement of the objective of sustainable development. The media has a very important communication role to play and should be included among the social partners to act as a catalyst in the achievement of the objective of sustainable development. The role of the government is to provide regulatory/policy and service functions, the role of the private sector is to “do business”, the role of the Trade Unions is to induce harmony between employer and employee to achieve greater productivity for fair compensation and the role of NGOs is to support the other social partners by mobilizing volunteers and garnering grant support from benevolent sources”.

In my opinion, there needs to be strategic re-visioning of the focus of trade unions from the admirable stance of “fighting to maintain jobs”, albeit in a flagging economic environment, to a new perspective which focuses more on promoting increased labour productivity, quality and standards of excellence among workers, thus inducing greater national competitiveness and economic growth. Trade unions should shift gears and become consultants and advisers to the workers while brokering the relationship with employers for fair compensation. This strategic visioning process should be regarded as a healing process in the interest of the sustainable health of trade unions.

As Wayne Cadogan intimated in his guest column, the challenge of trade unions, in the face of a changing environment, is not one which is localised to the Caribbean but indeed is a global challenge. I experienced this recently while on an international conference call (Commonwealth Partnership for Technology Management) which promotes the Smart Partnership philosophy. We were discussing the merit of public, private and trade union partnerships and the role that the media should play in Commonwealth countries, albeit with varying cultures.

The above healing process, where appropriate, is valid globally and expert communications counsel is necessary to expedite the process. 

Dr. Basil Springer GCM is Change-Engine Consultant, Caribbean Business Enterprise Trust Inc. – CBET. Columns are archived at www.cbetmodel.org and www.nothingbeatsbusiness.com.