The strike was so pathetic even in Castries most people didn’t realize it was on. Its back-story was filled with strategic and tactical errors, including one union leader that declared bold-faced on a Friday that on Monday his membership would be sick. Any reasonable analysis of the facts leads to the conclusion that the Government Negotiating Team made a mess of union leaders, yet could not spare the government having to add borrowed tens of millions to its wage bill. The preliminary verdict is that there were no real winners. With so many losers and so many millions spent and to be spent, here are some of the most salient points to consider about what the hell just happened!
Are union leaders really the house pets of Labour? Union leaders outside the CSA now look like they’ve really gone soft on Labour. For the most part they are the same crop of union leaders who in 2009 had refused anything less than 14.5 percent from Stephenson King’s United Workers Party government. The way things have turned out is leading to increased confidence in that the CSA (always a bastion of union leaders who normally worship at the feet of Labour) is not a political puppet and is probably the only union ready to risk going down in battle for the sake of workers.
It really was non-partisan. The strike had political effects but outside the executive circles Flambeaus, red-shirts and non-partisan marched united against the government’s management class—classic class warfare. Kenny Anthony was repeatedly attacked by the placards, but only as prime minister, not as Labour’s leader. Demonstrators with strong partisan biases confirmed their support for the strike would probably have little effect on their partisan preferences.
Send in real negotiators. The current Trade Union Federation leaders made a critical error when they decided to conduct their own negotiations. Sources close to both the unions and the GNT say union leaders made disastrous errors that weakened their negotiating position. The unions actually have skilled and experienced negotiators on staff and among the membership, but thought that for such a big negotiation only elected members should negotiate. This turned out to be a terrible idea. Union leaders should either school themselves by attending every little negotiation on the unions’ agenda or hand over the reins to real negotiators.
The best options were not on the table. Two of the best deals public servants could have made were not even part of the negotiations. For one, unions could have postponed negotiations until closer to the next election then put the politicians up against the ropes and take what they wanted—including a lump sum in back pay for every public servant. They could have come up with a formula that tied salary increases to economic performance. This would mean that every time the ECCB releases a positive economic report public servants might be due for an increase. As a cherry on top, such a formula might have put the hated government negotiators out of work, if only temporarily.
Mo’ pain, no gain. The 4.5 percent increase that most unions accepted from the GNT will do little to ease the pain for the great majority of low-ranked public servants, while adding tens of millions of dollars worth of aggravation to the government’s annual wage bill. In fact, in the long run, the GNT’s 4.5 percent offer seems likely to do more harm than good, giving bus drivers and price gougers one more reason to ratchet up inflation while adding less than $100 to the salary of the average junior public servant.
She didn’t die, she’s just being born. Only ten days ago Mary Isaac, CSA President and lightning rod for the 300 rebels at the strike, was considered a political dead horse. In the week following the strike, hardcore CSA members are chanting her name like fans at a Justin Beiber concert. Directly after the strike, they stopped the proceedings to shower her with thunderous applause. Mary Isaac is now the only person who can reap political capital from the whole situation. The only question now is whether or not she is capable of doing it given the number of errors she and other union leaders committed during negotiations.
Revenue and spending are the problem, not wages. Inflation will soon dry up any advantage that recent wage increases gave public servants. Inflation always does that. Improving the standard of living is not so much about wage increases as about cutting wasteful spending and increasing revenues.
Since the death of the banana industry St Lucia has coasted along with increasing health, education and social obligations, declining revenues and no clear idea of how the island fits into the 21st Century. Without food security, energy stability, new foreign exchange earners and a realistic vision of a post-banana St Lucia (face it, tourism has turned out to be a bit of a fantasy!), all new wage increases will amount to nothing. The country needs an agriculture that feeds people, an energy source that doesn’t bleed them, and foreign exchange earners that bring in more money than we waste on luxury cars, canned foods and other items we shouldn’t be importing in the first place!