The new generation of trade unionists in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) must “develop a hatred for injustice and unfair treatment” educator Otto Sam told the SVG Teachers’ Union’s (SVGTU) biennial on Thursday.
Sam, a former teacher whose 2013 dismissal from the Public Service the court later ruled was “irrational and illegal”, made the call as he spoke on the topic “Building a new generation of trade-unionists”.
Sam, a former president of the SVGTU, said it would be foolhardy to think it would be easy to build a new generation of trade unionists.
“In building the new generation of trade unionists you must understand the times we are in,” he said.
He said that in decades past – in the 1930s, 1950s, 1970s or 1980s — the local, regional or international environment created the right sets of conditions for trade unionists.
He mentioned local riots, upheavals; struggles for independence, victimisation, repression, police brutality; the Black Power movement; Gairy and the Mongoose Gang in Grenada; regional riots emanating from colonialism and terrible working conditions across the region
Sam also spoke of Apartheid in South Africa and white rule and exploitation in Rhodesia, as well as institutionalised racism in the United States and Britain.
He said these realities “virtually ignited, galvanised, motivated, nurtured if not sustained the trade union movement and trade unionists in SVG, across the Caribbean and maybe elsewhere.
“The culture — mainly music and art forms — supported also,” he said, adding Bob Marley’s “Get up stand up. Stand up for your right” and Peter Tosh’s “Equal Rights and Justice” helped to sustain the earlier trade unionists.
“Society was more communal and there was a sense of brotherhood, unlike these times of self-image, self-importance, self-worth, selfies. So in building the new generation of trade unionists, we must know the times,” Sam said.
He said the current SVGTU leadership must be aware and understand the era.
“For example, in the 1970s and prior, about 40% of teachers and union membership was male. Their impact — strikes, sickouts — were given masculine leadership and a sense of fearlessness.
“Today, nearly 80% of the teaching body are females. Strikes, even though legitimate, will be frowned upon or treated with weariness as an unnecessary — huge — risk,” Sam said.
“Additionally, we are living in a time of consumerism, where the single parent — mother — teacher is head of household with mortgage, car loan, plus hire-purchase, and two children to send to school — not mentioning food stuff and utilities. We must understand the time. This woman – female — teacher is not going to be striking easily. Consequently, the new generation may need more training in mediation, reconciliation and more issues may be settled there and in the Court rather than on the street,” Sam said.
He said this is connected to the point of how young union members can help in the process of building a new generation of trade unionists.
“Firstly, show interest,” he said, adding, “Have — and manifest — a hunger and thirst for the union and the values championed by your union.
“Next, champion your colleagues’ cause on your school staff workplace. It is the good schoolteacher — with zeal, interest, budding knowledge and commitment — who will emerge as the branch and, or national leader!
“Standing up and representing your colleagues at school from unfair treatment from principal, heads of department, parents or whatever source is a good start. Note well: you don’t always have to pick fights…picking the right time to share and negotiate will do it most of the times!
“Develop a hatred for injustice and unfair treatment,” Sam said.
He called on union members to know their rights, adding, “even God’s people are destroyed for not knowing who they are.
“You can’t build the new generation of trade unionists without knowledge. Acquaint yourself with natural justice principles: Know and familiarize yourself with the union’s Collective Agreement, the Civil Service Orders. Know the roles and responsibilities of those who are over you and your colleagues.
“Develop an attitude to drop whatever you’re doing — save God — and respond to the Union. Be committed!”
He said that in building the new generation of trade unionists, the union can invest in young teachers or members by giving them exposure and experience in field visits.
The current leadership can bring a number of these teachers into key training and negotiation sessions, even meetings with the Ministry of Education and collective bargaining talks,” he said.
“The point is – we must invest meaningfully in the new generation of trade unionists,” he said, adding that arrangements must be made to have these teachers’ classes properly supervised when they are out.
Sam said that his personal experience is that investment in the next generation of unionists pays.
He said that more than 25 years ago, he was picked as part of the reclassification dialogue in Trinidad and Tobago.
“Little did I know fate would have had it that I gave leadership to the union to have real movement and bring closure to the reclassification of the teaching and public service [in SVG],” he said.
He said that targeted training is another critical area.
“Brothers and sisters, the union should also roll out a well-organised and purposeful series of specific training to better prepare the new generation of trade unionists; be it knowing your union, trade union rights and responsibilities, collective bargaining and having a heart for workers, my colleagues,” he said.