As Ex- Convenors, Chair and Executive Committee members of Unite the Union, we are gladdened by the fact that all three Trade Unions are celebrating May Day 2019 in the relative spirit of fraternity that is both right and proper for the day – regrettably, precedent highlights that this was not always the case. Additionally, and at the insistence of the May Day stalwart, Unite the Union, this year breaks away from recent tradition where the Government of the day have addressed those gathered and put forward its own commitments to the working class during the Trade Union rally.
We believe that breaking away from the previous 6 years’ format by excluding the Government from the event, is a short-sighted and knee jerk reaction to Unite’s re-calibration of the relationship with HMGOG. It is a wasted opportunity in securing further outcomes for Unite members, where analogies such as “cutting off your nose to spite your face” or “throwing the baby out with the bath water” are all useful to describe this situation. We sincerely believe that it is both credible and reasonable to have differences of opinion with the Government yet, be able to come together on a day that celebrates workers everywhere and in so doing, further push the union agenda. What good are empty slogans or pats on the back among the converted if it does not translate into actions or outcomes? Most other places in the world would jump at the opportunity for an elected leader to participate jointly in their rally, however in Gibraltar we confusingly kick back at this same opportunity.
This is the reality of what has led to the ‘format’ of this year’s union rally. In our estimation, we believe it has lost prominence and has resulted in a squandered opportunity.
At the time of the GSLP/Liberal Alliance electoral victory of 2011, it was a great achievement for the new Government to agree that the May Day bank holiday were celebrated on the natural day of the 1st May, in addition to recognising Workers’ Memorial Day. Further to this commitment, the Government returned the social prominence of the day by providing an event for the community to enjoy, following the party’s own ideology, where Unite were offered the subsidised platform of the May Day stage in Casemates for the union rally to take place. It was natural to take up the opportunity of sharing the stage with the Chief Minister given that previously Unite had been relegated to celebrating May Day at the Piazza with a foldable table, in the accompaniment of the faithful, which never exceeded a few dozen.
Your readers will recall however that on the first and second May Day events, all three unions participated in the event under the banner of the Gibraltar Trades Council. However in 2014, and following a spat between the leadership of the GGCA and Unite Officials, Unite as an organisation pushed the GGCA out of the trade union rally, ostensibly on the grounds that they were funding the use of the stage and as such, held the power to decide who were to participate in the rally. This was further compounded by the Unite Executive voting against sharing the stage with the GGCA. Primarily because of the discrimination that the GGCA encouraged in favour of Civil Servants over GDC, Govt. Owned Companies, Agencies and Authorities, which they, regrettably, still foster now. The Gibraltar NASUWT (then GTA/NASUWT) took a principled stance and objected to participate in the rally unless all three unions were able to do so, at which point, the trade union rally become a Unite the Union rally in tandem with the Government of Gibraltar. At the time, Unite’s exclusivity of the event was framed positively within our circles, even if there were differences of opinion within the Executive that felt that a more nuanced approach was necessary. Notwithstanding, the leadership of Unite continued barring the GGCA from participating in the trade union rally and with all likelihood would have continued barring the GGCA if there had been a joint Unite/HMGOG trade union rally in the Casemates May Day stage this year.
We hope the above gives your readers context to the ‘reality’ of May Day, how it’s functioned for the previous 6 years and how its morphed into a different, and from our perspective ‘diminished’, event.
On behalf of: Albert Hewitt