A few random thoughts on the protest action of the past couple of days:
- The UBP, particularly UBP MPs who served as Government with the PLP as Opposition, must be getting some satisfaction watching them finally have to eat their own cooking. The tactics that the taxi owners are engaging in are vintage PLP/BIU textbook actions. These are the exact same things that the PLP repeatedly instigated in their 30 years in opposition, regardless of the consequences. The most memorable and probably the action with the worst consequences was the general strike in 1981.
This taxi protest is taking place under pretty similar circumstances - a promising tourist season (although not even close to the 1981 season) with a labour action forcing tourists to cross angry picket lines, sometimes carrying their own luggage, amid angry protests at the airport. Some argue that the decline in tourism, which coincidentally began in 1981, wasn't a coincidence at all. It was directly related to the way many tourists were treated at the time, many of whom swore to never return and relayed their experiences to others.
So the PLP now find themselves in a bit of a bind. While they seem to have managed to keep the BIU out of this, they can't be happy to again be at odds with labour. Tourism Minister Renee Webb was picking her words carefully in the quote at the end of this article but they can't be surprised at what is going on as they sowed these seeds years ago. I think they are mostly aggravated at being treated with such disrespect by a group who were key to their first electoral victory in 1998.
- Watching the protest on Parliament Hill today - the latest of many - gave me a sense of just how much pain this is causing for the PLP leadership. As on Wednesday with the protest at the Cabinet Office, it was very unbecoming for a Premier and his Cabinet to be summoned - almost forcefully, to be publicly derided and ridiculed by everyday Bermudians.
The PLP Government have become quite accustomed to and fond of the titles they now have and the respect that people tend to automatically confer on community leaders. They've become obesessed with titles, referring to each other as 'Minister' all the time, expecting people to rise when they enter a room, driving larger cars than everyone else etc.. Jennifer Smith was the most extreme one with this (honourary diploma anyone?) but after election the formerly grass roots PLP developed quite a taste for the good life.
It was impossible to miss the contempt on Ewart Brown's face as the cabbies demanded his removal (something that is never going to happen. Alex Scott can control him - as much as he can be controlled - in Cabinet but can't outside) and chanted Fidel Castro, shouting down the Premier and other disrespectful tactics.
Again today, the Premier and Dr. Brown were being swarmed and I couldn't help but get the impression that the Doc had been overridden in the decision to go outside to the protest. He continually shook his head - unable or unwilling to hide his disgust, and couldn't leave fast enough. It was pretty obvious that he resented having the masses treat him this way and show such defiance and disrespect to the Premier and his Deputy, but I think it was mostly about his own image.
- A couple of thoughts on today's protest:
The body language was pretty telling. Both men were wearing dark shades, clearly a way to avoid making eye contact and keeping some distance between themselves and the angry mob. Any PR rep would have told them to remove them. It closes you off - not so much to the taxi owners - but the public who the Government are really trying to convince at the end of the day.
The image of the PLP leadership guarded by Police and the Sergeant at Arms laid bare the distance that has developed between them and working class Bermudians and is something the UBP might want to archive for a future campaign video.
Alex Scott made the unwise decision to do some impromptu negotiating on the steps of Parliament - with over 100 people. There was little to be gained by doing that, all it did was diminish the Premier's image and embolden the crowd. The Premier should have listened to the statement, graciously thanked them, and returned inside. It is impossible to negotiate in those circumstances, and again, I got the impression that Dr. Brown wouldn't have chosen the same course the Premier did.
The Premier was, rather than acting like a statesman, back into his confrontation tactics, trying to catch out the drivers on camera, but at the end of the day it was his carefully crafted image that was tarnished. Today's images brought back memories of the Bermuda Union of Teachers protesting and arguing with former Premier Jennifer Smith outside Parliament several years ago and makes him look no better than his incredibly unpopular predecessor.
- The PLP can't be happy at the confrontation that has carried over from the Jennifer Smith administration into the Alex Scott era. One of the things we'd been promised - and the PLP profess, is/was the ability to smooth labour relations. During their 6 years in power things seem to have done nothing but deteriorate.
I think many people are starting to feel that if we're going to have constant labour action, we could at least have it under a UBP. The UBP, for all it's problems in the 90s, weren't arrogant and heavy handed, the trademarks of the PLP's time in office.
The UBP are just staying out of the way so far, voicing support for the taxi industry but not doing what the PLP as opposition surely would have done - call out all of labour for a general strike, or something along those lines. Not that they could but they are taking a more measured approach, supporting GPS but recommending it be optional.
How long the BIU stay out of this remains to be seen but it looks like Derrick Burgess, from comments on VSB news, isn't too interested in assisting the cabbies after at least one of them told him that he had no time for the union. The union staying out of this seems to be driven by Derrick Burgess's personal animosity towards one or some of the drivers and probably a request from the Premier and George Scott, a GPS company owner, PLP backbencher and Union rep.
As the world turns....