Duke’s day of reckoning inevitable
In a telling reflection on the character of his leadership, Public Services Association president Watson Duke has become identified with the protest tactic of “Sign the register and leave”.
He has been prosecuting this strategy to workers at the problem-ridden Port-of-Spain Licensing Office where, even before the PSA-instigated labour unrest, the public had been victimised by a drastic decline in service. With staff shortages already causing extraordinary delays in meeting legal requirements for vehicles and driving, the infamous Duke bullhorn exacerbated the situation by agitating staffers to sit down in protest after pretending to report for work.
Now it is arguable that unsatisfactory physical conditions at the workplace should have long been corrected. Licensing offices in south, central and north are typically cramped for the staff, and become more so given the daily crowd of clients seeking various services. In such conditions, with a system in which pieces of paper are still used to record information worth hundreds of millions of dollars, slow service is inevitable, while corrupt practices, which computerised records would make easily detectable, allegedly continue. Enter stage left Mr Duke, capped like a badjohn, seeking to whip up dissatisfactions to ostensibly improve the lot of Licensing Office employees.
After four days of obeying the bullhorn, however, officers commendably resumed duties and delivered customers from the evils of wasted time and frustrations, as repair work proceeded to relieve workplace conditions. By then, it was demonstrated that the cynical tactic of signing and shoving off had much more to do with Mr Duke’s personal anxieties about surviving looming PSA elections.
For more than two years now, the embattled PSA president has fought against disgruntled members of the executive, who have been trying to get rid of him. Their complaints against Mr Duke have ranged from misuse of union funds to unilateral decision-making, even in respect to wage settlements. Mr Duke, insisting on the absolute rightness of his actions, has used intimidation and questionable tactics to remain in office, with the PSA having had to go to court (and spend union fees on legal counsel) to settle various issues. But Mr Duke’s day of reckoning inevitably draws near, unless he can find some way to postpone the election.
That the Licensing officers so soon grew weary of his rabble rousing may not bode well for him. And it is likely that, in order to portray himself as a trade union leader who gets workers their more than just dues, Mr Duke will institute even more aggressive tactics. The outcome of the election, due November 24, will show whether the PSA rank-and-file approve of Mr Duke’s character or whether they believe he has brought their long-standing union into disrepute.