Orchestrated political campaigns to undermine different Govts using the unions


The toxic state of Gibraltar’s political arena is best exemplified by Unite the Union’s call for a demonstration outside Convent Place on January 10 to protest against the Health Authority.
Using a hospital, an essential public service which deals with matters of life and death as leverage to compel any elected administration to adopt a particular course of action is morally questionable even at the best of times.

At the height of the worst public health crisis the world has faced in over a century, it is gravely irresponsible and should be prohibited by law.
There is a case to be made to abolish strike action in critical areas of the public sector such as the GHA, and to guarantee a minimum level of provision for the adequate care of patients at all times. Essential services used to be protected from union disputes but the categorization of such sensitive departments was more restrictive than today. Clearly the legal threshold for any type of industrial action at the fire brigade, law enforcement, security agencies, air controllers, electricity, water providers etc should be much higher than in other sectors.
The reckless spectacle that we have been witnessing with Unite and the Opposition – GSD &TG – ganging up (a forerunner perhaps to a cosy, imminent electoral alliance?) to destabilize the GHA midwives section, dental department and ambulance service, marked a low point in the run up to Christmas. That Gibraltar’s main trade union and the parliamentary opposition should be willing to weaponize industrial relations to undermine the Government is contrary to the most basic expression of the public interest.
The patent duplicity of those pulling the strings of a demo to protest against political interference but whose preposterous, manipulative proclamation of “power to the people” belies its declared intent, is nauseating. Is there a puppet master far removed from any alleged claim for working conditions hiding in the shadows? That question remains unanswered.
For many years there have been voices arguing for the removal of the GHA from the cut and thrust of party politics, in effect depoliticized, run on professional management and clinical governance lines without ministerial interference. Indeed, winning an election now – or in 1969 -- does not magically endow a successful candidate with the knowledge and expertise to manage a hospital, a highly specialised function that can only be competently accomplished by a professional clinical manager with a proven track record. Not sticking to this golden rule has been a glaring shortcoming.
Ironically the deplorable recrudescence of industrial action comes exactly when the GSLP-Lib Government has taken the unprecedented, courageous, and well overdue decision of removing the Ministry of Health from St Bernard’s Hospital, physically removing the incumbent Minister from the premises. In parallel a new non-political, professional Director General has been appointed alongside a qualified Chief Finance Officer. In effect the entire management structure has been transformed.
The campaign of disruption is therefore even more reprehensible because the DG designate is not even at his desk, and the incoming team has not even been afforded the courtesy of a smooth transition, a 100 day honeymoon period to allow them to deal with pressing matters, to usher in new systems of management that will hopefully solve many of the outstanding issues faced by health services throughout the civilized world during challenging times, notwithstanding which the GHA has performed admirably saving lives day in and day out.
Until the retirement of Victor Ochello as Unite boss, whether you agreed with them or not, liked what they did and what they represented or not, at least those in charge were born and bred Gibraltarians whose interests and livelihoods lay squarely in the community, and however misguided they may have been, it was not difficult to assume that they were acting in what they thought the best interest of their members, even if often seen through the pernicious filter of class warfare still one of the ideological motifs of the left at the time.
Now Unite is simply a neo-colonial appendix of Unite the Union UK, unaccountable apparatchiks who have parachuted into the leadership with their own confrontational agenda because they do not trust local reps or believe they are competent enough to head the organisation.
For the avoidance of misunderstanding it is no less unacceptable, immoral and wrong when the community is held to ransom by local leaders, than when these awful deeds are perpetrated by outsiders under whatever spurious pretext.
Karl Marx once said that history repeats itself, first as tragedy then as farce. In a local union context, if anything history repeats itself first as farce and then as farce.
Orchestrated political campaigns to undermine different Governments using the trade unions or any means possible to bring them down or to force an election have not been infrequent. Toward the end of the AACR era, the administration was crippled by industrial action, walk-outs, stoppages, wild cat strikes, TGWU endorsed strikes, go-slows and blacking action, in fact the whole gamut of blackmail that a trade union in Gibraltar can deploy to bring a democratically elected government to its knees. AACR disaffiliation from the Union in 1971 was seen in Transport House as an act of betrayal for which a heavy price was to be exacted.
A predictable pattern of labour unrest in pursuit of claims emerged. In summer dustmen would go on strike as the media images of piles of refuse rotting under a scorching sun forced the government to capitulate on each occasion. Then it was the power cuts all year round often caused by industrial sabotage which tormented families and businesses. In winter it was the postmen who would ‘down bags’ if not tools, particularly at Christmas when the coercion was most effective as the seasonal volume of correspondence and presents multiplied. It is not the first time the GSLP is on the receiving end, they have been on both sides, of this strategy.
Understandably – regrettably too – a socialist party will be ideologically averse to rein in the almost unlimited powers trade unions have amassed in Gibraltar, a negative state of affairs that had its genesis in the aforementioned labour movement origins of the AACR.
Looking to the future and a post-Picardo era, Gibraltar should aspire to have a government that is not tied down to any historical association with trade unions, debt of political gratitude or ideological affinity that grants them unjustified sway to distort the process of parliamentary democracy.