Franklyn – man on fire
IT WAS A political masterstroke in the midst of swirling uncertainty after the historic May 24 General Election left the island without an Opposition.
With the incumbent Democratic Labour Party wiped out by the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) in its 2018 clean sweep of the 30 seats and none of the minor parties/ independents mustering votes of any note, there was no opposition. Then a week into the new Government, the St Michael West Member of Parliament
Bishop Joseph Atherley dropped a bombshell. He was moving from the bosom of Government to assume the office of Opposition Leader.
Along with the speculation as to why he made the shift also came fervent debate on who should now be appointed to the two critical opposition Senate seats as the Opposition was now without the might of a party machinery and needed, along with the lone voice in the House of Assembly in Atherley, two other key speakers.
Atherley chose to go with Senator Crystal Drakes, ticking all the right boxes to meet the developing needs of a transitioning country. Drakes was an economist who was young and female.
With the BLP holding the other 29 seats, the small Opposition needed a tenacious, fearless personality, and Atherley unleashed Caswell Franklyn.
Long known as a very forthright person, Franklyn now assumed a greater role of cape crusader taking on the Government, trade unionists, political parties, the private sector, the news media and any of the powerful in his fight for the underdog. The head of the Unity Workers’ Union was now squarely pitted against his once powerful ally, Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley, at the height of Mia mania.
That she appeared untouchable because of her extreme popularity mattered not to the blunt Franklyn, a former assistant to the then Attorney General, later Chief Justice Sir David Simmons and an employee in the Attorney General Office when Mottley held the portfolio. He knew the territory and targets well and therefore his challenges would be grounded not only in law but precedent, making him a constant thorn in the BLP’S flesh.
In the midst of the celebration and in the absence of the other activists seemingly silenced by appointments, Franklyn swiftly got around to ensuring that neither Mottley nor the BLP would get away unnoticed if they attempted any of the same things of which they had accused the previous ruling party.
Even before he landed in the Senate he had condemned what he saw as an oversized Cabinet and associated appointments, contending that Mottley’s suggestion to amend the Constitution to accommodate a DLP Opposition in the Senate reeked of contempt for the wishes of the electorate. While the electorate appeared to be saying it trusted Mottley, she, by her proposal, would be happier with oversight from the DLP, he contended.
His knack for uncovering the less than obvious in politics remained at the fore when it came to the Mottley style of leadership as he pointed out that in our system of governance a Cabinet minister would first have to resign if he/she opposed government policy on the floor of the House of Assembly. Backbenchers were free to oppose. Mottley, he said, had almost all of her colleagues on the front bench and only two backbenchers.
In his first contribution in the Senate, he locked on to the constitutional amendments to qualify two of the Prime Minister’s picks to become senators, likening the move to the last administration’s amendment of the Supreme Court Of Judicature Act to secure its preferred Chief Justice.
The activist believed
Barbadians should be concerned about changing the Constitution just “because you can”.
“I think this is a rush job to facilitate these individuals. I don’t think this would have been done for me or for most Barbadians . . .They are jumping through hoops for certain people. This bill should not see the light of day and is fatally flawed,” he said.
He summed it up as an abuse of power. “Government must be careful how it uses its power. We have just opened the door to absolute corruption. You can’t behave like this just because you have the power . . . You don’t just pass laws for your friends . . . Can’t you find two other persons from the 277 000 other persons in Barbados?” he asked the Chamber.
Another appointment provoked his ire
– Charles Jong to the post of director of communications for the BLP Government.
He challenged Mottley’s authority to make
Public Service appointments, which he said were the responsibility of the Public Service Commission.
While Jong had done “a good job” working for the BLP in the elections, “his reward cannot be a job in the Public Service, and if it is a job in the Public Service there are procedures . . . . ,” Franklyn pointed out.
Locked in battle
Throughout 2018, Franklyn split his attention between politics and trade unionism, and sometimes the two collided. The obviously clumsy handling of layoffs and other matters related to the implementation of the Barbados Economic Recovery and Transformation (BERT) programme got much of Franklyn’s attention in the latter part of the year. When he wasn’t taking on the administration, he found himself locked in battle with the major trade unions – the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) and the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) – and employers.
He scathingly criticised his counterparts in the other unions, accusing them of “rolling over to let the Government play with their belly like a little puppy” over the alleged bonds negotiations with the state-owned Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation, which severed more than half of its workers in December.
“. . . Workers must be paid in legal tender. I must be able to take a legal tender to the supermarket or a shop and the body will give me goods. If I go to a shop [with a bond], will they give me anything? Government cannot pay with foolish paper. The BWU has strongly denied Franklyn’s bonds claim.
He often criticised the NUPW and the BWU for their acceptance of a small increase soon after Government took office while previously holding out for more.
He then turned his attention to the BLP’S approach, threatening that with a larger majority his union would have been on the streets.
“Government can’t be so rogue as to believe that they can treat people as they like because they have 29 seats. It has to stop. You can’t expect to treat people in this manner. Barbadians are too soft and allow politicians to treat them badly,” he said.
His passion for the rights of the worker is obvious.
When president of the Prison Officers Association, Trevor Browne, was charged with seducing his colleague not to work, Franklyn was there at the court hearing and before long the industrial relations consultant to the body said it was pulling out of the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados.
Browne, he said, had been charged with, essentially, carrying out the functions normally associated with a trade union leader.
(From left) Senator Caswell Franklyn and Opposition Leader Joseph Atherley look on as newly named Senator- designate Crystal Drakes speaks to the media.
OPPOSITION Senator Caswell Franklyn walking down the steps of Parliament after he vehemently objected to the passing of the Constitution Amendment Bill.