Based on early evidence, it appears that the Bermuda Industrial Union and its bus driver members may have miscalculated in going out on strike.
A poll in this newspaper’s website, while not a scientific poll, showed opposition on the order of 95 percent, and comments on websites and on the talk shows have been largely negative as well.
To be sure, strike decisions are not predicated on public support, but it does seem that there is very little sympathy for the strikers or the bus driver who was dismissed for failing to take a drugs test.
Indeed, Transport Minister Terry Lister and his team have been very effective in showing that they have gone above and beyond in trying to accommodate the driver, who has consistently refused drugs tests or failed to attend appointments. This is also shown by the fact that the bus drivers themselves are divided on this, with many opposed to the strike.
And the public in general is supportive of the idea that drivers, who are responsible for the safety of their passengers, should take a drugs test if involved in an accident which resulted in an injury.
That the union is literally splitting hairs over whether the person should give a urine sample or should give a follicle sample as well simply is not washing it with the general public. A drugs test is a drugs test.
And even if the union had a stronger case, the appropriate way to decide would be through arbitration, and not through a strike which is causing massive inconvenience to visitors and residents, and especially poorer residents who do not have their own transport and are dependent on public transport.
So far the Government is standing firm, and rightly so. Mr Lister and Trade Minister Sen Kim Wilson have been most impressive so far, although it is disappointing that very little has been heard from Premier Paula Cox.
But the truth is that much of this could have been avoided if the Government had shown more backbone earlier this year. When Deputy Premier Derrick Burgess undercut Mr Lister earlier this year and negotiated a U-turn on the case of the bus driver who was allegedly sick, a clear message was sent to the BIU that it could do whatever it wanted without consequences. And this is the result. Mr Lister said then that he only agreed to avoid a general strike. And now Bermuda has a strike on its hands anyway.
That makes it even more important for the Government to stand its ground now. This strike is clearly wrong-headed, and public opposition so strong, that a cave-in now by Government would damage the Progressive Labour Party’s credibility, perhaps permanently.
Quite simply, the Government must not fold. And if it did, it would seem to make Mr Lister’s position untenable. Having staked out his position so strongly, he would presumably have no choice but to resign.
More broadly, Bermuda must return to the idea that actions give consequences and that people must be accountable for their actions. If collective bargaining agreements and contracts say one thing clearly, they need to be upheld. And if there is ambiguity, it needs to be resolved through arbitration, not strike action.