Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by this author are their own and do not represent the official position of Barbados TODAY Inc.
by Daria Michelle Cave
A category 1 hurricane. 2000 houses to repair. Unions must mobilize.
Government alone cannot do it all.
What has to be done. Around the world, one of the main pillars of trade unionism is the struggle to provide affordable and safe housing to all workers.
Low-rental housing does not have to be in a different location from middle-income or high-income housing. Most people want to lead productive and comfortable civilian lives.
All over the world, one can find unions that play a significant role in providing solutions to the housing problems of their members. Whether they develop, design and finance union housing projects, advocate politically, or cooperate with credit unions, unions have answered the call in many places to provide safe, comfortable and affordable housing for their members.
We also note in the world that when the unions move away from these inalienable rights (to housing, to education, to health…), the number of members decreases and their political weight weakens. Workers in the public and private sectors, in the lower income bracket, face increasingly serious housing problems, even in construction booms due to housing and land prices … geared towards a tourist market .
Trade unions and credit unions, strategically involved in providing housing to their members, will be an important step in getting unions to really take care of their members. Alleviating any looming housing crisis will simultaneously strengthen and invigorate the labor movement in the eyes and hearts of its members.
Tackling housing will arguably usher in more affordable housing, decent housing for all income brackets – regardless of type or scale, by lobbying for good government housing initiatives, advocating and supporting partnerships to provide housing developments to members from all walks of life.
We sometimes see in Italy and the USA the enormous union lobbies, capable of integrating the question of affordable housing into their industrial negotiations.
Trade unions in Germany and Uruguay have joined with other civil initiatives such as tenant associations and cooperative movements, to lobby and start providing better housing. These partnerships show what can be achieved when unions focus on the real needs of their members.
When unions proactively engage with cooperative movements and organizations, they are empowered by political support but are not beholden to it, as their work goes beyond – as the union member interacts directly with its members, providing input. help they may need. to obtain ownership of their home.
With unions supporting the creation of housing co-operatives, developing them to meet the needs and wants of tenants and landlords, maintaining the integrity of real estate developments, we could see unions become the most important provider of affordable housing in the world. island and a model, for the world to duplicate.
Unions, by offering housing solutions or alternatives to their members, will have to participate in all facets of construction, negotiation, financing, allocation and mediation involved in housing developments. While this resource and financial investment would be the greatest investment in union housing developments, it would be the greatest help, assistance to its members, and would require honest and trustworthy leaders at its helm.
With some members wanting or needing rental housing, there are examples of housing developments managed by the union or in partnership with the union, which have been managed most successfully.
Unions, working with local government in Milan, New York, Croatia, Sweden and Switzerland, have experimented with condominiums, rental programs, social housing initiatives – connecting landlords with potential tenants and vice versa – with strict rules regulating prices, behavior codes, number of tenants, etc.
The financing and development of these different types of rental housing cooperatives, whether in partnership with the government or the private sector, gives unions the opportunity to take charge of one of the greatest concerns of their members.
Partnering with independent housing organizations is one way to develop good housing alternatives for members, partnering with government initiatives is another, and going alone in developing housing for members is a third.
What is clear is that the union must step in to ensure that safe, comfortable and affordable housing is within its purview – affecting every member of a union.
In Barbados, we have an interesting environment where regulatory, institutional and political requirements often work in harmony. Potential union interventions in housing are now much needed as we have reports of substandard living conditions, of workers spending an increasing proportion of their income on housing and having heavy home loans to repay.
The crucial key to union housing initiatives may very well be partnerships with the civil, private and / or public sector.
We have seen some successes while others have stalled. Unions can work here with architects, with contractors, with builders, to develop these housing projects for our members.
The scale at which unions do it is really the product of a need and a desire. Whether it is developing housing co-operatives, organizing a housing agency or creating a building partnership, unions can work together, giving their members all the information they need to take decisions. better housing decisions based on their needs and wants.
Unions can provide different groups of workers / members e.g. frontline workers housed closer to their workplace reducing travel time and costs, support from members like this is a huge social benefit for all.
Renovating some Crown properties through such a housing initiative, in exchange for rental housing for members and their families, could very well be a mechanism to help revitalize the downtown corridor.
There is no doubt that the union can be a very useful support for its members.
Everything from comprehensive developments to providing legal housing assistance, providing working capital for housing, advocating and lobbying employers for housing related support, is within the reach of the union.
Strategic partnerships will be needed to achieve quality, safe, comfortable and affordable housing complexes for union members.
In these, everyone from members and NGOs to housing experts, government agencies and credit unions can not only strengthen the union, but more importantly, alleviate the housing problem for many. their members.
Daria Michelle Cave is a teacher, beekeeper and NUPW board member.