Manwel Micallef, who currently occupies the post of deputy secretary general of the GWU is considering contesting Tony Zarb when the union’s top posts come up for contestation in October.
Micallef told The Malta Financial and Business Times yesterday that he will be announcing his decision on whether to contest or not in the coming days.
Asked directly whether he will be contesting the post of secretary general, Micallef made it clear he was not excluding this eventuality.
“At this stage I do not exclude contesting. I will be announcing my decision in a few days,” Micallef told this newspaper.
Writing in the GWU’s weekly it-Torca, last Sunday, Micallef referred to rife speculation in the media on his eventual candidature and the mixed reactions of support and outright hostility he has been receiving.
He even referred to closed meetings in which his candidature was discussed in his absence.
Asked by this newspaper whether he was referring to meetings held at the GWU, Micallef answered in the affirmative.
Micallef also said that he was aware that there were attempts to oust him from his current post through an alternative candidature.
Micallef said that he was “one of the most militant in the General Workers Union” when it came to principles, when asked by this newspaper whether there was a campaign to depict him as a “softy”.
But hinting at his vision for the GWU in the coming years, Micallef insisted that a change in mentality is required in the way the GWU operates.
Commenting on his vision for a more modern approach, Micallef said: “I have nothing against street protests but first we must engage in negotiations. I would never like to start a fight and then end up giving up, right in the middle of it.”
Asked whether he was referring to the GWU’s current anti-guillotine campaign in which Tony Zarb threatened to bring the country to a standstill if the employment of 13 Interprint employees was not guaranteed, Micallef made it clear that on this issue the GWU is bound to follow the decisions endorsed by the union’s council.
“We have to promote the concept of alternative employment especially in the current climate of unemployment.”
Referring to globalisation and changes in Maltese society, Micallef added, “certain tactics adopted in the past do not make sense anymore.”
Last Sunday, in the same edition of it-Torca, union leader Tony Zarb launched a scathing attack on the Nationalist Party’s media for attempting to create fissures in the GWU. Zarb also projected himself as a militant.
“Militarising in the GWU is an honour,” Zarb told it-Torca.
The media savvy Manwel Micallef is seven years younger than Tony Zarb. Micallef joined the union’s leadership after the departure of Mario Cutajar who was known as an Alfred Sant acolyte.
Tony Zarb is the last survivor of the troika, which took over the union leadership after the departure of Jackie Calamatta in 1998.
Salvu Sammut replaced President Jimmy Pearsall while Manwel Micallef replaced Assistant General-Secretary Mario Cutajar.
During the first years of his leadership Tony Zarb distanced the GWU from the Labour Party to the extent that he refused to take a position on the EU issue until 2001. On various occasions he even held his ground against pressure by the more militant Drydocks section.
Yet following the union’s decision to oppose EU membership, Zarb and Sant shared the same predicament.
Both Sant and Zarb gave mixed signals following the 2003 referendum and election defeat. First they gave indications that they were not interested in re-contesting their respective posts only to change their decision soon after.
Manwel Micallef’s career includes a spree in national broadcasting and experience in the private sector where he worked as a reinsurance broker with Mediterranean Insurance Brokers Ltd.
For twelve long years, Micallef worked in the traditional heartland of trade union militancy; Malta Shipbuilding where he occupied various management positions and the post of Company Secretary.
In 1999 he left the Shipbuilding Company to join the GWU as Secretary of the Port and Transport Section.
He was appointed Deputy Secretary-General of the GWU on 1 August 2002.
If Manwel Micallef takes the plunge, it will be up to the delegates to decide if he has the qualities to fit in the shoes of trade union giants like Reggie Miller, John Attard Kingswell and Anglu Fenech.