05 October 2005

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Business Today

Open warfare in the GWU

James Debono

The die is cast. Throughout the day, GWU delegates will be choosing between keeping the status quo and change.
The GWU convenes its national congress today at the newly-opened Radisson Golden Sands Hotel in Ghajn Tuffieha.
It was clear from the beginning that two camps were contesting this election; the self-proclaimed militants against a less defined group striving for change.
The militant block-vote is officially composed of incumbents Tony Zarb, Salvu Sammut, Michael Parnis Helen Mallia and newcomer Gejtu Mercieca.
This was made clear by a leaflet adorned by the GWU’s official logo sent by post to delegates by the “friends of Gejtu Mercieca.”
Their opponents in the contest are an undeclared coalition composed of Manwel Micallef, Ray Arpa, Godfrey Borg and Josephine Attard Sultana.
It is clear that a concerted effort was made to contest all posts in the central administration by the anti Zarb camp.
But it was never clear whether Manwel Micallef had the full backing of the candidates contesting the “militants.”
Although excluded from the militant block vote, candidate Josephine Attard Sultana together with section secretaries Emanuel Zammit and Josef Bugeja ended up seconding both Zarb and Micallef.
Only section secretary Karmenu Vella backed Manwel Micallef all the way.
Some attributed this to fear of a backlash in case of a probable Zarb victory.
This lack of confidence has weakened the anti Zarb camp. Manwel Micallef himself did not help his own cause by contesting two positions, thus giving the impression that he was unsure of himself.
At face value there seem to be very few clear ideological differences and divergences in policies between the two camps.
In interviews with sister paper MaltaToday, both candidates proclaimed their Labour sympathies. Both candidates spoke on the need of attracting new categories of workers to make up for the declining membership.
What seems to separate the two candidates is style and mentality. Manwel Micallef managerial background contrasts with Zarb’s image as a shop floor militant.
While Micallef is not adverse to new realities, which have rendered the job for life mentality obsolete, Zarb is more wary of the insecurities created by new economic realities.
Another criticism levelled by Micallef was Zarb’s habit of starting campaigns, which end up fizzling out after a few weeks. But Zarb could easily respond to this criticism by saying that Micallef formed part of the same leadership, which embarked on these campaigns.
One innovative feature in Micallef’s campaign was his emphasis on trade union unity.
Yet there was little chance to further explore these subtle differences as during the last week of the campaign, debate was limited to the GWU’s papers.
But this did not stop candidates from launching vicious attacks on each other or from defending themselves from vicious rumours spread against them from the opposite camp.
In the final days, bad blood has surfaced with Tony Zarb accusing Manwel Micallef of leaking stories to the Nationalist Party’s allies in the media and Manwel Micallef accusing Tony Zarb of betraying the promise to step down after two years when he was last confirmed as secretary general.
It also saw Manwel Micallef accusing one of Zarb’s main allies and candidate for the post of deputy general secretary; Gejtu Mercieca of being incompetent and unable to write a letter without assistance.
On Sunday reformist Josephine Attard Sultana ended up defending herself from accusations of finding a job for her own husband in Malta Post where she was negotiating the collective agreement.
Tony Zarb’s camp was organised, ruthless and focused. The message from day one was clear.
Vote for us or for the Nationalist stooges. A simple message aimed at fuelling a siege mentality. They also backed a motion in the GWU’s council to prevent candidates from presenting their vision to the media with the exception of the GWU’s papers.
The message of the Manwel Micallef camp was spelt out clearly in his last article in it-Torca: Change, it’s now or never. Micallef is banking on the votes of those who do not support him directly but cannot stand the prospect of another Tony Zarb term.
While a victory for the Zarb camp seems probable, a sizeable vote for Micallef and his loose coalition will weaken the current leadership and pave the way for change in the union.


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