Richard A. Matrenza reacts to the interview by Gejtu Vella, secretary general of the Union Haddiema Maghqudin entitled We Don't Believe In Privileges (January 16).

Let me start by congratulating the UHM for celebrating an anniversary. However, I am not quite convinced the UHM per se is in its 40th year - unless the evolutionary process towards its actual birthday is to be taken into account. Usually the gestation period of any foetus is not recognised.

However, be that as it may, 40 years is a substantial period. It reminds me of those who say that life begins at 40 whereas others describe "40 years" as a stage of "being over the hill". Both are a matter of opinion. As are most of the replies that Gejtu Vella has given to his interviewer and as published.

Now Mr Vella is a man I normally have great respect for. In my years as a full-time trade union officer (long before Mr Vella came on the scene) and later as having followed a fulsome career involved in the industrial relations scene, and obviously coming into direct contact with Mr Vella, I have found him in practically all instances as an honourable man.

Having stated this in earnest I will say that the secretary general of the UHM was not correct in his fifth answer when saying that "the agenda of the GWU is a partisan one".

The historical facts surrounding the achievements of the General Workers' Union since its birth in 1943 have been a constant and consistent support for the cause of the Maltese employee, in all the colours of the rainbow.

Long before the UHM was born, the GWU had taken up the struggle of the Maltese worker with ideas, proposals and actions for the betterment of wages and conditions of employment in Malta.

Any serious student of the development of labour relations and the various developments of labour legislation in Malta will bear witness to this assertion.

Privileges or no privileges apart, the GWU has repeatedly given its overt support to Maltese political parties in and out of office.

The past is prologue.

For the benefit of the less enlightened in Malta's social, political and economic history suffice to quote that on the eve of the return to limited self-government in the 1947 elections, the GWU, then only a mere four years old, had sent a memorandum to the major political parties of the time outlining its ideas and suggestions for the establishment of social security and other related matters. The general council of the GWU had undertaken to give to the political party, which promised to seriously include them in its electoral manifesto and to legislate on such matters once elected in office, the union's fullest support. Moreover, the general council also gave its solemn promise to instruct its thousands of members to support the party ready and willing to take up the challenge and its solemn undertaking to abide by its promises.

It is on record that only the Malta Workers' Party, the Labour Party at the time, took up the offer.

This is the historical reality of the privileged association that has been born and developed over the years.

None of the other political parties was willing to commit itself. There is documented historical evidence to prove this.

Notwithstanding, 30 years later, during the Services' rundown of 1966-67, with the Nationalist Party in government, the GWU did not leave the Nationalist government to battle on its own with the British government as employer, in order to try and save the employment of thousands of Maltese workers and their dependants.

In fact, the Prime Minister of Malta at the time had at his side the secretary general of the GWU to help argue the case. Despite its privileged position, the GWU was only intent and concerned with its trade union principle to safeguard its members and all other British Services employees in Malta.

No fledgling union was at its side.

By a strange irony of fate it had to be a British Governor who openly declared that he stood "four square" with the case for Maltese workers.

It is only thanks to the activities of the GWU that during the 1950s the union made ample and repeated uses of the Malta Arbitration Act, born in 1948. Through its successful representation of various cases, comfort and positive awards were won in the interests of scores and scores of workers. And their families.

The Joint Industrial Council was one particular negotiating machinery where the GWU repeatedly used to argue for and win wage increases. This unilateral action then paved the way for the same increases to be benefited by the public sector workers, more popularly known as Malta government employees in colonial Malta of the 1950s.

The GWU was doing all this a mere 10 years after a Maltese Labour government had tabled a motion in Parliament to lease the site of the demolished Auberge de France, in Valletta to this union. The unedited and official records of the sittings in Parliament when the motion was being debated reveal to one and all the vehement and aggressive objections by the leader of the Nationalist Party in opposition and most of his fellow Nationalists in Parliament arguing against such a transfer of property which, for the benefit of all those not familiar with these historical facts, was not being offered gratuitously but for a hefty ground rent of several hundreds of pounds.

So much for privileges. So much for friends.

Mr Vella also gave readers his views on militancy. He said that "Militancy is certainly not the way forward" thereby confusing uninitiated readers that "militancy" equates to "violence".

He is wrong. As I believe him to be a faithful son of the Catholic Church I am sure he has no quarrel and no argument with the principles of Holy Mother Church which speak of the "Church Militant" the "Church Purgative" and the "Church Triumphant".

So much for facts. Disinformation will not do.

It is distortion and revealed truth that are no bedfellows.

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