Tony Zarb is a very courageous man indeed. In very choppy seas, he goes off on a cruise. The General Workers' Union is going through its worst crisis in decades as many of its executive members and workers, who a while ago where marching on the streets alongside him, are now quitting en masse. I'm sure that Mr Zarb et al are truly worried.

He seems to me a very decent man indeed, but unfortunately his leadership at the GWU is not very successful and when members are abandoning the union in droves he would do well to step aside and give the union, which I'm sure he really cares for, a breath of fresh air.

There is no denying that the GWU is divided into two factions; the battle between the "moderates" and the "militants" has now been going on for a long time and when a truce does happen it is short-lived. This is indeed a pity for what was once Malta's largest and strongest trade union. Thousands of workers have in the past found refuge in the GWU, even though at times the union was overtly supporting the then Labour governments, which support at one point went so far as walking up the aisle to seal their love in the sanctity of marriage.

Some years later they filed for separation which they got even though they remained best of friends. The Labour leader himself recently described the GWU as "its privileged partner", and Geitu Mercieca, the union's deputy secretary general, has admitted in the union's daily l-orizzont, that they (the administration) had stopped those who used the union's newspaper to attack the Labour Party.  

But now things have taken a turn for the worse especially since the bitter contest for the leadership posts a few months ago when Mr Zarb and Emanuel Micallef, that gentleman of Maltese trade unionism, battled it out for the top post. Mr Micallef has described that battle as an ugly one indeed, during which he was the victim of anonymous letters and a mud-slinging campaign. Since then all those, or nearly all those, who supported him openly have found it impossible to work in the GWU and have since resigned or been thrown out.

Josephine Attard Sultana walked out of the union's headquarters with tears in her eyes after she was unjustly sacked, saying "this is not the union I know". So did Francis Buttigieg who had worked in the union for many many years. And then Emanuel Zammit and with him hundreds of port workers called it a day.

Mr Zammit said that the central administration had made his life a misery and that "it became impossible to work in the union". Soon after Mr Zammit, another GWU stalwart, Karmenu Vella, handed in his resignation, his reason being that the central administration was going against the principals of the GWU and that it was impossible to work in such an environment.

George Abela, the former Labour deputy leader who had resigned after disagreement with then Prime Minister Alfred Sant - a loss which Labour has suffered to date - met a similar fate. He represented port workers in their talks over port reform, after they themselves sought his help, but this did not go down well at all with the GWU central administration and they went as far as to dedicate a whole front page to attacking Dr Abela's credibility. They failed miserably though.

Now it is time for Mr Zarb and friends to call it a day. The GWU needs a breath of fresh air. Workers demand it; it's their union after all. Instead of sail now, work later, Mr Zarb and the rest of the administration should adopt a "go now, sail later" motto.

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