The General Workers’ Union has sacked its public service section secretary and president in a bloody and messy purge that has seen the union’s militancy turned on its own officials. Karl Schembri interviews the two main protagonists and reports about the affair
Just a year ago, General Workers’ Union Secretary General Tony Zarb was defying the stifling mid summer heat wave as he rallied his members against what he had called the government’s “guillotine policy” of beheading workers ahead of the stormy Sea Malta controversy.
A full 12 months since he said that famous phrase, Zarb himself is on the scaffold dressed as the executioner as he chops off the heads of his own colleagues of the so-called moderate faction.
Last Tuesday’s sacking of Josephine Attard Sultana and her section’s president, Francis Buttigieg, lacked the clean cut of a razor-sharp guillotine – it was bloody and messy – but it still had the same abruptness that took everyone by surprise.
The cracks were all there for everyone to see, much before Attard Sultana took her case to court, although that was evidently her last act of resistance against Zarb’s faction of militants that have taken over the union just like a gigantic juggernaut ready to crush everyone in its way.
Engaging George Abela as her lawyer must have escalated the drama, in what has now turned into a veritable deluge of libel cases opened by everyone against everyone. Abela, the union’s former lawyer and its legal representative for port workers, is suing the union for its string of attacks on him through its newspaper l-orizzont.
“Look how low they can stoop,” he said outside the law courts upon presenting his two libel claims against the union and its newspaper.
It’s chaos, really, as the Labour Party is meanwhile suing the PN for alleging it was behind Attard Sultana’s dismissal; and Zarb is suing Buttigieg for calling his leadership fascist.
Zarb is trying to coolly play the legalistic man in this latest episode, as if all he did was to interpret the statute and defend the delegates’ right to sack Attard Sultana despite the court’s decision to stop an extraordinary general meeting called to remove her from office.
Of course he’s the union leader, he could have changed the whole course of things, but that would have gone against the grand plan written black on white by some mysterious hand on the anonymous leaflets that have been making the rounds at least since last October, when Attard Sultana was contesting against Gejtu Mercieca for the post of deputy secretary general. It is all too clear that the infamous circle drawn around the picture of her flanking section secretaries Emmanuel Zammit and Karmenu Vella, defined as “Emmanuel Micallef’s clique”, is really etched in stone. “We don’t want them in the GWU any longer.”
The latest amateurish leaflet full of the customary spite distributed within the union’s corridors brands her as someone who ignores her members, who even ridicules them with their “adversaries”, and as a Nationalist flunky. “Is this what you want?” the leaflet asked, adding there was only one way for her: out. “You know her place is not within the General Workers’ Union – neither her nor those around her.”
Attard Sultana was the first woman to hold an official position within the union. Since she was appointed assistant section secretary for the textiles sector in 1984, straight from the cradle of trade unionism in the former Bluebell factory, she has worked her way up together with Zarb, who was also a shop floor colleague back in the 80s in the same factory.
Who would have said it would be Zarb himself who would call on the Police Commissioner to get her out of the union building? There she was on Tuesday evening, packing her personal belongings from what she describes as her home, accompanied, among others, by Karmenu Vella and Emmanuel Zammit, and the section president calling the union leadership “fascist” on his last exit from Workers’ Memorial Building, with the police commissioner on the line perhaps checking she was not in a bout of some crazy militancy on her way out.
“I’m ready to receive any blow for as long as I keep defending you,” Zarb told his executive committee members in July last year, to a roaring militant applause.
Can he say that again?
GWU secretary general Tony Zarb claims the union has been democratic all along the way in unceremoniously getting rid of Josephine Attard Sultana at all costs
The acrimonious split with Josephine Attard Sultana goes back a long way – back to the tumultuous election and referendum year in 2003, with Tony Zarb at the forefront of the no campaign by Karl Schembri