Posted: Thursday, April 20, 2023. 11:35 am CST.
By Aaron Humes: The ascension of Ruth Shoman as President of the Belize National Teachers’ Union (BNTU) is the eclipse of Senator and incumbent Elena Smith, who held the post for six years.
Filling the shoes of Luke Palacio after the most consequential industrial action in a decade, Smith was the vanguard of a new era of trade union activism, leading public protest on various fronts and emerging as a popular voice in the public discourse.
On the outskirts of the Senate meeting on Wednesday, Smith said that teaching and unionism are her two great loves, and that while the first led her to the second, it is the first that remains paramount: “For me I think it’s bittersweet because my first reason I got into unionism was because of my role as a teacher and so that’s my first love, that’s what I enjoy doing, but I also fell in love with unionism as well and so I’m leaving, if you will, I’m leaving one love to go to the other one. So I enjoyed my work, I believe that, as I said to my people, I gave my best and I think that is all I can do, is to give my best and so I will still be a member, I will still be active, I won’t give that up but I must recognize that my term has ended and I must return to the classroom.”
Senator Smith added that because of the BNTU’s structure, responsibility is collective and that will not change: “You have to do what it is that the membership decides, you are just the figurehead in terms of leading the meetings and chairing and things like that and the face and voice of the union but your mandate comes from the membership and I’m sure that that will continue in that fashion.”
Ruth Shoman, according to Smith, has something of a headstart with regard to taking office as she has been part of union negotiations as the BNTU National Secretary. Smith says that makes their coming transition somewhat easier: “…you prepare a report, you do an exit report, you sit with the incoming president and you share that exit report and you can share it with your council as well so that they can be aware of what were the things that were completed, what are outstanding things and maybe what suggestions you would have in terms of as the outgoing president, I am suggesting that you can continue doing ABC and D. So between now and the end of June or the first week of July, it depends on how things go, then we should have that sit down where she and I can then share what are the outstanding matters, and again, remember she has been a part of the negotiating team and the council for all of these years so she’s fully aware of what has happened thus far so she would only need to be updated on anything that may happen between now and the time she takes the office.”
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