Build unity around a programme of struggle

On June 19th 2009, the National Workers' Union issued the following statement:
 
"The ongoing capitalist crisis is devastating working people and the poor and all indications are that things will get much worse.
 
It is not just a financial crisis. It is a crisis embedded in the capitalist mode of production which is based on profit maximisation, concentration and accumulation of capital at the expense of everything else, including the destruction of the human ecosystem.
 
The capitalist system has become irrational and is a danger to the continued existence of the human race.
 
Our neo-colonial political system has lost all credibility among the masses and we are once again heading for a decisive clash of social forces which may decide what kind of social settlement is in store for the country in the medium term.

These decisive clashes have occurred before: in 1919 when there was the first general strike and insurrection in T&T; 1937 when the working classes rose up in anti-colonial revolt, demanded “home rule” and built the modern trade union movement;
in 1970 when the youth and students united with the working class against the neo-colonial, post-independence mockery and called for power to the people and for working class unity across ethnic lines; in 1989 when the trade union movement shut down the country completely on that glorious “Day of Resistance” in protest against the imposition of the structural adjustment programme inflicted upon us by the IMF and the Robinson regime.

The history of the Caribbean tells us that when working people and the poor engage in decisive class struggles against the capitalists and the state, these struggles take the form of street insurrection and general strike. Indeed, across large areas of our country a low intensity insurrection is already underway as working people and the poor desperately try to defend themselves against the increasing brutalisation of living conditions which is becoming worse and worse as thousands of workers are retrenched. The manufacturing sector that exports to Caricom is already shedding jobs because their markets are drying up. Jobs are already being eliminated in the energy and heavy industrial sectors. Workers are on the chopping block in the public service, at WASA, throughout the manufacturing sector, the construction sector, the transport, equipment rental, labour supply sectors and the supply of services sector: restaurant, retail and wholesale commercial sales, financial and clerical sectors.

Workers must state loud and clear that we are not going to pay for the capitalist crisis! We didn’t create it and we will not pay for it! But saying this is not enough. Workers have had their fill of militant ole talk and rhetoric that just turns out to be so much hot air. The state has already signalled that it is quite prepared to resort to naked militarisation to ensure that working people and the poor do not create more space for themselves. The recent Summit of the Americas revealed the extent of the militarisation of the police force.

We have grown accustomed to the police infringing upon rights supposedly guaranteed by our neo-colonial constitution. They perform illegal acts and justify it in the name of security. This paramilitary police force that is being unveiled before us has nothing to do with crime prevention or detection, but has much to do with the suppression of the already growing resistance by increasing numbers of citizens to the effects of the economic crisis. When the system is stripped to its bare essentials it goes back to basics: the heart of state power is the ability to enforce policy through armed force.

In order to survive the short term in good order trade unions need to develop a minimum programme of struggle; a programme of self-defence as the political situation sharpens and the capitalists attempt to force working people and the poor to pay for the crisis. In the short term this involves tackling the problem of food security and reversing inflationary policies which are strangling the masses. But food security will never be attained unless small farmers achieve security of tenure. The farmers who work the land must control the land. In the long term it involves dumping the capitalist system and creating a system where those who labour hold the reins of power.

The key strategic task of such a programme is to organise the hundreds of thousands of workers who are not unionised in the service industries in the construction sector, contractor workers, the thousands of so-called temporary and casual workers who work alongside unionised workers throughout the manufacturing sector. Organising the unorganised is the only way to eliminate the division within the workplace between permanent, casual and temporary workers. The only way to maintain a living wage is to ensure that there are no second class workers. The only way to achieve this is to unionise the non-unionised.

If the goal of organising the unorganised is to be done expeditiously the trade unions must force the government to reform the process of union recognition which is a veritable scandal. In the interim, unions must struggle to have enacted a minimum floor of rights and entitlements for that 80% of the workforce that is not unionised to deal with issues like the right to annual vacation leave, sick leave with pay, overtime rates, payment for work on public holidays etc.

The minimum programme must deal with the issue of retrenchment. We must struggle for the establishment of a severance fund financed by the employers and the issue of a system of unemployment benefits administered by the National Insurance Scheme. There are restrictions on the right to strike that must be removed if we are to defend ourselves against the predations of the capitalists as the economic crisis worsens.

The final shape of this minimum programme of struggle must be hammered out through discussions between the unions and between the unions and farmers organisations, community-based organisations, issues-based organisations, cultural organisations, co-operatives, credit unions, occupational/professional associations etc.

The easy part is working out the elements of the minimum programme, but the real work lies in developing a strategy for ensuring that the programme is implemented. The unions have industrial power and a capacity to mobilise that could stop the government in its tracks as it seeks to pauperise the working people and the poor, but if working out the programme and the mechanisms to have it implemented are left in the hands of the union leadership it will not see the light of day.

The rank and file through their shop stewards and local officers must set the agenda. A shop steward movement, cutting across union lines must be built, where debate on policy direction can take place in a democratic manner. This can be the foundation for the revitalisation of the COSSABO (Conference of Shop Stewards and Branch Officers) which proved so successful in the seventies and eighties in mobilising the working class to defend its hard-won benefits. The National Workers’ Union congratulates the Transport and Industrial Workers’ Union for taking the initiative in reviving the COSSABO and looks forward to that initiative developing into a cross-union movement that taps into the experience and wisdom of the rank and file and the hop floor leadership of the trade union movement

Unity in the trade union movement can only be built in struggle. Unity is built in the fight to implement measures that advance, protect and defend the interests of the working class. Unity is not achieved just because you have one trade union centre. The general strike of 1989 was successful although there were two centres: the Council of Progressive Trade Unions and the Labour Congress. They united around a programme of mobilisation and were able to shut down the country.

Trade union leaders do not seem to understand that while they rant and rave and snipe at each other to the delight of the capitalists and the government, rank and file workers are turned off by their behaviour and yearn for unity in action around a programme of self defence during this period of assault on workers’ rights and entitlements. Let us mobilise working people and the poor for the only thing our enemies understand: mass resistance and general strike!

ORGANISE THE UNORGANISED!

DEVELOP A MINIMUM PROGRAMME AND FIGHT TO IMPLEMENT IT!

REVIVE THE COSSABO!

BUILD UNITY IN ACTION!

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National Workers Union,
24 Sep 2009, 11:41
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