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ANTI-GANG BILL AND TRADE UNIONS by Dave Smith

posted 13 Dec 2010, 06:33 by Gerry Kangalee

ANTI-GANG BILL 2010

I am writing to you to express some apprehension about the definitions used in this Bill to describe “gangs” and “gang-related activity”. The definition of a “gang” in the Bill is given as:“... any alliance, combination, enterprise or other similar conjoining of two or more persons whether formally or informally organised that, through its membership or through the agency of any member, engages in any gang-related activity”

The definition of a “gang” given here would clearly include a trade union, or in fact any other legally established organisation, subject only to it not being involved in “any gang-related activity. “Gang-related activity” is defined in the Bill as being: “ ...any criminal activity, enterprise, pursuit or undertaking acquiesced in, or consented or agreed to, or directed, ordered, authorised, requested or ratified by any gang member including a gang leader, officer, or governing or policy-making person or authority, or by any agent, representative or deputy of any such officer, person, or authority of the gang, whether with or without the intent to:

(a) increase the gang’s size, membership, prestige, dominance or control in any geographical area;

(b) provide the gang with any advantage in, or any control or dominance over any criminal offence;

(c) exact revenge or retribution for the gang or any gang member;

(d) obstruct justice, or intimidate or eliminate any witness against the gang or any gang member; or

(e) otherwise directly or indirectly cause any benefit, aggrandisement, gain, profit or other advantage whatsoever to or for the gang, its reputation, influence, or membership”

Gang-related activity is not, in this definition, limited to any criminal activity, but also includes any “enterprise, pursuit or undertaking”. Whether such “enterprise, pursuit or undertaking” can be described as “gang-related activity” will depend on whether it is intended to fulfil one of the objectives set out in (a) to (e) of the definition.

Examining these objectives against the background of normal trade union activity we would express concern about the following:

(a) increase the gang’s size, membership, prestige, dominance or control in any geographical area;

The Rules of the National Workers Union, which are not un-typical of any trade union, include as a prime objective “ … the complete organisation of all workers in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago”. In other words, it is our intention to increase the Union's size, membership, prestige, dominance or control in the geographical area of Trinidad and Tobago.

(c) exact revenge or retribution for the gang or any gang member;

Most Unions will have within their Rules the right to discipline members for infractions of Union Rules, procedures or policies. Whether such “enterprise, pursuit or undertaking” can be described as “gang-related activity” will depend on whether it is intended to fulfil one of the objective set out in (a) to (e) of the definition.

(e) otherwise directly or indirectly cause any benefit, aggrandisement, gain, profit or other advantage whatsoever to or for the gang, its reputation, influence, or membership”

All Unions will have objectives, maybe expressed differently but similar in intention, to the those of the National Workers Union which include to:

• represent members, either collectively or individually, to ensure that their labour is sold for the highest price and the terms and conditions under which they work for the employing class is the best obtainable;

• further the interests of the Union, its members and the working-class in any way that is consistent with the Founding Principles. In other words, it is the declared objective of the Union to do all those things for its members that would fall within the definition of “gang-related activity”, thus inviting the conclusion that a trade union is a “gang”.

Given our concerns that the definitions currently set out in this Bill are loose, Section 10(1) gives a police officer the right to arrest any “gang member” (trade union member?) without a warrant and Section 10(3) gives the police the right to “... enter and search any place or premises not used as a dwelling house” (trade union office?) without a warrant.

We have already seen that a government felt it had the ability to spy on trade union leaders. In the right circumstances, we can see that a Government could also use the very loose and broad definitions in the Bill to describe trade unions undertaking their legitimate activities – or even activities which might not be legal (such as taking industrial action) but which are clearly not criminal in nature – as “gangs” in order to detain and imprison trade union leaders and members.

In its history, the country has seen these scenarios develop in the past where a State of Emergency has been declared and trade union leaders arrested. Given our concerns that trade unions could fall within the definition of a “gang”, then this opens up the possibility of trade union leaders being “liable to imprisonment for the remaining years of his natural life” (Section 5(2)).

Whilst the prime objective of the Bill is clearly aimed at gangs undertaking criminal activities, it is important to ensure that poorly drafted legislation cannot be used against the legitimate activities of trade unions. We would urge our legislators to look very carefully at the wording of this bill against the background of the concerns being raised by the National Workers Union.

Yours sincerely

Dave Smith
General Secretary


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