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posted 1 Oct 2011, 06:48 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 1 Oct 2011, 07:25 ]

During the last Manning regime the country reached a stage of low intensity insurrection. A revolt had begun in the communities and at the workplaces against the disrespect of the PNM government for the rights of working people. This was clearly exposed during the Summit of the Americas and the attempt to decertify TIWU and CWU.

The National Workers’ Union at the time proposed the adoption of a workers self-defence programme which included a campaign to organise the hundreds of thousands of unorganised workers; to legislate a minimum floor of entitlements to apply to all workers; the abolition of repressive labour legislation; the repeal of the Summary Offences Act and radical reform of the agricultural sector centred around the interests of small farmers.

The trade union movement was grievously divided at that time with some leaders “partnering” with the very government that was showing contempt for the interests of working people. This state of division made it extremely difficult for the labour movement to wage a unified struggle against the then government.

The tsunami of anti–Manning sentiment that had built up over time gave rise to the People’s Partnership on the one hand and on the other to the adoption of the Workers Agenda at a COSSABO, held at Paramount Building, on April 18th 2010.

The People’s Partnership consolidated the vote by promising to put workers at the centre of development and that the concerns of the Workers’ Agenda would be speedily addressed. Early signals of the most shameful backtracking were the reneging on the $3,000 pension and the minimum wage fiasco. Not change but exchange became the cry.

The government’s strategy regarding the public sector negotiations was: carry the unions for a run; pressurise, intimidate or seduce the more vulnerable union leaderships into submission. Some vulnerable unions have already been defeated.

When it became clear that there was a wage cap and that it included state enterprise workers, the trade union leaderships were forced to unite. The Labour Day Accord was the result. It called for: launching a campaign to pursue changing the system of governance;

a Massive Protest Demonstration at the Office of Prime Minister on 7 July, 2011;

continuing joint workplace meetings and mobilization towards achieving numerous workplace shut down commencing last week in July, 2011;

a series of protest demonstrations across Trinidad and Tobago commencing end of August, 2011;

these series of joint actions would lead to a general strike on a date to be announced.

The government then launched a massive propaganda drive against the trade union movement saying that we were childish, dotish and unpatriotic and should "wine to the side" because we demand what we have already worked for and to which we are entitled. All sectors were beginning to act up, including the police.

The state of emergency is the ideal counter by the government. On July 21st, one month before the SOE, an article on the National Workers Union website revealed that a state of emergency was round the corner. Crime is a popular issue. It could help the government to buy time. Imagine rooting out criminals by banning marches and meetings, by restricting freedom of movement, freedom of expression and freedom of association, freedom of assembly. To add insult to injury they tell us they have taken away our human rights in order to safeguard them

The idea is to slow down the momentum toward the general strike, exhaust the workers, and attempt to put pressure on union leaderships to accept the 5%. TTEC is going to be critical, since the Minister of Labour has sent it to the court. As essential industry workers the law says they cannot go on strike like other unionised workers can. The more groups of workers accept the 5%, the more likely TTEC workers and others who end up in the Court would be stuck with what, the Court would argue, is the trend or the norm

Dookeran says the budget will be based on austerity principles, which means further public sector cutbacks including subsidies, the deepening of the contract system, privatization and retrenchment. The state of emergency has certainly become a fetter on trade union activity and has to be stopped.

By attacking hard-fought for human rights the government has gone to the root of the so-called social contract. We have to take off the gloves, they certainly have. We have to vigorously and consistently implement the Labour Day Accord.

We call on the COSSABO to send a clear message to the government that we do not want amendments to the Emergency Regulations or humane conditions in the Santa Rosa Warehouse. We want an end to the SOE.

We propose for the consideration of the COSSABO that a Secretariat/ War Council be set up by the Joint Trade Union Movement. If we are to carry out the mobilization task effectively organization, co-ordination, communication and the ability to monitor and stay on top of decisions is crucial. A three person committee should be adequate.

We propose for the consideration of the COSSABO that labour representatives be withdrawn from all government boards and committees, including state enterprise boards. This step would signal to the government that the JTUM is serious about defeating their policy of wage suppression. We cannot have our cake and eat it too. We cannot be gouti and hound dog at the same time.

We propose that the COSSABO consider recommending to the joint leadership that they take the lead in forming a national front against not only the state of emergency, but to defend and protect the rights and freedoms the masses have gained through much struggle over the years and to fight for the widening and deepening of those freedoms.
Gerry Kangalee,
1 Oct 2011, 06:59