Where we stand‎ > ‎Media Releases‎ > ‎


posted 18 Jun 2015, 20:10 by Gerry Kangalee


 The National Workers Union (NWU) and its affiliate the National Health Workers Union (NHWU) join with the working people of T&T in celebrating the seventy eighth anniversary of the 1937 anti-colonial general strike and insurrection which gave birth to the trade union movement and paved the way for independence.

While working people have much to celebrate, we must be clear that the rights and entitlements that we enjoy were not given to us by the employers, the capitalists and the government; they were won through hard, sometimes bloody struggles. Some workers lost their livelihoods, their families, their freedom and even their lives so that the rest of us could enjoy a decent quality of life if not a decent standard of living.

While we celebrate this June 19th, there is a profound sense of unease enveloping the organised workers movement that the hard won rights and freedoms that we have are under severe and constant attack by the employers, the capitalists and their enforcers in the government.

Since the structural adjustment programme inflicted upon us by the International Monetary Fund in the late 1980’s and gleefully implemented by successive governments, the trade union movement has been in retreat.

Since 2008 the NWU has been pointing out that many trade union leaders have abandoned the first principles of trade unionism - class solidarity, mass organisation, collective action, organisational democracy and political education. Instead they have taken the road of collaboration with the employers, the capitalists and the “eat a food, skin up to the highest bidder” politicians in suppressing the aspirations and the interests of their members.

Many trade union leaders have abandoned the route of self reliance and independent organisation and have attached themselves to the gangs of confidence tricksters and political hustlers masquerading as political parties in order to advance their personal interests

The employers no longer treat the trade union movement with respect. They laugh at us as we carry out their programme of attacking each other and dividing the working class. They understand that as long as we refuse to rely on our own efforts to build a powerful, democratic, educated, trained and efficient labour movement, we will remain tools of the employers and lap dogs of the political prostitutes in and out of office.

Our leaders seem to have forgotten that the strength of the labour movement is our power over production and our ability to mobilise large numbers of workers to take collective action to advance, protect and defend our interests.

Mobilisation no longer involves going to the workers, informing them and engaging with them in discussion and dialogue in order to seek clarity and to unite around an agreed plan of action. Mobilisation now seems to be about press conferences, sound bites on the TV, and trade union leaders bigging up themselves.

Trade union leaders seem to fear their members. This has resulted in power in the unions being shifted away from the shop floor, from the hands of the shop stewards and branch officers into the hands of bureaucrats at head office.

Trade union leaders no longer command the respect of the masses of working people and the poor. Trade unionists are being seen as opportunist bottom feeders, like lawyers or insurance agents, who are not prepared to sacrifice for the good of their members; who do not have the intestinal fortitude to face up to the power of the employers and the state and to hold the course despite the pressures they may have to endure. Even when trade union leaders were disliked they were respected. This is no longer the case.

We are going into a period of a long election campaign which is designed to divide the working class along the lines of ethnicity, religion and regional lines. After the dust clears, while there may be a different gang of looters of the public purse in place, the working people and the trade union movement will be in the same position they are in today.

Elections don’t disturb the power structure. The power of capital cannot be voted out of existence. It must be dismantled root and branch. Only the organised power of the working class has that potential. 

We repeat a statement we made in 2013: “The task is not to sneak in to the neo-colonial parliament on the backs of one or the other corrupt, capitalist-financed political party but to patiently build a mass movement through working class education, agitation and direct action. When such a movement is built and entrenches itself among the masses, the question of power will become a live issue.” 

The trade union movement has the capacity through the deployment of the power of numbers acting collectively and in solidarity and through its power over production, to ensure whichever party forms the government it cannot afford to ignore the demands of the working people. 

Trade union membership has been shrinking over time. One estimate suggests that just 16% of the labour force is unionised today. Organising the unorganised is the essential task facing the trade union movement. Hundreds of thousands of workers have no experience of union organisation. If we do not organise them, they will weaken the potential power of the working class and they may be used against the organised trade union movement. 

Short term contract labour has taken over the public service and the health sector. The RHA’s exploit workers mercilessly through the use of short term contracts married to an appraisal policy that encourages discrimination and victimisation and is designed to perpetuate a master and servant relationship.

Workplaces are dominated by casual and temporary workers; and young and not so young workers are grievously advantaged under the guise of being OJT’s. Domestic workers are still discriminated against in law; the Industrial Relations Act is still in place; it still takes years to gain a recognition certificate and all political parties are committed to the neo-liberal policy of international capital of wage suppression, deregulation, the dismantling of the public service and privatisation. Elections will not change that reality!

Comrades, we have a lot of work to do, but the capacity to do so can only be built by democratising the trade union movement, developing attitudes and structures where the voice of the rank and file holds sway and their concerns acted upon. 

We must see it as our duty to participate in our own affairs in the branches, the General Councils, the Conferences and the Cossabos and we must appreciate that the union is not the president or general secretary. The trade union is I, You, We all together. How strong and organised the labour movement is, is more important than who wins the next election.


Gerry Kangalee (National Education and Research Officer.  Cell: 785-7637)