The Union frequently comments on events or receives news of general interest and these are documented on this page.
One week ago A
NON-UNIONISED worker came to the offices of the National Workers Union (NWU).
He was a young man, just twenty-nine years old. He wanted to join the Union so
that the Union could help him to get urgent medical attention from his employer
as he was scared that very soon he could be paralyzed and unemployed.
What I heard
from this young man was shocking and an indictment against employers of
non-unionized workers in the country. This was not just about low wages,
inferior or non- existing benefits. His issue was about cruelty to an employee
and severe physical and emotional damage being inflicted by employers on
workers in the course of earning a subsistence living.
This young man
works for a successful company involved in the construction industry and is
owned by a rich family. He is a skilled and qualified tradesman. He is married
with a young wife and child and comes from a country district.
One day, not too
long ago, he was charged with supervising a group of workers involved in
retrofitting a large government owned multi-complex building. In the absence of
safety equipment and practices consistent with the Occupational Safety and
Health Act (OSHA) he was severely injured.
He reported his
injury to the company who sent him to their physician. His injury required an
MRI scan costing five thousand dollars which he had to pay from his own pocket
as the company does not provide specialist health care just basic health
services through their doctor and only to determine if a worker is really sick
and so curb sick leave.
report indicated severe back injury requiring major surgery. The company again
sent him to their physician who is not a specialist in that field but merely a
general practitioner. The doctor is prescribing only pain medications and when
one type becomes ineffective he is given another.
doctor is not authorized to refer the young man to a specialist at company’s
cost and the worker on his small salary cannot afford the cost of a specialist
visit nor the major surgery that he is told is required to bring relief from
the constant excruciating pain he suffers.
seriously injured on the job he is not given extended sick leave and has to
report to job sites daily. He supervises his co-workers by lying down on a make
shift bed on the job and giving instructions and technical advice. He cannot
afford to stay at home despite his health condition, as he will not be paid.
There is no paid sick leave for prolonged absences.
He says his
marriage is being affected for obvious reasons. He is thinking of leaving the
job as the torment of pain and exploitation is getting to him. For such
injuries unionized workers get specialist medical attention free of charge and
are given light duties if they are capable of returning to work after a measure
of healing is achieved.
He was given
some options to pursue urgently by the National Workers Union. The major advice
being to seek specialist attention at company’s cost with the Union’s
intervention as the major issue is attending to his back injury. The other
issues of work injury compensation and the legal options can come later.
This young man’s
pain and suffering is just one example of the callous disregard, contempt and
cruelty being meted out to thousands of unorganized/non-unionized workers by
employers subcontracting on government properties and working for large
conglomerates as outsourcers of cheap contract labour. These non-union workers
comprise the vast majority (more than eighty per cent) of the national
Imagine we have
an OSH Act and a Ministry of Labour which fails to monitor and report on the
gross exploitation of non-unionised workers on vastly inferior terms and
conditions of employment. Unsafe and unhealthy work-site practices abound in
this rich country where the elite lives off the labour of the poor and controls
the national wealth, which rightly belongs to all citizens.
General Secretary of the National Workers Union, Dave Smith, wrote the following letter to Minister of Labour, Errol McLeod. The letter is dated August 28th 2014.
NON-APPOINTMENT OF BOARD MEMBERS AT REGISTRATION, RECOGNITION AND CERTIFICATION BOARD
I am writing with reference to the undue delay caused by your failure to appoint a Board at the Registration, Recognition and Certification Board, in accordance with provisions of the Industrial Relations Act (IRA), Chapter 88:01.
The failure of your Ministry to make these appointments detrimentally affects our union and others, and amounts to an infringement of the rights of those workers, on whose behalf we are seeking to become the legally recognised trade union. Our Union is currently awaiting the outcome of applications that are before the Board for more than one (1) year
now. As a result, we are forced to speculate, as to the negative effects, which the delay in appointing a Board, can have on its ability when so appointed, to act in accordance with section 26(1) of the IRA.
Section 42 of the IRA is supposed to protect workers against victimisation. However, we know that the best form of defence is union recognition and absence of an effective mechanism for obtaining union recognition remains a major and serious threat to worker's rights.
The Republican Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago enshrines certain rights, one of which is the right to freedom of association. In this regard, we wish to submit that the delay in appointing a Board is a major attack on this fundamental right as it denies workers the right to trade union recognition.
In the circumstances, therefore, we wish to advise that the continued failure on your part, to ensure that a new Board is appointed, can lead us to consider such recourse that is available and to which we may have to resort to ensure that justice is done.
We look forward to an expeditious and favourable response.
THE DEMOCRACY WE HAVE…THE DEMOCRACY WE WANT
By Ken Howell
Amendment Bill has provoked quite a lot of heated debate in the country for and
against. Most of the contributions to the debate coming from callers to the Radio
Stations complained about perceived threats to democracy; others complained
that the consultation process was not widespread enough.
They argue that
the government does not have the agreement of the people to proceed to amend
the constitution to provide for term limits for the office of Prime Minister;
to provide for the recall of a member of Parliament or to amend the Elections
and Boundaries Commission Act, to cater for a run-off in a constituency, where
a candidate in an election, gets less than 50% of the votes. The Opposition and
parties on the fringe of electoral politics argue along similar lines with the
addition of more details.
One of the
interesting things coming out of the alarm created by these bills is that the
ordinary people are prepared to talk about democracy. But through no fault of
theirs, they are engaging in a debate about amending the Constitution of a
democracy which was imposed on us, and not one of the type of democracy that
they would like to have.
What is coming
across in the conversation is a sense that the political ground is shifting gradually
towards a desire on the part of the people, not only to talk about
participatory politics but also to actively engage in that type of politics.
Unfortunately, the direction in which the debate was channelled and the atmosphere
it created in the country was not conducive for the imparting of education on
the nature of the constitution we have and that when it was enacted the
interests of the ordinary people was not in the forefront of the minds of the
There is hardly
much difference between the 1962 Independence Constitution and the Republican
Constitution. Where the difference exists is that more power was given to the
office of the Prime Minister. But the rights and freedoms contained therein
have not been amended or repealed.
rights workers enjoy are those they fought for and even where the Industrial
Relations Act, a piece of legislation, which required a 2/3 majority in order
to infringe on the rights of workers for it to be passed in both houses of
Parliament, recognized the right to strike; restrictions are placed on the
manner in which it is exercised by the workers and their Unions.
So the debate
about democracy in the context of people’s participation is not provided for
under the current constitutional arrangements. There is nothing written in the
pages of the Constitution to compel a government to consult with the people. If
and when consultation occurs, it is merely for the purpose of taking the temperature
of the people with regard to a particular subject matter. The consultative process
must not be confused with negotiations, whereby proposals are submitted by the
parties seeking agreement through which a particular problem can be resolved.
not expected to produce any agreement, because parties are not required to sign
any document. It could be the question of legislation for the purpose of
dealing with what the lawyers sometimes describe as a particular mischief, or
to see how the population reacts to a decision to construct a highway, as in
the case of the highway from San Fernando to Point Fortin. Such consultations
are not required to get the agreement of the people who participated in the
The PNM which now
occupies the Opposition benches managed the affairs of this country for many
years and know this to be a fact. But their objective is to get as much as they
can out of the ignorance of the people on this question because to educate the
people on such matters would impact negatively on the effectiveness of their
The main features
of the Constitution prescribe for the separation of powers i.e., lines of
demarcation, have been placed between the Executive, which is the government
and the Judiciary which comprise the Courts, headed by the Chief Justice. That
is to ensure that there is no interference in each other’s affairs. This does
not mean that there would not be an exchange of views or consultation from time
is really designed to ensure that the economic and political system entrusted
to us at Independence is managed in a manner, which does not deviate too far
from the capitalist model, and the democracy we have is reflecting just that.
In the day to day management of the affairs of the country, the government, who
is charged with that responsibility, is headed by the Prime Minister, who is assisted by Ministers to whom she has charged
with the responsibility to have over-sight of their respective Ministries and
provide reports to the Cabinet.
can be selected from among elected members of Parliament or from among
government appointed Senators. The Prime Minister can be compared with a Chief
Executive Officer of a large corporation and the citizens are the share holders
who are invited every five years to a general meeting, which is the national
elections. The difference however, is that where in a Corporation's AGM, one
share holder's vote can decide who is appointed to the Board of Directors,
parties contesting the elections have to convince the electorate that one of
them is more qualified than the others to manage the affairs of the country.
But after the
electorate give them their stamp of approval by voting them into office, in our
democracy, the electorate is not expected to involve themselves in any post
election politics. Why? Because the party which won the elections was given a
mandate to manage the affairs of the country without any interference from the
population! That is why the protective arms of the state, are given co-ercive
The truth is that the population is not expected to interfere in the
management of the affairs of the country. That is why, although citizens can go
and listen to the debate in the Parliament the law still regards such persons
as strangers who can be escorted out of the parliament chamber if such persons
are over heard making comments adverse or otherwise.
The way the
Constitution treats with the economy is by vaguely speaking about the right to
the enjoyment of property without seeking to correct a historical wrong
committed against the first peoples of this country and ignoring another
historical wrong where lands were given to Catholic slaveholders free of charge
which allowed them to make millions through the exploitation of African slaves
and East Indian indentured immigrants whose descendants should be entitled to
be paid some kind compensation.
In addition to
the foregoing, there is the question of the laws concerning squatting, which are
connected to this question of the right to the enjoyment of property. When one
considers that the foundation of the economy and economic activity is
constructed on the basis of the ownership of land, the majority of our citizens
are at a disadvantage and the descendants of those who came here and got lands
free are the ones benefiting from our democracy.
is the fact that there is a vast number of citizens who are in need of a home
but because their income does not qualify them to get a loan with which to
purchase a home, they remain at the mercy of unscrupulous landlords. But that
is the democracy we have!
The democracy we
want to have is one which is founded on principles which actively recognise
that this phrase, “democracy of the people by the people” must be rooted in the
day to day participation of the people in the affairs of the country, at the
economic and political levels. It must be a democracy in which the search for solutions
for all matters affecting the lives of citizens, from the level of the streets,
in the villages. towns, cities, rural communities; as farmers, fisher folks,
small business, artists and craftsmen, are included and their input a highly
regarded, and treated with the respect that is usually reserved for high priced
with these stake holders must not be treated as just consultations because the
people must be satisfied that they are not just invited to hear what the
presenters have to say. They must leave convinced that the solutions they proposed
were not just noted, but would form part of any final report on matters which
will have an impact on their future.
When that kind of participation takes root, not only in the
consciousness of the people what will begin to happen is that a blueprint for the
framework of a Constitution which will provide for the reshaping and
re-engineering of the political and economic structures of the country
It goes without
saying, therefore, that the democracy we want is not the one which the PP and
PNM want to keep. If we have to fight and when we have to fight, we must do so to
clear more democratic space for the poor and oppressed in this jungle known as
capitalism. Fighting against the current amendments proposed by the government
is not a fight for democracy. If one is to analyse the arguments of the
political parties against the amendments, objectively, you will realize, they
are proceeding from a position of their respective political interests.
We want a
democracy in which the interest of the people is not dependent upon their
ethnicity; is not dependent on who is sharing the cake. We want a democracy in
which, when we talk out against corruption, we are not talking with forked
tongues which, when translated, means that we are against corruption based on
which ethnic group is in charge of the treasury and is engaged in sharing the
We want a democracy in which the confidence of the people is rooted in
the fact that there is equity in the delivery of services, and in the
efficiency with which such services are provided. That is the kind of democracy
we must invite the people to begin to talk about in all of the organisations
representative of their respective interests. Spread the word: increase the
call for participatory democracy.
I went to a public forum organized, advertised and held by the San Fernando City Corporation on Wednesday 20th August at their palatial city hall auditorium. It was curiously entitled What to do about street dwellers.
I knew I was not in the best of moods having journeyed from Port of Spain through heavy traffic to reach on time. My aim was to gauge for myself what was driving this rather new approach of connecting the city folk and the Council.
Having missed a similar forum a couple weeks ago on the use of Skinner Park and forever planning to attend one of their statutory Council meetings which the public can attend (the last Tuesday in every month), I simply bypassed any other task and turned up. To put the experience in a few words I would say it was not encouraging to engender a substantial solution.
I was part of an audience of some four dozen people, half of whom included the Corporation staff, councillors, police, public health and so forth who had to endure a thirty five minute late start and then allowed three minutes by the moderator for any contribution from the floor.
After an hour and a half of the proceedings I left while one of the ‘street dwellers’ was given another opportunity to ramble on as she saw fit. The key point I made was that street dwellers must be empowered to become productive members of the society and availed of treatment for their personal ailments and that this exercise cannot be done by just providing shelter, food and clothing alone.
To be fair, people were honestly trying to put forward solutions as they viewed and experienced the problem from their perspective but the underlying thread that I picked up, not from ‘John Public’ as such, but from the body language and implicit remarks of the insiders (my term for those who occupy the inside track of the body politic) is that there is an election due next year.
Then it struck me, not immediately of course, that I was caught up in the game of politics – Trinidad style. After six decades of being a born and bred resident of San Fernando and citizen of this Republic, past experience guided me to a conclusion that cannot be substantiated with unadulterated proof but consumes the entire psyche.
The name of the game is to activate as many public centred fora as possible, thus raising a visible profile to win the hearts and minds of the people. Anything that sounds progressive and achievable is massaged into an election manifesto with which our brightest sons and daughters (read those who have worked on their vocabulary, charm and outer image) will tell us what is best for us. I am therefore putting those who have eyes to see to be on the lookout for various public fora or town meetings as we ape the American presidential elections.
Expect a forum on the use of illicit drugs; stray dogs; crime; the education system; the health system; a new traffic plan; street vendors; etc. etc. Nothing is wrong with this approach as far as I am concerned. The masquerade ends immediately after the new set of ‘self proclaimed messiahs’ are in place to govern (how I hate this word in this context) us. The conclusions arrived at are shelved or stutter along for lack of money from central government for another four years while they fatten themselves at the trough.
So dear comrades examine their horns, try to find the key as to why this flurry of public connections, how will it end and be vigilant. I am suggesting a mantra to guide you in your deliberations and dealings with pied pipers in officialdom. From each according to his ability. To all according to their needs.
The late Ainsley Mark, former University of the West Indies lecturer and Dean has passed on. Ainsley Mark was also a well-respected partner of a major auditing firm and an advisor, tutor and friend to peoples’ organizations such as trade unions, the Steelband Movement and credit unions where he promoted the principles of proper accounting standards and accountability to members.
Ainsley was steeled in the politics of the left progressive movement of the 1970’s and so understood his responsibility to educate workers so that we (workers) understand and change the financial system that was geared to serve the elite classes at the expense of working people.
He always advocated that workers build their credit unions and make them the major institutions of workers financial transactions of savings and borrowings instead of high price loans and astronomical hire purchase charges.
For many years he organized cultural events at his former school. He not only exposed new national talents but supported the education expenses of under-privileged working people’s children.
My first close encounter with Ainsley Mark came in 1977. The late great George Weekes, then President General of the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union, had a passion and dream to create a cadre of “intellectual workers” to meet the challenges we faced in Trinbago of neo-liberal policies and increasing global exploitation of working people.
Weekes also sought to reduce the dependence of the trade unions and other people’s organizations on opportunist professionals who used and are still using our unions as a springboard to launch their careers and then turn against working people when they gain prominence in their professions, businesses and political careers.
Ainsley Mark, among others from the University, was recruited to achieve Weekes’ noble and forward thinking plan. Weekes wanted a high degree of self-reliance for the working class movement. He wanted working class leaders to have the capacity and knowledge to influence progressive and democratic policies in the interest of those who labour. Ainsley Mark’s work proved that he was in sync with George Weekes’ dream.
It was in that setting of a workers school of learning in 1977 that others and I got our lectures from the late Ainsley Mark. He tutored us rank and file workers on the Economics of the Financial System, Finance Capital Formations, the Class nature of the Financial System and the politics and laws which promoted the exploitation of workers Savings and Pension Funds being used by the ruling elites as Investment Funds while they sent their monies overseas.
Ainsley Mark was an unassuming and humble progressive of the left. He not only tutored but also practised his responsibility to raise the knowledge and consciousness of working people in our country by assisting working peoples’ organizations. His was a commitment also made by departed champions of the left progressive movement like C.L.R James and George Weekes.
Rest In Peace Comrade. You have made your contribution towards Peace, Bread, and Justice and to the educational advancement of working people in Trinbago.
REGIONAL UNITY VERSUS NEO-LIBERALISM
by Jesus Rojas
The unity of the Latin-American and Caribbean peoples
is the only guarantee of shared development that prioritizes human needs
over the profits of foreign corporations. Today the doors are open
to our development, but our development can solely come through seeking unity and articulating strategies
for perfecting our unity and shared development.
No single developing country can succeed in the 21st century
alone and even less if we are divided. It is necessary to create a strong
alliance for the well-being of our peoples and to contribute
to the construction of a multi-polar world in which the needs of the
majority are addressed.
crucial to build a common space for the
purpose of deepening the political, economic, social
and cultural integration of our region and
to establish meaningful commitments for joint
action to promote sustainable development in Latin
America and the Caribbean through a framework of
unity, solidarity, and
At the same time it is important
to promote communication, harmonization,
synergy, and convergence of
actions and exchange of experiences among
us. This optimism stems from indications of recovery in the
global economy. Nevertheless, there is a consistent
recognizable impact of the crisis
of capitalism on some countries in the region. In particular,
I note the special challenges faced by
middle-income countries, including those that are small,
vulnerable, highly indebted and require greater attention
from the international
community to assist
their economic recovery.
The crisis our countries suffer nowadays results from the
consequence of the imbalances and intrinsic contradictions to the capitalist
system. The new patterns of wealth accumulation and the set of neoliberal
policies that governments implemented
to facilitate integration into global capitalism were unable to bring about any
sustained development for a majority of the population, or even to prevent
continued backward movement.
The world recession of 2007-8 hit not only Latin America, but
also the Caribbean hard, undermining growth and reversing gains of previous
years. Politically, the fragile democratic systems installed
through the so-called transition to democracy of the 1980s were increasingly
unable to contain the social conflicts and political tensions generated by the
polarizing and pauperizing effects of neoliberalism.
The voraciousness for accumulating major wealth is not only
causing the irreversible destruction of the environment, but the multiplication
of countless sufferings and hardships on millions of human beings. Humanity has
never endured such atrocious inequality. Meanwhile, a very small number of
individuals and companies monopolize gigantic fortunes created through
financial manipulations and excessive speculation, all at the cost of misery of
the majority of humanity.
Albert Einstein wrote in 1949:
“I am convinced there is only one way to
eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an
educational system which would be oriented toward social goals”
The left-oriented or “pink tide” governments have followed
Einstein`s wisdom by challenging and even reversing major components of the
neoliberal programme. Many of them halted privatization, nationalized natural
resources, and other economic sectors, restored
public health and education,
expanded social welfare spending,
renegotiated foreign debts on fairer
terms, have cut ties with the IMF, and staked out foreign policies
independent of Washington`s dictates.
Those countries that stuck to the neoliberal path have been
hardest hit by the crisis unleashed by the 2008 collapse of the global
financial system. I must highlight that
those countries that have pursued
post-neoliberal and redistributive
and regulatory policies and limited
re-nationalizations have fared much
better, both with faster
rates of economic growth and
reductions in poverty and inequality.
This process has been more advanced in South America than elsewhere in the region, where
countries are also leading the push
to develop alternative forms of
cooperation and integration that break with political subordination to Washington`s dictates.
It is necessary to construct instruments at the service of
the people, with a system of democratic and transparent governance that promotes
inclusive public policies, integration between peoples and a new model of
We must generate
a new global alternative an alternative
economy based on mutuality would
mean a life model based on the interests of communities, peasant organizations,
workers, the peasants themselves, women and
indigenous peoples and at the same time an equitable redistribution of wealth, establishing modes of production
to meet the real needs of women and men.
This is why
we must reaffirm
the need to undertake efforts
with our people that will enable
us to move forward
collectively; namely political,
economic, social and cultural
integration to foster social
welfare and improved quality of
life, and promote our
independence, our sustainable
development on the basis of
democracy and social justice.
We must also reaffirm our commitment to
the defence of sovereignty
and the right
of any State to
establish its own political rule free from threats,
aggression and unilateral coercive
measures. This must all take place in an environment of peace, stability,
justice, democracy, and respect for human rights.
In recent Comedy
shows a local comedian was joking, about how a bartender resolved the problem
some customers had about who should pay the bill for drinks already consumed.
He said that it was resolved with a basin of water. The agreement was, that
they all would place their heads in the basin of water, and who came up first
would have to pay the bill. Needless to say the person who intended to pay for
a soft drink only drowned in the basin of water.
If it was that easy
to get rid of corrupt politicians and opportunist trade unionists, all our
problems would be resolved with one basin of water. Unfortunately, no such
option is recommended. We have to rely on a process whereby the masses are
educated about the true nature of the political and economic system and the
true nature of the class struggle which is being fought on a day to day basis
in our cultural industrial and social life.
would appear to the individual who is directly affected by an issue which she
was forced to bring to the attention of the authorities and the public that she
is alone in the wilderness, but if we examine the issue, whatever that is, we
would realise that it forms part of the class struggle; which is also the
struggle for democracy.
usually resides in the responses and the delays which result from the
individual’s quest for answers. If you are doubtful, let me point you to a few
examples. There are laws on the books of this country, which deal with matters
such as littering, health and safety, freedom of information, children's authority,
the environment authority and so on, but the respective entities charged with
the responsibility to manage and police these agencies are not functioning to
capacity, because they are starved for resources both human and material.
were established, because of public pressure demanding solutions to problems of
one kind or another. But what we must pay attention to is the fact that while
these agencies now exist, elements hiding in plain sight are deliberately
working to ensure that they do not serve the interest of the people. We see
this happening with the Regional Health Authorities (RHAs) and Regional
When the RHAs
were established, it was claimed that it was to ensure that health care was
delivered in a more efficient and expeditious manner, but the resources
necessary to do so is usually slow in coming and in most instances are reduced
or are being spirited away from these institutions. The same was true when the
County Councils became known as Regional Corporations.
At the corporations
there was a reduction of personnel through the process of voluntary separation
and retrenchment and a constant reduction in expenditure annually. As a result,
a lot of the problems which the population now face relative to flooding in a
number of areas in the country can be traced back to these backward decisions.
In addition, the
fact that the Town and Country Planning Division is an entity which can be
likened to a no-teeth pit-bull, speaks to the fact that these state agencies
exist but are not allowed to serve the people's interest in the way that they
should and so planning, as is required in accordance with the act under which
it was established ceases to occur. The situation is the same with the Ministry
of Works and Transport. A lot of the work which it once used to do has been
contracted out to Coosals, Junior Sammy, SIS, and Seereram Brothers. And that
is not a recent happening under this government; that has been the case under
Some of you may
recall the race track scandal, when a company set up with $1.00, and owned by Ish
Galbaransingh got a million dollar contract to build a Race Track in Caroni. It
took a mass protest by the people, to stop that piece of corruption. That was
under a PNM government. The protest slogan was “Houses before Horses”
There has to be
some sinister reason for the actions of persons unknown who continue to hide in
plain sight while perpetrating this kind of corruption against citizens. These
are the individuals who manage the politics in the interest of the local ruling
class and the transnational corporations. They are the ones who call the shots.
Since in the days
of Gordon Draper we have been hearing about Public Sector Reform, but the
public is yet to grasp the real underlying reason for such reforms. These
reforms will affect the terms and conditions of employees in the public
service. In fact in the Public Service at this time there are more employees on
contract than ever before. The role of the Service Commission is being
systematically encroached upon by a Human Resources Department which has
assumed the function of employing personnel on a fixed term contract basis. From
as early as 1985, this practice of employing persons on fixed term contracts,
in permanent jobs has been occurring.
This is the case
in the energy sector as well as in the service sector in certain industries
such as the fast foods industry. The decision so to do originated in trade
agreements entered into with the World Trade Organization and the International
Monetary Fund (IMF). These employment policies, such as multi-tasking,
outsourcing, and so on that have been introduced into the labour market the
world over appear to have succeeded, largely because of the ideological
division which existed and still exists to a large extent in the trade union
movement both locally and internationally and because trade unions under
pressure from the recession were either not strong enough or chose to ignore
divisions have exposed, however, is a type of behaviour on the part of trade
union leaders in some jurisdictions in the capitalist world that smells of
capitulation to the enemy. It would appear that as long as their financial membership
is not severely affected the employer is free to employ persons on contract in
the establishment where they have bargaining rights. These leaders who enter
into such deals commit atrocities against their members and remain hiding in
Of more recent
vintage, is the Section 34 amendment bill which was proclaimed and then
repealed. What is very interesting about this is the fact that the Opposition
voted for it in both houses of Parliament. It was reported that the vote was
unanimous. Even the Independent Senators voted in support of the bill. What is
yet to be revealed are the reasons for it being so. All that we heard coming
from the Opposition was the condemnation which the public was encouraged to
heap upon the heads of the government and rightly so, but up to now, the leader
of the opposition is yet to give reasons as to why he supported the bill in the
When it was
discovered that matters concerning Ish and Steve were before the Court and that
they fell inside the time frame set by the legislation, panic set in and everything
was done to distract attention from their role in the apparent conspiracy to
deceive the people, while these two individuals go free. Then to confuse the
matter further, the allegations made in parliament by the Leader of the
Opposition about emails linking senior members of the government in a plot to
spy on the DPP and to intimidate a journalist surfaced. In my view, that was a
clever piece of work by which to divert attention away from the role of the PNM
in the whole kankalang. Remember Ish Galbaransingh and Brian Kuei Tung were
supporters of the PNM in the past.
The leader of the
Opposition did not explain to the satisfaction of the public the reasons why he
did not pass these emails over to the police immediately, as they were said to
contain evidence of a plot to commit murder and also to force the DPP to act in
ways prejudicial to his position as DPP.
We saw the
behaviour of the Opposition once again when it came to the Bills to amend the
Pensions Act to provide increases for Judges and members of Parliament. They
voted for the bills both in the lower and upper houses of Parliament and when
that behaviour was criticized, one opposition Senator was heard to describe
persons who objected as rats coming out of their holes. Again, while the
government received a severe tongue lashing from the public, the opposition
escaped with a slap on the hand.
No one has questioned
the reasons for such behaviour on the part of the opposition. We must remember
this PNM party, want to form the next government of Trinidad and Tobago, and
therefore, their credentials must be thoroughly scrutinized. We must remember
that along with being adept at the art of propaganda they are very skilled at
hiding in plain sight. Don't forget that they were in government for more than
thirty years and they represent the flip side of the PP.
So, what we must
begin to do immediately is to mobilize our forces at community, and
constituency level, and in the work place, for the struggle ahead regardless as
to which party wins the next election,. The enemies who are currently hiding,
whom we know but cannot recognize, will reveal themselves on the side of the
exploiters and will come to us bearing gifts.
We must be
prepared to meet them head on with a clear and unambiguous response, that we
want to see an end to privatization, amendments to the IRA to provide for
speedy recognition for unions at the
Registration Recognition and Certification Board, security of tenure for Judges
of the Industrial Court and also call on them to make public the names of those
companies who have been consistently delinquent in paying their taxes and the
number of years and the total amount owing to the Treasury, among other
We must also
begin our own campaign as well, to smoke out those who are hidden in the
shadows of the political parties who are doing their bidding with the intention
to have us vote one way or the other.
It is 52 years since we were “granted our independence” and 44 years since the 1970 revolution occurred. What is significant about these two events is that they were both about the quest for democracy.
In the case of the former, it was about political independence which was granted to us on the terms which the colonial masters set out, but in the latter case, it was the people who set out the terms. In 1962, the colonial masters dictated the nature of the democratic system and its political and economic structure; the very thing which has brought us to this very sad state in which we have found ourselves today.
It was in 1970, that the people began the first leg of the struggle to break the stranglehold of the colonial masters on the political and economic affairs of the country, when they demanded the nationalization of the commanding heights of the economy and called for an end to the practice of discrimination in the employment practices of the employer class who discriminated against people of African and Indian origin at that time.
The struggle for working class democracy is an essential feature of the class struggle. Here in this country it has assumed different forms and continues to do so even today. It is taking place before our very eyes in the communities: in the struggle for water, efficient health services, for better roads in communities, to save agricultural lands from being destroyed so that housing estates can replace food crops, to protect the livelihood of the fisherfolk, by protesting against the destruction of the fishing grounds and against the oil spills and so on.
We have been waging this struggle with forces at our disposal that have little or no schooling in the business of political warfare, neither at the leadership nor the secondary level and on a terrain of the enemy's choosing. As a consequence, the enemy was always able to determine the outcome of the battle.
In the past they have always been successful in causing us to divide our forces at the political level along ethnic lines and also along lines of trade union rivalry between leaders of the movement who place their personal interest above those of the movement when the political snake oil salesmen are jostling each other to be first in line to be chosen to manage this corrupt capitalist system. Another major obstacle which is placed in the path of the workers’ struggle is the destruction of the youths via the drug trade.
What we are witnessing today in the debate which is currently raging - whether it is about email gate, prison gate, the constitution amendment bills, or the bill to amend the pension act in favour of Judges and Parliamentarians - is the usual strategy to draw the working class into a debate which has absolutely nothing to do with its class interest.
The view is widely held by leaders in some sections of the working class that the two main political parties, as well as those on the fringe of the political landscape, may be persuaded to represent the workers’ interest if it is possible to influence them to do so. But that is a fallacy.
You hear the leaders of both the PNM and the PP proclaim that their actions for or against the enactment of this or that piece of legislation is in defence of our democracy: a democracy for which the working class, from 1937 to the present time, had to fight tooth and nail for every benefit they have gained in this country.
It must be remembered at all times, that the society in which we live, is fashioned to meet the needs of the capitalist ruling class, and therefore the laws are not amended or repealed to advance or protect the interest of the workers, unless the workers by brute force demand that such changes are made.
The capitalist class only makes concessions when it believes that the balance of forces is weighted heavily in favour of the working class. But in our case, with the quality of the leadership of the trade union movement and that of the entity which presents itself as the executor of the political estate of the working class, the prospects are very dim.
It takes a lot of hard work to build forces that are well schooled in working class ideas and the ability to fight and win struggles at the economic level; in the branches of the Unions firstly, and then in the political arena. This can only be achieved, when all the Unions can successfully build the democracy within the ranks of their respective memberships.
It is the strength of the democracy within the ranks of the unions and the political movement of the class which will determine the strength of the democracy we are seeking to build in the communities. At the same time we are waging the struggle against capitalist democracy, it is extremely important to ensure that the democracy we are striving to build is the brand of democracy which the working people want.
It is dangerous to assume that we can build democracy, without the active participation of the workers, farmers, the self-employed etc. We have to begin to learn that leaders cannot by themselves fight for the workers. Leaders of the working class must begin to understand that their role is to teach the workers how to fight, by ensuring that they are provided with the tools, with which to fight. The major tool is working class education: about the rich history of the class and about their rights as workers.
Some trade union leaders don't seem to understand that their failure to mount an aggressive campaign to organize that 81% of the labour force which is not organized amounts to collaboration with the capitalists to deny these workers their right to join a trade union. It amounts to aiding and abetting the capitalist class in the under-pricing of the workers’ labour power through the imposition of contract labour and all the ills of the liberalized policies which are designed to give the capitalists a strangle hold on the labour market.
In order to correct this grave injustice to that section of the labour force, the leadership of the trade union movement must set aside their differences and give priority to joint discussions to devise a strategy for the urgent task of recruiting and organizing that section of the labour force. It is the legal right of these workers to join trade unions and participate in trade union activities.
One of the rights which is enshrined in the Constitution of this country is the right to freedom of association. This, along with the right to form trade unions are to be found in Conventions of the I.LO, and are well known to Trade Unionists. So that when trade union leaders embark on excursions of opportunism for the purpose of ingratiating themselves with the capitalists they are damaging the confidence of working people in the integrity of the movement.
I am not commenting on these aspects of the behaviour of some leaders out of a desire to deny individuals the right to belong to political parties of their choice. On the contrary, it because I have a sense that the working class is of the unspoken view that their leaders must hold themselves to a higher standard while in the active leadership of the movement.
It is not sufficient to talk working class democracy without matching talk with action. What these leaders must understand, is that the struggle to increase the gains that we have made within the parameters of the capitalist democracy, is not the be all and end all of the class struggle. These gains that we have made, represent stages in a long struggle from the days of slavery
Since it would appear that the people seem to have perfected the art of voting governments out of office, my confidence in their wisdom in treating with such matters have grown. All we have to ensure is that we are ready when they are.
What is very dangerous is the participation of persons in the debate who purport to be representative of the interest of workers and who, in so doing, are sending a false signal to the members of the trade union movement and the working class as a whole that what capitalism needs is straightening and painting, along with the replacement of a few pistons and rings and everything will be all right. That is what the campaign for transparency, good governance and proper procurement is all about that is what the so-called campaign for democracy is all about.
That is not to say that these are not requirements necessary for the proper management of any political and economic system. What we have to understand, when we hear these utterances from certain quarters, is that these noises are made not in the class interest of the working people, but to give assurances to the international financial institutions and the World Trade Organization that the required safeguards are in place in accordance with the many trade agreements signed by the government; to ensure that our citizens meet obligations accrued on their behalf without their knowledge, by institutions of the state.
The following tribute was published in FORWARD, the bulletin of the Communication Workers Union (CWU), dated 4th August 2014.
Anthony Alexander was born on June 23, 1960. He joined the Trinidad External Telecommunication Limited (TEXTEL), in 1981. He was a Driver in the former TEXTEL Operations and was reclassified and reassigned to the Outside Plant Operations upon the advent of TSTT in 1991, which came about after TEXTEL assets were transferred into TELCO and the new entity was now called Telecommunication Services of Trinidad and Tobago, TSTT.
He was first reclassified as a Lines and Instrument Technician and then a Cable Maintenance Technician. Comrade Alexander, affectionately called “Speedy” was introduced to active service to the Communication Workers’ Union in the 1990’s by the former Secretary General, Comrade Lyle Townsend and became active in the Eastern Branch of the Union, subsequent to his reassignment and reclassification.
As the son of another former CWU stalwart, Comrade Stafford Alexander, Comrade Speedy became actively involved in the Progressive Workers Committee, the Progressive Arm of the CWU that utilized the process of propaganda, agitation, exposure and education to unite the many to defeat the few. After being intimately involved in the activities of the Branch, Comrade Speedy became Chairman of the Militant and Progressive Eastern Branch in 2011.
In a sense this Leadership was thrust upon him. Not being one to run away from a challenge, Comrade Speedy accepted his new role and served the Branch and the Union with distinction, commitment, humility, dedication and a sense of militant gentleman-ness.
At age fifty-four (54) Comrade Speedy earthly struggles came to an end. On August 04, 2014 Comrade Speedy departed this life to join with the likes of Comrade Lyle Townsend, his former trusted Friend and Comrade in the great Beyond. His work in reigniting the Eastern Branch is something that this Executive would always remember and cherish.
We hope that his struggles and his sacrifices for the cause of members of the Eastern Branch, members of the CWU and all working people would be used as a catalyst to spur on his Comrades of the Eastern Branch in fulfilling his dreams of a Militant, Progressive CWU, fearlessly defending and advancing the rights of Workers and the good of mankind.
Comrade Speedy dared to struggle. He was the epitome of the Union’s motto, ‘The price of freedom is eternal struggle”. His legacy as a Branch Chairman and Activist of the CWU will live on forever as he has blazed his own trail which we all will remember and admire. For this reason he will always be remembered as a great Eastern Branch Chairman.
On the week end the Commonwealth Games ended, one of our most respected sports commentators said to me during a social function. "So we pick up some silvers and bronze again." On the same weekend, NWU's Facebook page got a comment from Jamaica on a photo of Bhouwagjie Nkrumie running at the just concluded, miserably staged CUT Games in Trinidad.
Bhouwagjie is their Under eleven Boys 100m champion on whom they have their eyes already. We in Trinbago are still relying on the 2008 brigade to a large extent. Check out the 4x100m men’s' line up and compare it to what happened in the 200m men’s, final where a whole new team gave Jamaica "fus, secon’ and t'ird' as Sparrow says in "King of the Beasts." It should be noted that Jamaica participated successfully in field events such as the discus, winning gold, pole vault, in diving, in triple jump.
No, no, no! We were underachieving long before "Life sport'. While full credit is due to the individual performers who battle tremendous odds, we must recognise we have become what New Zealand represents in cricket. Holding our own with a good performance on a given day, but do not look for consistency.
Do we have the same ingredients for success? Ask Keshorn or Jehue or Michelle Ahye or Cleopatra Borrel or Machel Cedenio! Do we have young people interested in sports? This writer has received four requests from Sangre Grande, Fanny Village, Mayaro and Tacarigua, for assistance in introducing or developing programmes in basketball and track and field. These requests have come through the writer’s association with an outreach programme run by a state enterprise.
Do we have the financial resources? Ask Mr Daniel, the educator. Do we have the technical resources? There are dozens of trained young people of both genders whom I have encountered who want to share their training in sports management, sports psychology, administration, resource development and international relations in sport. There are many coaches and physical education teachers operating on shoe string budgets in schools and communities. Centres for higher learning? The UWI administration has resources which are on offer as well as UTT.
So where do we falter? My observation of many federations locally is that that they do not seem to understand the role of a sporting federation in a country's development. I am not speaking of that arrant nonsense about sports fighting crime. That premise is patently absurd. What are a modern sporting federation's mandate and its vision? What are the goals? This writer knows that since 2000 the IAAF set out to make track and field the #1 participatory sport in schools throughout the world'.
This was the era when basketball, football, swimming, lawn tennis were re-inventing themselves through their superstars and winning the athletes’ audiences and the sponsorship dollars. We see the results today in the 19 year old elite athletes from Kenya, the Caribbean and USA
What structures are in place to support these programmes? What kind of training do these administrators receive? Why are so many of them, to our eternal detriment, former athletes turned administrators who, as in Trinidad and Tobago, imagine running a federation is the same as carrying out a training programme? We have the classic example of football under Jack Warner's leadership. Good individual players but when it came to the national team we always floundered and under achieved on the bigger stage. Look at his legacy which haunts football today
For me this is the starting point. The Vietnamese say the house leaks from the roof and in the region we say fish rots from the head. A good parent brings the family together. Should not a good "parent body'' do the same?