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News & Comment
WHO WILL SPEAK OUT?
By Jamela Khan
(random thoughts on a humid day with even the promise of rain dissipating)
How do progressive thinking citizens in this Republic of Trinidad and Tobago stop the slide into nihilism? What are the alternatives? Have we been able to craft and share a different path? Every government we have had since independence has betrayed us. Yes, there were some achievements. How have we been able to build on those?
Education for all was the flavour of the decade for the development agencies in the 1960s. All governments in the Caribbean followed the prescription and embarked on free universal education policies with varying degrees of success. It was not only in T&T (many like to think a party gave us free education).
We had oil so we were the luckiest in the region. Or, maybe it was the albatross we carried. But did we really achieve all that we could have with the oil windfalls?Fanon described - beware of the party that leads us to Independence promising succour for the masses. And the masses rally behind the call to be free from Massa. Then once the party wins power all that matters is the next election and policies are crafted and implemented to ensure party paramountcy...not for positive changes for the mass of the poor and vulnerable or for a country charting a new destiny.
One only has to look at the rise of party financiers over the last 20 years or so to see in whose interests governments govern - themselves and their financiers.
Malfeasance is rife. Heck even the Board of the Integrity Commission was so accused. We have become those countries we read about or visited or watched their slow decline into chaos and wondered about what it took to live there and cope with the criminality, the corruption at all levels and yet be able to go about living as best as possible. Laugh and lime even. Have a family.
Perhaps, it comes down to the micro level: small, enclosed lives surrounded by kind and loving family and friends to give us courage and strength and even hope. Little acts of kindness and unconditional love are all we have to share. Like Voltaire's Candide we must cultivate our own garden as best as we can.
But then the outside world, outside our psychological and physical enclave, continues in its chaotic slide. And unless citizens stand up, speak out, who will support the vulnerable? Who will speak out against hubris? Who will be willing to risk it all?
World history has thrown up many such people - those who envision a different world, demand a different one - in every continent, in every age, just when needed, even if progress can be measured only in baby steps. Who here speaks to that vision? Or takes a stance on that cancer of corruption? A few have done so in my lifetime.
Therefore the movement must always be in a state of readiness, united at all levels, like an army that is prepared to fight any kind of struggle; hidden or open warfare. The fact that trade unions exist like thorns in the side of the capitalist class is because the working people fought for and won the right to form trade unions. That right was conceded grudgingly under great pressure because labour is the critical factor in the production process.
When taken in the broader context of the political and economic system, the interest of the working class as a part of the electorate and taxpayers and consumers of goods and services, they are capable of wielding enormous power in furtherance of their class interest.
In the absence of a political party, that is genuinely representative of the working people, it is the trade unions which are supposed to assume the responsibility to lead and represent the class interest of the working people. In so doing, the movement must not allow itself to be misguided by those political parties who are wedded to the ideology of the capitalist system and subscribe to its principles and practices.
These parties, because of their view of the world are incapable of being impartial and are unable to treat equitably with the competing interests of labour and capital. If that is understood by the leaders of the movement, they would avoid entering into arrangements with such parties; believing that they can be trusted. If the leaders are consistently engaging them in a display of smoke and mirrors designed to achieve the illusive dream of employer and labour cooperation in the national interest, the workers must begin to question the motives of some of their leaders.
The country is in the midst of an economic crisis as a result of a serious decline in the price of oil and gas as well as a fall in production levels. This development has caught the movement disorganised; at a low level of unity and generally unprepared. But the leaders do not seem to believe that they are and seem prepared to bluff their way by sounding militant.
In such circumstances, how could the workers feel confident, that their class interests will be represented forcefully, when the leaders prefer to leave them disorganised, without a clear understanding of what the movement is prepared to do in defence of their interest in any forum which is treating with the serious nature of the crisis, the brunt of which is being felt by the middle and working class, small business people and the farmers.
Workers are being placed on the breadline by the state and private sector companies; plans are being laid out by the state to dispose of profitable state enterprises while the oil companies in the face of a steep fall in revenue, resulting from the economic crisis, are seeking to wring the arms of the government in order to get additional incentives, against the background of a drop in their production levels. But the leading unions do not seem to think that these are issues worth discussing with their members at branch, section and general council levels.
In the current situation, Conferences of Branch Officers and Shop Stewards should only be called after branches are well informed and are directed to discuss and take decisions on these issues which can form the basis for decisions which the General Councils will be required to take in order to guide the leaders in representing the interest of the workers.
Unless the leaders are prepared to do the hard work, no attack on Dr. Terrence Farrell will have any effect on the plans of the government and how it intends to treat with the labour movement. It was during the period of the administrations of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan that Trade Unions were described as: “opportunistic elements in the labour market”. Bourgeois economists view trade unions as “distortions in the labour market.” Trade unions seem unaware that they are still being described in that way.
That is why Dr. Terrence Farrell deliberately chose to make those disparaging remarks which were reported in the print media. What must be understood is that the Doctor was saying exactly what the government is saying in their analysis of the unions and the leaders. It is not prepared to be pressured by the labour movement into continuously funding social programmes, managing state enterprises and employing workers for whom the representative unions will be calling for increases in wages and salaries. it holds the view that it should divest itself of that responsibility. If the labour leaders who once befriended Doctor Farrell did not know that he was one of the standard bearers of supply side economics, (structural adjustment) well they know now.
Farrell never concealed his views about government involvement in economic activities which he holds should be the business of the private sector. He made his position clear earlier this year while as addressing a business forum hosted by the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry. His address to the Rotary Club of Maraval and Port of Spain was aimed at the labour movement to make it clear that the measures which the government is prepared to take is already clearly defined by his Economic Development Advisory Board and there is nothing which the labour movement can do about it.
If it is not being kept abreast of what is said, or was not a party to the discussions about what should be said by its putative representative, that is not his business. Therefore, the Tripartite Advisory Council is a place where the representatives of business and labour will be required to endorse the decisions already taken by the Advisory Board.
If the trade union leaders take the time to join all the dots, they will realise that the Memorandum of Understanding which they were conned into signing will soon be the instrument which will create a grave misunderstanding and greater disunity in the movement. If steps are not taken to repair the damage before an avalanche of increasing unemployment, the destruction unions and the loss of income due to the privatisation, retrenchment and foreclosures will reach epidemic levels in this country.
Leaders will have to decide where they stand when the battle lines are drawn; because the other side has already begun to ready their troops. That is why Farrell chose to tell the trade unions how he felt about their obstructive behaviour. That is only done when a man feels that he is badder than the other man and he is trying to psyche him out. In poker, that is what a player will do to find out what kind of hand the other player is holding, especially if he suspects that the hand he is holding is not a good one.
It is clear that the government is convinced that the labour leaders are not holding any hand at all but believe that they can get away with bluffing. It is time that they understand that the livelihood of the workers is serious business and come to their senses that the Memorandum of Understanding, just like the “Workers Agenda was just another hoax that was played on the workers with the connivance of some of the leaders of the movement.
The government has succeeded on two occasions in applying some of what Sun Tzu advised in his book entitled:” The Art of War”. Du You ' “Seduce them with the prospect of gain, send interlopers in among them, have rhetoricians use fast talk to ingratiate themselves with their leaders and followers, and divide up their organisation and power.” Zhang Yu “ You may cause rifts between the leadership and their followers, or between them and their allies-cause division and then take aim at them. ”
These labour leaders must wake up and recognise that the PNM is not like the People's Partnership government. They have more than thirty years experience in government and during that time they perfected the art of deception and as a result it is not easy to commit them to anything which will cause the labour movement to tilt the balance of power in the politics and the economy in favour of the working class.
We must learn from the lessons of 1970 and 1989-1990! Forget the MOU; talk only when you are well organised, united at all levels and prepared for struggle!
I am not a proponent of suicide. While I "overstand" how mounting pressures may overwhelm, I verily believe that it is a selfish and sometimes cowardly act. That being said, I also believe that things must be analyzed from different perspectives because improvement toward the ideal is the ultimate goal.
To condemn the things people do outright, without doing some investigation into the reasons for their actions, is hypocritical. Because all of us at one time or the other have committed some infringement that was against our principles and have used fuzzy logic or none at all to justify them.
I am saddened that Mr. David Francis took his own life. Although I do not believe that he "had" to do it, it was not my decision to make. For those who may not have been following, Mr. Francis was one of those workers affected by February retrenchment at Centrin as a result of reduced production by Arcelor Mittal Steel Company. Although it is reported that he was working at odd jobs, rising debt was the reason for him taking the matter of his departure from this life into his own hands. I do not know at this point in time who he leaves behind, but his death and his debt are testaments to how we prioritize our existence in this society.
Some would argue that others have mounting debt the same as Mr. Francis and have not chosen the way that he chose as a means of escape. But this is precisely why some sort of inspection must be done. While he may have chosen a method that many of us cannot fathom, we may believe so now and may even consider the same route if we were to be in similar shoes. Further, while some may not consider suicide, some may consider crime before considering a positive and nation building solution.
His suicide should prompt us to think about how strong are our support structures beyond those of finance. It should prompt our social institutions (churches and community based organizations in particular) to work harder to knit communities together, rather than dividing them between lines of religion, race and politics. It should prompt our trade unions and credit unions to band with each other to work against these outlined divisive elements.
In the circumstances and the timing of this sad occurrence of Mr. Francis' loss of job and subsequent loss of life (which are linked to economic shrinkage) we the movement of trade unions must sympathize and empathize with the situation and the worst case scenarios in the surroundings.
Trade unions must set aside the pettiness that egoism carries with it. Forget if you have the largest membership. Forget if your membership is the highest paid. Forget if you supported the former government or the current one.
Remember as the leaders of this movement in this worsening economic environment, worker unity is more important than anything else. Remember when we observe May Day on Monday 2nd May, 2016, that we all can potentially be where Comrade Francis is. Remember that as workers our leadership is a reflection of us, so our inaction results in no action or development for our future.
May Day! May Day! May Day! The call for all workers to set aside their differences, for they are small in the face of our similarities.
PROGRESSIVE TRADE UNIONISTS, ANSWER THE CALL! FORWARD EVER! BACKWARD NEVER!
I first heard of the death of David Francis while waiting to interview the Executive members of Contractors and General Workers Union about the arrest and charging of their General Secretary, the day before, at the San Fernando City Corporation where she was conducting legitimate union business.
The item was running as a trailer on the screens. Later on the nightly news the death of a dismissed worker of 48 with 15 years’ service at Centrin who was sent home penniless was not even a lead story on any of the channels.
Prince, also/formerly known as the entertainer garnered more coverage alongside an incensed Minister of Health who fulminated that the laws regarding pregnancies and women's right to choose must remain intact because 'the law says so.'' Of course as an indignantly righteous and constitutionally clad Minister of Government he must 'obey the law' heedless to the cost in psychological and physiological suffering that an unwanted pregnancy incurs.
The same procedures and legal protocols pushed David Francis over the edge.
David Francis may have taken his own life but he did not die by his own hand. The life was sucked out of him and is being sucked out of others by external causes facilitated by internal conditions. The cause/s of death? Retrenchment and Severance Act, the slow and tedious processes of arbitration in industrial relations, Ministers of Government who claim their hands are tied when expeditious action is needed, protracted negotiations ending in bond payments and Rowley saving plans...
Internal causes? Fyzabad Accords, Hyatt Memoranda of Understanding, Round Table discussions at the Normandie, Tri-partite talks and consultations at the Diplomatic Centre where guns and riot police await if one steps outside; ‘demands’ for apologies from consultants/advisers who feel no need to hide their contempt for the working class: all this amidst million dollar celebrations as we herald the coming of the ‘Second Republic' in a recession.
His colleagues and comrades will mourn the passing of a man who at 48 and with 15 years service saw his life as settled and relatively secure. He has disappeared from the nightly news. Maybe he will get a byline in the dailies tomorrow. We know that his action is not the answer but he saw no other way out. Will there be others? Let us fervently hope not. Such action will soften the hearts of neither the Ministers, employers nor venally corrupt labour leaders But there are hundreds if not thousands staring the same agony in the face and feeling bewildered.
In covering the demonstrations NWU media has met workers, lots of them women, who tell of having 25 to 35 years service in places like Arcelor Mittal. When a worker, any worker, has been in an employ that long one tends to feel a certain sense of security. One would have organised one's economic life in a certain way and the idea of having to find oneself going job hunting or having to attend a job fair and being engaged in counselling is unimaginable.
Also one perceives oneself as being upwardly mobile in some way. Even if one retires or resigns there are benefits and entitlements due. To wake up one morning to learn at 50 plus that none of that is due because 'that is the law' is a prescription for insanity.
As ever the answer lies in collective organised response. This is not going to come from the leadership of existing federations or from within some of the unions. As George Jackson used to say it is 'time to stop trembling and to take the bull by the horns'. Organised labour is the most powerful force in any country. Even when Fidel Castro led the 'barbudos' into Havana in 1959 it was a general strike that sealed the victory and saved the Cuban revolution. Is Labour in Trinidad and Tobago effectively organised? What do we do then?
“There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”
While leaders of organised labour whinge and cringe and pout and steups and fuss and bluster that the government ent taking them on and insist that they must be consulted and that the Tripartite Advisory Council must be convened to discuss the “sharing of the burden”, the employers, including the government, are ramping up the class struggle.
While trade union leaders were preening their feathers and strutting about the fowl run trying to make workers believe their ridiculous Memorandum of Understanding with the PNM was some magical breakthrough that would miraculously transform how our neo-colonial, capitalist system operates, the government raised the price of fuel twice; the merchants inflicted horrendous food and pharmaceutical price increases on working people, taking advantage of the government’s sleight of hand over the value added tax.
When people cried out for relief from the increase in prices, both the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister babbled on about there can be no price controls in a free market system, but the price of labour seems to be exempted from that principle. The government is illegally varying the terms and conditions of public officers and other employees of the state by attempting to bypass the collective bargaining process and imposing by decree how workers must access their arrears which go back to 2011.
The government fully well knows that, just as the NAR government’s 10% wage reduction and removal of COLA in the 1980’s was ruled illegal by the court, this latest imposition will also be deemed illegal; but the government is quite prepared to carry the unions for a run, knowing that the judicial system moves slower than a donkey cart, and the matter will drag on for years. It is called the deep pockets syndrome.
While trade union leaders were busy turning their Joint Trade Union Movement into a third labour federation (mysteriously made up of members of the other two federations) in an effort to access funding from the biggest employer in the country for “capacity building and institutional strengthening”, the very employer was freezing workers’ wages and organising to downsize the workforce, the latest being at the San Fernando City Council.
It boggles the mind that Selby Wilson, the man who cut public servants’ salaries by 10% and took away Cost of Living Allowances from public sector workers in the 1980s was an invited guest in the OWTU’s farewell function for David Abdulah as was Terrence Farrell, who once headed the local branch of a transnational corporation, is a leading proponent of privatisation and heads the Economic Advisory Board of which Abdulah is a member.
A few days later, Farrell was blasting the trade union movement and accusing it of seeking handouts. He certainly understands that there is a class struggle and knows which side he is on. Calling for an apology from Farrell makes no sense and will not change the price of doubles. We have to be as clear as they are. They advance and defend their interests as a matter of course. They are not going to share any burden. We hope that if we don’t talk about the class struggle, it will go away and they will throw some crumbs our way.
Trade union leaders are doing all in their power to avoid facing the truth that the capitalists have no intention of sharing any burden; that they are seizing the opportunity to transfer income from the pockets of working people into the pockets of those who already have; that they are retrenching workers by the thousands under the most brutal conditions imaginable, taking full advantage of laws like the Companies Act and the Retrenchment and Severance Benefits Act. The capitalists understand class struggle and they are in the process of intensifying it.
It is astonishing that some trade union leaders who aligned with the last government, failed to get any aspect of the Workers Agenda enacted, yet held on for two and a half years with that government even when it declared a state of emergency, have once more aligned themselves with this government and in the face of a clear anti–working class policy by the administration are holding on for dear life, not understanding that a hog in a palace still remains a pig!
It is quite clear that they have no intention of building an independent workers movement that would have the capacity to put the power of numbers and the power over production in motion to force these bandits, confidence tricksters and hustlers, these enforcers for the employers and the tenderpreneurs who infest the parliament to be very careful when dealing with the interests of working people and the poor. They prefer to attach themselves to the political parties that represent the interests of the employers and hope they get some of the shake off from the master’s table.
It is much easier to make grand, militant sounding statements on the TV as a substitute for the hard slog of facing the membership, explaining the implications of what is taking place and seeking from them the measures they are prepared to institute to protect, defend and advance their interests. Don’t they know the revolution will not be televised!
Meanwhile back at the ranch the business chambers have made it very clear that they are going after the workers under the rubric of flexibility, which simply means that they must have more freedom to discipline and dismiss workers as they see fit while presenting it as a mechanism to improve productivity- as if you can produce yourself out of a crisis of overproduction!
So what do the employers want? They claim in a joint statement from the Energy Chamber of Trinidad and Tobago, Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce (TTCIC), American Chamber of Commerce T&T, Trinidad and Tobago Coalition of Services Industries (TTCSI) and the Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers Association (TTMA) that they want to ensure that “every employee must have unfettered access to the law and the freedom to associate as they see fit, including the right to represent themselves.”
Sounds good doesn’t it? We too want workers to have freedom to associate and are demanding that the provisions dealing with essential industries be excised from the Industrial Relations Act, so that workers could join a union of their choice and that the recognition process be based on expedition. But that is not what these organisations are talking about. They want to undermine the collective bargaining process by claiming that workers do not have unfettered access to the law. This is absolute rubbish!
A non-unionised worker has all the rights of a unionised worker when it comes to rights disputes. All she has to do is join a union and avail herself of the industrial relations expertise that unions have built up over the years. The employers talk about the right of individual access to the industrial court. Ken Howell dealt with this in his article INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS IS CLASS STRUGGLE, when he said: “What was also attempted was the introduction of legislation, which would open the industrial relations arena, as well as the labour market, to the active participation of lawyers in the representation of individual workers...”
The only people who can afford lawyers to take up their matters are those at management level. Working people are already at a gross disadvantage in affording lawyer fees in the civil and criminal courts. The employers want to debar workers in a non-unionised environment from having access to remedy. Let us be clear. Less than twenty percent of the workforce is unionised and they want to keep it that way, so that their non-unionised workforce must have no dealings with unions.
The employers claim employees lack “the right to determine their own individual terms and conditions of employment.”
Collective bargaining arose as a result of the imbalance (asymmetry) of power between employer and worker. An individual worker is at the mercy of an employer who determines the shape of the conditions under which the worker labours. The ultimate weapon in the hand of the employer is his control over whether a worker eats or starves.
Workers countered this by combining themselves into unions with their ultimate weapon as the withdrawal of labour. In the twenty first century, these backward descendants of the colonial planters and merchants want to go back to master and servant relationships. If they didn’t have to provide food, shelter and clothing, they might have wanted to go back to the days of master and slave!
The employers’ document states: “Amendments to the Industrial Relations Act must take cognizance of the fact that many non-unionized businesses already provide a fair and equitable work environment for employees.” If this statement wasn’t so disrespectful, it might be considered good for a laugh. It gives away the game when it goes on to say: “Employees in such businesses should have the ability to access employment rights and remedies without having to join a trade union.”
The employers are cold-eyed about their objective – seize the moment of the economic crisis to eliminate or seriously debilitate the trade unions which are considered distortions in the labour market. They have no qualms about intensifying the class struggle against the working class, just as the Employers Consultative Association had none in the 1980’s during the last great foreign exchange meltdown when their spokesman Emile De La Grenade stated that there was no safe haven for workers...the battlefield is everywhere!
That great class struggle which was fought through the decade of the 1980’s culminated in the general strike of March 6th 1989, the Day of Resistance. Any bets on how this one is going to end up?
It is difficult to believe, that Professor Stephen Gift of the Faculty of Engineering at the University of the West Indies is the gifted one who sought to debunk the theory of relativity. Without the benefit of an understanding of the history of the Cuban people and what led to the revolution he relies solely on a report on Cuba by Amnesty International.
This is not difficult to understand. Coming as he does from his comfortable middle class position in a capitalist democracy he feels it is his duty to defend the system against anyone who dares to suggest that there are good examples set by Cuba, which our country should emulate. That is why he went for the head of Ozzi Warwick, in an article in the Newsday of Monday 11, April, 2016, entitled: “No place for Cuban-type government”
The first thing that we should understand, is that Amnesty International, like most other organisations, that pretend to be critical of capitalist values and practises are in fact the storm troopers of the system. Their task is to blunt the edge of any moral and ethical attack, on the system. So they pose as objective intermediaries, speaking to issues such as human rights abuse and the perception of corruption - which is what Transparency International does - and issues concerning the condition of political prisoners.
From the standpoint of the capitalist ideologues, these are not issues to which a corrupt capitalist system can speak. Because, how will it look if the system criticizes itself. This will only draw attention to the truth that the system is rotten and it must be changed. That is why organisations such as Amnesty International and Transparency International were established. Let me make it clear, the integrity of the individuals at the helm of these organisations is not called into question here.
However, from the tone of his article, Professor Gift will certainly not agree with me, because it is taken as a given that the capitalist system of production distribution and exchange is the best and only system that could satisfy the needs and wants of society. What is annoying to persons like the professor is that the Cuban model continues to present itself as an alternative to capitalism. Because of this they are angry that it was able to survive notwithstanding the enormous pressure which the embargo placed on its people. But Cuba has demonstrated how a country, notwithstanding its size, can defend itself against a power far greater than its own.
It survived, despite several attempts on the life of its leader Fidel Castro and against many other attacks on the people psychologically. Professor Gift chooses to forget or perhaps he deliberately decides to mislead us by refusing to admit that, like all other countries, Cuba has laws which deals with offences that are punishable if or when individuals or groups break them. There are laws in this country such as the law dealing with public order; such as Sedition; laws deeming certain types of industrial action illegal; also organisations cannot hold public demonstrations without getting permission from the police. If such demonstrations are held it is deemed to be illegal. Demonstrations which were held in 1970 and 1975 faced brutal attacks from the police.
Where was Professor Gift when these attacks occurred? These demonstrations were certainly deemed as illegal and political and thereby endangering the peace and security of the country. In the same way as Cuba would have categorised those which it would have to discourage.
This man does not understand that one of the classic weapons of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), is to ferment internal unrest by using citizens to do their dirty work. But just like in Trinidad and Tobago, where we have the Strategic Services Agency and the Special Branch Cuba also has its Intelligence Agency and other security services. These organisations are well trained, because if they were not America would have succeeded in overthrowing the revolution long ago.
I am certain that the Cuban government is not making any excuses for being able to defend itself against the capitalist Goliath. If the Cuban people did not claim the revolution as their own, it could not have survived. It is because the revolution served the interest of the Cuban people, it cannot be destroyed, from inside. That is why President Obama decided to try to normalise relations with Cuba, hoping that the influence of the so-called American dream will do the trick. It is hoped, that if the Cuban government agrees to open up the country to the outside influence of an expanded internet feed, and people to people contact through business organisations and tourism and so on, it may be possible to make the break through which they are longing for.
So that question of human rights abuse, which Amnesty International is referring to, must be looked at against the background of the attack on the revolution by US Imperialism. And it must be examined side by side with the extra judicial excesses being committed by Security agencies in the USA, on African Americans and Mexican Americans and Latinos.
In addition to this, we must not forget that America has more people held behind bars -in jail- than any other country in the world. If Professor Gift wants to talk about human rights abuse all he has to do is to begin by examining the aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq, Afghanistan, and its involvement by proxy in the civil war in Syria and Libya, which has resulted in the severe dislocation of the population of these countries and the creation of an avalanche of refugees/migrants seeking to get sanctuary in Europe.
One might argue that Amnesty International has been raising its voice, against human rights abuse in other countries as well. That is true. However, in analysing Amnesty's record in connection with the issues which it raises, the answer will lie in discovering whose geopolitical interest such and such exposures serves. The issue is not whether such abuses have or have not been committed, it is whether, it serves a certain strategic interest to place them on the international political agenda. Such matters are frequently used as levers with which to extract certain kinds of strategic benefits from friends and enemies of the USA.
As a consequence, we might discover that organisations such as Amnesty International and Transparency International whose leaders may be well intentioned and are very genuine about the tasks which they set themselves, but because they function outside the parameters of officialdom in the capitalist world, they may or may not be privy to the thinking of the people who plan political and military strategies through which to influence certain outcomes.
Having said that, I would suggest that the Professor not rely only on what that organisation reported as its findings with respect to human rights abuse in Cuba. He must also question why the advances made by Cuba in the field of medicine and the selfless assistance it has given to poor countries, in spite of all the pressure it endured because of the Embargo, is not regularly reported on in the pro-capitalist media. This is because, it is not good international news to highlight the fact that a small poor country, could achieve so much with so little. It is clear, that the Professor is not impressed by Cuba's success in that area.
In an article in the Sunday Guardian of April 10, 2016, at page A3 entitled: “Grow up, take responsibility” He was quoted as saying, that “It is time that nationals grow up and take responsibility for T&T” He went on, later down in the article to say: “We have grown up in T&T believing that everything is free but at the end of the day somebody has to pay for the subsidised water rates, subsidised healthcare.”
Well Mr. Minister, that somebody is the tax payer whose taxes pay for these services which the government is responsible for collecting. Therefore, it does not mean because they are called subsidies such facilities are free. Subsidies are instruments which governments use to pass on some of the profits earned from the rents collected from the oil companies and state owned companies, such as Petrotrin, the National Gas Company, Phoenix Park, First Citizens Bank and so on.
Therefore, it is not difficult for a child to understand that if the government is not earning the same level of income as was the case when the price of oil was at $100.00 per barrel, it would not be able to sustain the same level of spending. So that to tell us that we want everything free is insulting!
What you are now telling those same tax payers is that now that you have voted me and my fellow members of the government into office we are not there to serve the interest of the broad masses, who are tax payers, but just those of the wealthy. He is forgetting that it is the same tax payers who voted his government into office and are responsible for paying his salary. These tax payers comprise the middle and working class also. So that when he speaks, he must be conscious of this fact at all times.
Although I am tempted to harbour the view, that in his anxiety to impress the Prime Minister he is prepared to defend the cause of his government in the face of the probability that one false move could lead to social and political crisis, I am not doubting that the Minister believes that he is doing the right thing and that was the right thing to say.
We all grew up hearing those statements on many occasions in the past. But we never knew that when such statements were made, it represented a jumping off point for the state to relinquish its responsibility to the broad masses of the poor working class people. The question that we must ask is why is the Minister behaving in that way at this time?
Is it because, the situation which presents itself is one in which, the government's analysis of the thinking of the labour movement is that the leaders are in its corner on the question of privatization, divestment, and adjustment? And if it is able to stave off labour unrest by influencing the private sector into a position where it agrees to create some employment, for which it will receive additional incentives, it will be able to pull off the trick on the people.
Economic crises always present opportunities in capitalist democracies for the state to rob the middle and working class by transferring financial and other asset resources to the wealthy. What we are witnessing is that the government has already decided to do just that. The measures announced in the mid-year budget review represent the measures which will put flesh on the adjustment policies which the budget has announced.
What it meant is that the revenue which the government had passed on to the consumer in the form of subsidies is being reduced by the partial reduction of the expenditure in healthcare, education (Gate), the increase in the price of super gasoline and diesel and the additional taxes imposed on smokers, drug addicts, alcoholics, Carib and puncheon drinkers and those of us who like to shop on the internet. So that in addition to the food prices, which the consumer is already facing as a result of the removal of the zero ratings on a number of food items, and the restoration of VAT of 12.5 per cent on those items, we now have to add to food prices the additional cost of transportation, which will lead to inflation. But that is not all.
How is it going to ensure that those who use the facility will not default on their loan payments or how is it going to ensure that money laundering will not find its way into the Bank. If it happened in the Vatican Bank, which was protected by the hand of God, how are they going to guarantee that the Exim Bank will escape a similar fate? Part of the problem with our society, is that we admire the smartman. As a result, we are all hooked on this smartman mentality, especially if elements of our clan are in government. In the instant case, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance seem to be in contention for that designation. This attitude seems to have embedded itself in the genes of some members of the society, especially, when it comes down to the politics that we practice.
Because of this we are so blinded by our racism that we fail to see that there is no difference in the philosophy of the Peoples Partnership government and that of the Peoples National Movement. They both believe that the capitalist system provides opportunities for the economic development of the country. What amazes me is how could this PNM government be still holding on to the belief that privatization is the way to go in the face of all the available evidence of the financial disasters of 2008, when the collapse of the international financial system occurred, and the evidence of the blatant criminal action committed by the financial executives of Morgan Stanley, H.S.B.C, Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac went unpunished.
Are they not aware of the damage which is being done by those who are the beneficiaries of this corrupt system? What do they think
What this government should learn from the overwhelming evidence before it, is that it should resist any attempts to implement the neo-liberal policies which the NAR government led by Prime Minister Arthur Napoleon Raymond Robinson had given the undertaking to implement, in accordance with the conditionality which the International Monetary Fund had imposed on this country in the 1980s.
What is required at this time is not privatization, but the implementation of more efficient management systems in the public and state owned sectors of the economy; ensuring transparency in the employment processes by resisting the temptation to submit to the practice of nepotism and patronage; which has been the legacy of the PNM and which became the inheritance of the PP government.
Do not believe that you can fool all of the people by imposing a partial or phased-in divestment programme, through the use of the Initial Public Offering (IPO) mechanism. We have already learnt that the offering of shares to employees of state entities such as First Citizens Bank and Phoenix Park is really a screen behind which it is intended to hide in order to blunt any attack from the labour movement. We also know that when the time is right, elements from the private sector, who are themselves shareholders in these entities, will offer these employees a price for their shares which they cannot refuse. In so doing the ownership of these profitable state entities will pass to the private sector.
While planting a kitchen garden is to be encouraged, agriculture is not only about short crops. It is also about restoring the confidence of that sector in its ability to earn foreign exchange through the export of cocoa, coffee and bananas, and other products as it once used to do and by also ensuring that the country can reduce its food import bill by creating downstream industries, which can convert the primary products into the type of finished products for our use and also for export.
That must be the medium to long term strategy of any government when it comes to how it intends to treat with the agriculture sector. The government must also take a stand and tell the wholesale importers of food and agriculture products that it intends to stop subsidising foreign farmers with the foreign exchange which we earned from our oil and gas.
What they must be told is that they must be prepared to reverse the process. They must be prepared to become involved in the development of our agriculture sector by investing in the rehabilitation of that sector and by involving themselves aggressively in the export of our agriculture products. If they are not tied hand and foot to the multinational companies who dominate agriculture internationally, they should be prepared to take up that challenge. Did somebody say: Fat chance!
Some people may ask if not the PNM is there any other political party which we should trust enough to vote into government? The answer is yes. That political party is the one which we the workers must build from the ground up. It must be your party to which all patriotic Trinbagonians must belong. It is a party which must be able to plant its roots deep in the communities and in the hearts and minds of the ordinary worker, the middle class, the farmers and small business people. It must be a party which the people must be prepared to fight for; a party, which will fight with and for the people; one which will be with the people in happy times and in times of trouble; working in the communities; building self reliance and community spiritedness.
What I just described is hard work. What we must build is not a party which will have as its only reason for existence is to be interested only running for political office around election time. We have to build a party which belongs to the broad masses of ordinary people who, when the time is right, will call on that party to contest an election so that we can stop blaming ourselves, by saying, that “It good for we.”
It would be difficult to deny the fact, that a united trade union movement can and does have influence on the state of industrial relations. The national strike in 1989 demonstrated this quite clearly. What followed on the heels of that display of unity and solidarity was a return to the bad old days of disunity and opportunism, as was demonstrated in a National Trade Union Centre (NATUC) Annual Conference of delegates held at the OWTU head office in San Fernando in 1995.
From that time to the present, its role and influence on the state of industrial relations leave a lot to be desired. Efforts to bring about unity in the movement, was replaced by open displays of leftist infantile behaviour on the one hand and, on the other, backward displays of pro-capitalist anti-worker bantering.
As a consequence, the movement remained mired in a quick sand of ideological bankruptcy. This state of affairs has nourished a desire held by certain elements with political ambitions. Such persons have no interest in building a strong movement but are very bold in their attempt to capture the movement and use it to serve selfish political ends.
As a result of this sad state of affairs, no effort is made to bring about unity in the movement on such issues as collective bargaining, organising and so on. Even on the question of inter-union solidarity and solidarity in struggle with other unions there is silence.
Clearly, unions have drifted far away from their moorings because they seem to be rejecting the blood which gave the movement life. Trade unionism is built on the foundation of unity and solidarity. That is why they are described in law as combinations.
It is as a combination of workers that they face the employers across the negotiation table. And it is in recognition of this fact that unity must be maintained. We must be clear in our minds that trade unions are not political parties and, therefore, they should not be measured with the same tape as political parties on the question of unity. That ultra-leftist, anti-union, anti-worker position has done serious damage to the movement over the years.
Because of this, unions have reverted to individual approaches when it comes to collective bargaining.
This position is supported by the absence of any available research being carried out and or distributed by the NATUC to its affiliates. In addition to this, the leading trade unions seem to have removed research, education and on the job training from their list of priorities. As a result, what passes for serious industrial relations on the union’s side in some cases, if not in all, is the absence of a coordinated approach to this business of collective bargaining.
Fortunately, however, some unions are able to settle Collective Agreements, but very few, outside of the Industrial Court. When it comes down to the question of how effective is the Shop Steward in treating with grievances in the work place, the answer is clear. Very few matters are settled at that level. But that is where the relation between the workers and the employer is tested on a daily basis. That is where industrial relations can be viewed in its rawest form. That is where the unity of the workers on the shop floor gives the union leadership the initiative at the negotiation table.
When the whole movement achieves unity from the ground up; when it is united in the task of adhering to its true mission, then and only then it can win the war. For the time being, it will only win small skirmishes. Therefore, the task of building labour unity and solidarity must be the number one priority for the movement.
But in order to achieve this, the individual egos of those leaders who believe that their respective union is their play thing with which to do as they please must be eliminated from the equation; then and only then can the movement regain the initiative in the industrial relations arena.
When you juxtapose that decision, against the call made by the government for citizens to tighten their belts, clearly, the Prime Minister was not to be included, among those to whom the call was made. If there was any doubt about the truth of that statement, in speaking to the party's Convention in Tobago, the Prime Minister confirmed that when it comes down to belt tightening he is not in that!
In fact he justified the purchase of the Benz by saying that there were mechanical problems affecting the reliability of the vehicle and that it smelled of vomit and other human liquids. Clearly, those remarks were designed to entertain the receptive audience to whom he was speaking.
So what should we make of the campaign he waged against corruption during the months and days leading up to the general election of September 2015? Was he truly against corruption? The answer seems to be a resounding no! he cannot claim not to know that the issue of corruption, does not only deal with government officials being caught red-handed, with their hands in the public purse.
It also deals with issues, of moral and ethical corruption. This difference might have conveniently escaped the campaigner who spoke out loudly about moral and ethical values, when it was convenient for him to do so. But no sooner than he got into government those high sounding moral and ethical values, which he espoused, are no longer to be observed.
The issue which is causing disquiet among some citizens is not the kind or cost of the car. It is the fact that the Prime Minister is so insensitive that he fails to realise that the call to the citizenry to tighten their collective belts and the hardship which follows from such a decision might be treated differently if he had demonstrated that he and his government are equally prepared to make sacrifice, by not indulging in that kind of spending.
That is not an item that falls within the category of I “need to have”. It is more classified as “I want to have that” item. If he does not regard expenditures such as this and also the decision to the complete the Brian Lara Stadium in Tarouba, in a period of recession, as unethical, well, the message that he is sending speaks volumes about his and his government's intentions.
It is said that actions speak louder than words. And it is the small things we must look at. A Chinese proverb taken from the book The WISDOM OF CHENG-YU pronounced: show moo boo dyow (“rotten wood can't be carved”) speaks to the question of recognising when something has outlived its usefulness.
Unfortunately, it was believed by the electorate that out of the bad lot of those political parties which presented themselves to the electorate for consideration, the new PNM led by the upstanding and morally correct Dr. Keith Christopher Rowley, was the best. What we chose to ignore, was the reality that the capitalist political system pretends to promote moral and ethical values, while it does everything to obstruct its development. The PNM from its inception pretended to stand for such values, while it turned a blind eye to the corruption, which was rampant in the government led by Dr. Eric Williams. In light of that history, why are we expecting things to be any different?
To understand and appreciate industrial relations, you must have an appreciation of its history. What we know about industrial relations today is coloured by the attempts to strip it of its original role as an arena in which the struggle, which is waged on the picket line, announcing industrial action, is transferred to a place for conciliation and or decision by an Industrial Court. But that was not always the case. The real history of industrial relations is the history of the struggle between labour and capital, to determine how the proceeds of the production process are distributed.
That has been the case from the time the industrial revolution replaced European feudalism with capitalism, and in the process created the working class. From then on, where ever capitalism emerged, it was forced to create a working class. That was because in order to mass produce goods and services, there must be a labour force in sufficient numbers capable of so doing. The exception was during the colonial era, when the use of slave labour was chosen to be exploited in the process of the plunder of the colonies.
But in the capitalist countries that has been the case up until the introduction of robotics, 3D printing and nano technology into the production process. In addition, the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe dealt a body blow to the working class all over the world and impacted negatively on the industrial relations process. This was because it removed socialism as a reference point for the working class and the class struggle in the capitalist world. As a result the capitalist ideologues declared that they had won a political as well as a psychological victory over the working class. It was even declared that we had come to the end of history.
We must remember, however, that the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe followed on the heels of the collapse of the price of oil in the 1980s. As a consequence that led to an economic crisis which impacted negatively on many countries, leading to massive loss of jobs because of the many bankruptcies which occurred. The massive unemployment which resulted from the economic crisis presented a welcome opportunity for the employers who entered into the labour market to purchase labour power. That is because when there is massive unemployment, there is an oversupply of labour on the market and the demand for labour is weak. As a result, the strength of the trade union movement and its ability to negotiate from a position of strength is diminished.
It is in such circumstances that the capitalists seize the opportunity to go on the offensive, in a one-on-one against the worker, as an individual, because the support of the combined strength of the group is not available at the negotiation table. If we remind ourselves, however, about the last oil crisis and how the labour movement responded when it came under attack, we will recall that despite the existence of two federations and the antagonisms which resulted from ideological differences, at that time, they were able to sink their differences in the interest of unity in the struggle against the common enemy.
While the united response of the movement repelled the attack on the workers; following the return to government by the PNM in 1991, the movement relaxed, apparently in the belief that its position of strength in the labour market was secured.
What emerged in the employers’ camp, however, was the introduction of new thinking and strategies, through which to undermine the strength of the working class. These were concepts such as Promalco, which was marketed as a new approach to labour capital relations.
This was touted as cooperation between trade unions and employers, with the blessings of the government. But when that concept is placed under the microscope, it really means that trade unions are required to abdicate their responsibility to represent the class interest of their members in favour of those of the employer class. What we must understand, is that these attempts to divert the attention of the movement and its leaders away from their legitimate responsibilities, stem from an appreciation of the absence of a strong ideological grounding of some of the leaders who are in the leadership of some of the leading trade unions.
It was as a consequence of the absence of such quality leadership that Dr. Eric Williams was able to undermine and divide the movement in the 1960s and 70s. And it was because of such the PP also succeeded and the PNM seem to be also on the road to success, with the strong incentive of $15 million dollars, which it dangled before the movement purportedly for institutional strengthening which is another word for “sell out” of the workers.
The movement failed to place emphasis on the education and training of second rank leaders in the art of working class struggle and passed that responsibility to the Cipriani College of Labour. The movement is currently at a place where the opportunism of some of its leaders places in doubt the ability of the movement to recover from the pro-employer anti-worker positions into which some of the leaders have clearly fallen, but refuse to admit that this is so.
How then can they explain the epidemic of contract labour infesting the labour market - an epidemic which the movement failed or refused to address when that is the reality in the public sector, the health service as well as in the energy sector? Because of the emergence of this situation, the opportunity was seized by the drafters of labour legislation to attempt to introduce as an amendment to the Industrial Relations Act (IRA), a section dealing with “the basic conditions of work” which was intended to treat with workers in a non-union environment.
What was also attempted was the introduction of legislation, which would open the industrial relations arena, as well as the labour market, to the active participation of lawyers in the representation of individual workers because of the wide spread existence of contract labour.
When this issue first reared its head in the 1990s, leaders of the movement opposed it. But once again the issue is being raised by none other than the former Minister of Energy who proposes something similar to that of the drafter of those pieces of laws mentioned earlier. Under the current set of labour laws, which incidentally, were preceded by the approval of Conventions of the I.L.O., to which this country is a signatory and as a result the right of workers to form and join trade unions and to be free to bargain from a position of equal strength, with their employers who are forced to recognise the strength of the workers as a group and not as individuals. Although I must concede, that the IRA is a strange creature which purports to be protective of the rights of workers, while it provides mechanisms for the violation of those rights.
So any attempt by mercenaries now entering the industrial relations arena and attempting to use the existence of contract labour as an opening (which is made possible because of the negligence of the leaders of the movement who failed to plug that opening in their flank) must be exposed. Because the IRA also makes provision at section (51) “Dispute Procedures,” for workers who are employed in establishments where there is no union to be represented by a union even if that union does not have bargaining status.
So this question of the worker taking his/her matter through to conciliation and on to the Industrial Court is a non-starter. What is being attempted once again is the substitution of the current industrial relation processes for that of the common law variety which fits in quite nicely with fixed term contracts, which are being used quite frequently in the employment of workers.
This state of affairs represents the soft under belly of the trade union movement, but the leaders do not seem to recognise this. That is why the issue is being placed on the front burner once again. It would not surprise me if it is placed on the agenda for discussion in these tripartite discussions. The failure of the movement to nip contract labour in the bud before it became an epidemic, placed the employer class in a strong negotiating position from which it could be difficult but not impossible to remove them.
Labour leaders must retreat for a moment from the precipitous position in which they are about to place the whole of the working class movement, in order to regroup and discuss not only with the second rank leaders, but with the respective branches, to form a much deeper connection with workers on the shop floor on issues such as contract labour, recognition rights, open recruiting of workers by invoking section (42) of the IRA which deals with victimization; issues dealing with health and safety; pensions and pension funds and the filling of vacancies in the public and state sectors.
If such an approach is adopted it will achieve two things. Firstly, it will put the leaders in a position to be able to measure the strength and weakness of the movement, by providing a snap shot of how prepared it is if it is confronted with a situation in which it is required to fight for its survival.
Secondly, it will cause them to see the extent to which branches are disorganised and as a result the extent of the damage which was done by failing to have well organised branch committees and branches in recognised bargaining units. Clearly, where such structures are absent decisions in accordance with the constitution and rules of the respective unions cannot be properly taken. There may be exceptions such as in the formative stages of a union. But not where a union is well established.
You see, the strength of the union lies in the democracy which emphasises openness, transparency, honesty and the strict adherence to the Constitution and Rules of the respective unions. Therefore, it is only after all the necessary preparation is made and the readiness of the movement is confirmed that the movement should enter any room, hotel or apartment to meet and treat with the other side. It must be remembered that industrial relations by any other name is still about the struggle of the classes and about how the economic pie is sliced. It also determines who is holding the knife to slice the pie.