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The Union frequently comments on events or receives news of general interest and these are documented on this page.


posted 21 Sep 2020, 18:05 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 21 Sep 2020, 18:06 ]

Many employers have forced workers to go on vacation leave, under the guise that the corona pandemic has made it necessary to do so.

Many non-unionised workers who are not aware of what their entitlements are have accepted this as part of management’s right to manage. Other workers, many of them unionised, are not aware of the provisions of their collective agreements, because their unions do not see it as important to educate them.

Many union officials, for instance labour relations officers, are not aware as to the jurisprudence coming out of the industrial court as it relates to vacation leave, much of it due to lack of training in grievance handling, interpretation of collective agreements, conducting negotiations and research.

Unions, frustratingly, instead of training their members, officers and functionaries as their wall of defence against workplace exploitation are turning to lawyers (many of whom have no clue about industrial relations) and fly by night consultants who work for an employer on one day and work for a union on the next. There is even a case, (this eh no joke), where the same consulting firm was representing the employer and the union in a matter before the court.

Let’s look at the scenario. According to widely accepted practice, vacation leave with pay is seen as a human right. Workers must get a minimum degree of rest mental and physical and leisure. International Labor Office (ILO) recommendation 1954 (No. 98) states: “Every person covered by this Recommendation should be entitled to an annual holiday with pay. The duration of the annual holiday with pay should be proportionate to the length of service performed with one or more employers during the year concerned and should be not less than two working weeks for twelve months of service.”

It is clear, then, that vacation leave is an entitlement that all workers, whether covered by collective agreements or not, must enjoy. Even in Minimum wage legislation vacation leave is catered for. But more than that, ILO recommendation 1954 (No.98) states clearly: “there should be consultation between employers and workers regarding the time when the annual holiday with pay is to be taken. In determining this time, the personal wishes of the worker should be taken into consideration as far as possible.”
Union officials, labour relations officers and industrial relations functionaries should consult the following so as to be au courant with the legal reasoning as it applies to forced vacation leave: 

· ESD 5&6 /1980 PSA v WASA 

· ESD No. 7 of 2000 Between the Superintendents’ Association and BWIA international airways limited 

· Trade Dispute No. 122 of 1990 between University of the West Indies and University and Allied Workers Union 

· Trade Dispute No. 55 of 1997 between Seamen and Waterfront Workers’ Trade Union and Port Authority of Trinidad and Tobago 


The recommendation also states: “The worker should be notified of the date at which the annual holiday with pay is to begin sufficiently in advance so that he can make use of his holiday in an appropriate manner.”

It goes on to state: “The time at which the holiday is to be taken shall, unless it is fixed by regulation, collective agreement, arbitration award or other means consistent with national practice, be determined by the employer after consultation with the employed person concerned or his representative

Note well that the recommendation stresses consultation and that workers should know their vacation date sufficiently in advance to make appropriate arrangements for vacation. The employer, therefore, cannot legally force a worker to go on vacation.

Some employers have laid off workers for a period of time and forced the workers to take vacation leave as part of the layoff period. This is wrong, illegal and not in keeping with good industrial relations practices and amounts to workers subsidising their employers. Management cannot force a worker to go on vaction leave to facilitate a company’s restructuring which will not be to the worker’s benefit.

Neither can a worker be forced to go on vacation leave during an investigatory suspension. In Trade Dispute No. 122 of 1990 between University of the West Indies and University and Allied Workers Union, the court stated: “The Company contended that the worker refused to obey a lawful order and left the workplace without being relieved by another worker in defiance of her supervisor's order. The worker was verbally remanded for leaving the workplace unmanned, suspended pending an investigation, and sent on ten days vacation”

The court admonished the Company for converting the worker's vacation leave to an investigation into the worker's alleged offence. The Court granted damages for pecuniary loss for the Company's abuse of the vacation leave. The Court ordered the Company to pay the worker $12,000 in damages.

In Trade Dispute No. 55 of 1997 between Seamen and Waterfront Workers’ Trade Union and Port Authority of Trinidad and Tobago, the court stated: in summarily sending a worker on leave without prior consultation with him (and contrary to his wishes) the Port Authority had acted in a manner inconsistent with the principles of good industrial relations practice. The Court ordered the payment of compensation to the worker.

It is quite clear that any attempt to force workers to go on vacation leave is not in keeping with good industrial relations practices, is clearly illegal and should be resisted by workers and unions.

WARNING SIGNS: MIKE POMPEO GOES TO GUYANA By Ryan Cecil Jobson and Matthew Quest

posted 18 Sep 2020, 18:35 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 18 Sep 2020, 19:09 ]

Ryan Cecil Jobson (left) is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago.
Matthew Quest (right) has taught History and Africana Studies most recently at University of Arkansas at Little Rock. See his essay on C.L.R. James and the Haitian Revolution in The Black Jacobins Reader.
The latest episode of U.S. imperialist intrigue in the Americas deserves our critical attention. On September 17, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo landed in Suriname, beginning a diplomatic tour of South America that will include additional stops in Guyana, Brazil, and Colombia.

But what is the motivation for Pompeo to visit Guyana, a country demeaned until recently as the “second poorest in the hemisphere?” Guyana, as well as Suriname, is central to the subversion of Venezuela, its neighbor to the west. In recent years, as energy multinationals withdrew from Venezuela under the threat of US economic sanctions, the Guyana-Suriname Basin emerged as a hotbed of offshore oil and gas discoveries totaling over 8 billion barrels of crude oil equivalent. Amidst competing claims to maritime territory by the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the presence of ExxonMobil production vessels in Guyanese waters established a new battleground between US multinational capital and Venezuelan state capital. Instead of brokering peace, Pompeo aims to stir the pot of disruption.

As critical observers, we ask: What is being subverted in the region, national sovereignty or workers’ self-emancipation? We must be precise in our appraisals of US Empire and its consequences for the working people of the Greater Caribbean.

Nation-states and governments are not “peoples.” They are hierarchies of social classes. And it is working people that produce wealth, not nations. I
 their struggles against US Empire, Caribbean workers cannot passively cast their lot with mercenary political parties or be conscripted into projects of national or racial chauvinism. A new social compact is needed to unite workers across the Americas. Their livelihoods cannot rest at the whims of ruling elites and their partnerships with extractive capital.

While newly elected Guyana President Irfaan Ali and his PPP/C Government prepare to hold court with Pompeo by adorning the capital city of Georgetown with US flags and billboards, the working people of Guyana are confronted once again with the deadly realities of racial violence. The horrific murders of two Afro-Guyanese teens, Isaiah and Joel Henry, and the apparent reprisal killing of a young Indo-Guyanese man, Haresh Singh, have stoked fears of widespread civil conflict. Guyana’s politics, and Venezuela, in a different way, are organized around racial insecurity to legitimate aspiring rulers above society. In their respective outreach to multinational capital, politicians in both parties share a militant hostility to the self-directed liberation of the poor and peasant classes.

As the only English-speaking country in South America, the simmering antagonisms between Afro-Guyanese and Indo-Guyanese have their roots in the scars of bondage wrought by slavery, indentureship, and British colonial rule. The insistence that this conflict is a natural outgrowth of a racially-divided populace is refuted by heroic struggles of Guyanese working people for self-emancipation, socialism, and multiracial unity. Struggles of this variety have been frequently thwarted by the racial patronage politics advanced by both the ruling PPP/C and opposition APNU+AFC. The reticence of Guyanese elites to condemn this violence indicates that their concerns lie with the market futures of ExxonMobil’s offshore investments rather than with the futures of Guyanese toilers.

For Pompeo, the motivations for the summit are clear. After the disputed March 2 election in Guyana, Pompeo threatened incumbent APNU+AFC officials with individual sanctions before a Caribbean Court of Justice ruling confirmed the electoral victory of the PPP/C. In Georgetown he likely sought assurances from Ali that his government will honor the advantageous terms of the product-sharing contract with ExxonMobil despite clamors from Guyanese civil society to renegotiate the meager 2% royalty on all oil sales.

We can speculate as to what followed: Pompeo offers his support to Guyana’s territorial claim so long as he refuses to bow to populist demands for a larger “piece of the action,” as the Trinidadian calypsonian Black Stalin once put it. As the Trump administration leads a bipartisan effort to destabilize the Bolivarian Republic through economic sanctions and the international masquerade of Juan Guaidó as the legitimate sovereign of Venezuela, we must stay alert.

Both Guaidó and his nemesis, Nicolas Maduro, remain conspicuously united in their claims to the disputed “zona en reclamación” along the Guyana-Venezuela border. In exchange for the US State Department’s counsel to Guaidó to back off the border issue, it is not inconceivable that Pompeo will request Ali’s tacit support for Guaidó against Maduro and the PSUV (The United Socialist Party of Venezuela).

Ali’s PPP/C has already given indication it will support Guaidó by showing support for the U.S. nominated leader of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Mauricio Claver-Carone. Claver-Carone will continue the policies of the IDB that wish to destabilize Venezuela’s economy. But the IDB’s opposition to Maduro does not mean that Venezuela’s state capital has not forged compacts with multinationals who have contempt for working people at home and abroad.

Massive Guyana Oil Find Continues To Grow With Fresh Exxon DiscoveryBoth sides of the US Congressional aisle seek nothing less than total economic domination over the Eastern Venezuela Basin. Our opposition to big stick diplomacy cannot be reduced to the valorization of a postcolonial bourgeoisie as a progressive beacon. State capitalist development on whatever terms is not workers’ self-emancipation.

In Guyana, racial tempers flare as the government lends its assurances to oil multinationals. As anxieties heighten over the impending oil windfall, it is unclear whether this revenue will generate economic opportunities or secure the livelihoods of working people of any race. In Venezuela, the PSUV lines up its supporters behind the jingoist claim to the contested territory of the Essequibo while repressing independent forces on the left in its own country. It wishes to deny self-directed expressions of popular self-emancipation in the communes that are present.

In Trinidad, Venezuelan migrant workers fleeing from the starvation of US sanctions experience harassment and sexual violence. No government or party in the Caribbean region today is charting a path forward beyond national chauvinism toward popular self-management and international solidarity.

What is needed is a new “working people’s alliance.” Today, this must extend beyond the party of the same name organized by Walter Rodney decades
Walter Rodney
ago. Our focus on Guyana, as a firewall against new imperial machinations, must be on mobilizing ordinary people to reject all sides of the “oil war” between nation-states over paltry extractive rents and royalties. We must reject all forms of hierarchy and domination at home and abroad that fear the direct democratic rule of the majority.

Back-channel negotiations between embassies in imperial centers and peripheries, whether the latter express a militant or accommodationist tone, are about containing popular uprisings against all of them. Threats to the Bolivarian state’s efforts to control its own oil do not curb its desire to control and subordinate its own labor. The working people of Guyana, Suriname, and Venezuela will prosper in alliance with the working people of the Americas, not rentier bureaucrats of capitalist or putatively socialist leanings.

The terms of dependent participation in the global economy cannot be transformed without unleashing the power of ordinary people. Therefore, our concern should not merely lie with the current Government of Guyana becoming more hostile to the Venezuelan government in making a greater alliance with the U.S. Though we should slap such allegiances down, our focus must be how do we mobilize the Latin American and Caribbean working people against all hierarchical government and imperialist disruption.

Workers’ emancipation cannot exist so long as national elites are permitted to manage and accumulate capital on their own authority. Empire is built on the exploitation of labor, both in the imperial centers and periphery. Nation-states and their attendant political and linguistic borders are themselves products of European colonialism in the Americas. Genuine workers’ self-emancipation demands that we organize beyond these boundaries rather than seeking liberation in the empowerment of a national bourgeoisie or alternative blocs of capital.

Regional solidarity must be forged by working people themselves, not elite bureaucrats and statesmen. We rally around the toilers in Guyana, Venezuela, Suriname and in the Caribbean region; not its states and ruling classes. A workers’ alliance must be cultivated across racial and national divides for the peoples of the Greater Caribbean and South America.

As the US State Department’s ongoing campaign to starve and isolate Venezuela demonstrates, a rentier petrostate is an unstable foundation on which to build an international labor movement. Rather than a skirmish for contested territory or a greater piece of the multinational action, whether pursued by the rulers of Guyana or Venezuela, our horizon must lead us toward a multiracial and multilingual federation from below of workplace councils and popular assemblies.

The people of Guyana, Suriname, and Venezuela deserve a direct democracy where the majority can oppose the minority that rules above society. We want to organize our own economy and foreign affairs. Alert to social ecology, this international alliance will burst the myth that working people must accept the rentier state or face poverty and starvation.

We must tell Pompeo and the Trump administration that Latin America and the Caribbean are not the backyard of the U.S. from which they can extract resources and exploit our labor. We must tell the statesmen of the “south” that the accumulation of extractive rents does not spell an end to the exploitation of labor by capital. Our struggle must be against imperialist wars and for the emancipation of labor from nationalist feuds and racial antagonisms.


posted 15 Sep 2020, 18:58 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 15 Sep 2020, 19:12 ]

Uncovering the brutal truth about the British empire | Marc Parry | News |  The GuardianOur ancestors were conquered people. We, the descendants of those who were conquered, enslaved, dehumanized and exploited, celebrate our ancestors’ struggles to regain control over their lives. We continue to learn from them the important lesson that laws which justify the conquest and control of economic resources and the domination and organization of people and labor for the benefit of Empire, foreign capital or State, are not immutable.

We best honor our ancestors by confronting and eliminating all hierarchical structures that reinforce forms of socioeconomic domination that hinder us from creating the condition that allows for our total mastery over our spaces and existence.

Our ancestors were up against a formidable enemy. It has been estimated that by 1913, according to Wikipedia, the British Empire had sway over 458 million people, 25% of the world population…and by 1920 it covered 13,700,000 square miles. 

Wherever they went, the British colonizers compelled the colonized to submit to their authority at the point of a bayonet. Violence, death and forced displacement were the results of conquest. Despite its formidability, there was always resistance to British colonial rule, for it constructed a socioeconomic system which delayed and undermined the social and economic development of the colonized people while, manufacturing at the same time, the white myth of African inferiority.

Colonialism represented a real threat to the development of Africans everywhere. Urged by a compelling desire to end their continuing debasement, Africans had to resist because it was in the process of resistance that they continually affirmed their own humanity. It is in the process of revolutionary struggle that human beings discover both their capabilities and limitations.

Every 9th December, Antigua celebrates heroes’ day. Antigua’s heroes get noticed because they refused to accept the social limitations that British colonialism imposed on the African Antiguan working class and estate workers. Those leaders that we now venerate, were up against a legal system that codified oppression and repression. All this was occurring when Africans in Antigua and Barbuda were 

being denied political representation.

It seems to me though, that in our celebration of the past, we totally ignore or downplay working class struggles against colonial rule that preceded the arrival of VC Bird et al, in 1939. It is my humble
A large billboard depicting portraits of four national heroes of Stock  Photo - Alamy
opinion that these struggles are not made significant on heroes’ day because they were led by ordinary working class leaders whose emergence undermine the idea that everyday people are incapable of self-mobilization and organization.

An important, historical uprising which took place in 1918 is of great significance for us. It had the capacity to undo the colonial system and it was more incendiary than any single event that took place in the 30s and 40s. Those who are interested in the story of this insurrection are advised to read Professor Glen Richards’ “Race, Class and ‘Moral Economy’ In The 1918 Antigua Labour Riots.

These insurgents were sugar cane workers who initiated a general strike to control how sugar cane was weighed. They brought their protest to the streets where they faced the armed might of the colonial State. Two persons were killed by the armed forces of the State, one was John Furlong and the other was James Brown. Fifteen were wounded and twenty-two were indicted for participating in the 1918 insurrection, according to Professor Richards. They challenged the plantocracy and colonial State that supported it. They caused the ruling classes to shudder, to the point where colonial rulers sought military help outside of Antigua to prop up their rule.

The attempted slave rebellion in 1736, the insurrection of 1918 and the labor struggles between 1939 to the 1950s, are all significant moments which influenced political developments in Antigua and Barbuda. Though not the most important conclusion, what we can draw from those past struggles is that they all contested the authority of the political and economic classes who wrapped around themselves a fragile, legal shield to ward off any complaint about the illegality of their domination over land and people.

I do not know any African existing today who, in looking back at the past, would assert that the laws the slave masters and colonizers made to legalize ownership of captured black bodies and land, were laws that the enslaved, dispossessed and displaced had to honor. I certainly would be flabbergasted if I were told that was the case. Why? Not even the European countries that competed with each other for possessions in the Caribbean accepted each other’s claim to land as a fait accompli. Those matters were settled on the battlefield and on sea. After the battles, treaties were signed and then, occasionally, honored in the breach.

Those who have been uprooted, dispossessed, displaced, exploited, degraded, and disregarded are placed in a position where the only alternative they are offered to end the process of their dehumanization and stultification is to attempt to end the conditions that deny their humanity. Their liberation is the sole justification for their struggle.

Ruling classes never sanction liberatory actions that are aimed at their demise. Every obsolete, ruling class tries to hold on to power until the moment that it is left with no other alternative but to give up and adjust to the new order or perish. Any student of the French, American, Haitian, Russian and Cuban revolutions would quickly recognize this fact. In opposition to a ruling class and in the process of struggle, the revolution establishes its own rules as it overturns all hitherto existing political and economic relations while building its own. The revolution justifies itself.

Ulrick DocumentaryThe 1804 Haitian revolution ended French rule in Haiti, and it established itself as the only successful slave uprising in history. Africans all over, look admiringly at what the Haitians achieved in 1804 in much the same way we look back at our own efforts to end the colonial legal, political and economic arrangements that impeded our forward movement.

I write all that to bring me to Barbuda, some may say, in a very circuitous way. Barbudans say that the land on which they were enslaved and have continued to live from the 17th century up to the present moment belongs to them. That is more than three hundred years in the same place. A respected Antiguan who occasionally advertises his opposition to all things colonial, has written that Barbuda’s claim to the land is invalid because their enslavers and the colonizers whom he claims to despise, did not pass title to them.

His position converges with those of the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (A&BLP). Others have pointed out that the Barbudans lost command over their lives the moment Barbuda was linked to Antigua in 1860. They say, metaphorically, that this one hundred and sixty years old, long, iron chain with each of its rusty links stained with the dried blood of our ancestors eternally binds Barbuda to Antigua, even if Barbudans’ lives remain an ignoble one.

Britain and the island’s white administrators made a decision about the future of two people on two separate islands and never asked either what they thought about the decision. At that time, blacks were unable to vote and trade unions were illegal. Those who oppose Barbuda’s land claim and their efforts to be self-determined have summoned the ghost of the colonizers to their side. Their pronouncements on Barbuda, express and endorse colonial notions and practices of property rights; the same rights and practices that Antiguan sugar workers contested and lost their lives or were imprisoned for doing so.

Yet they celebrate Antigua’s anti-colonial struggles, while overlooking or devaluing Barbudans’ effort to redirect their lives which cannot succeed if they are not free to organize their resources to support and manage their own development. They also support black self-determination and self-reliance in Africa but encourage foreign control of Barbuda. When, in the 19th century, an Overseer observed that Barbudans “acknowledge no Master and believe the island belongs to them,” it was a confirmation that Barbudans had a vision of living that was in opposition to the life the colonialists had designed for them in 1860. It is a life of self-determining, which this Overseer, like Gaston Brown today, would have been hostile to. (See Justin Simon, Observer Newspaper, September 01, 2020)

This is the starting point of all great revolutions. It is where the Haitian and American revolutions began. The rejection of “masters” puts on the agenda, the overthrow of the old order. Scholars who have written to defend the authenticity of the 1736 planned rebellion against Antigua’s slave masters to make themselves “masters” of the land, do not admit to a similar value in Barbudans’ expression to be “master” of their land. They equivocate about it or fight it, either out of prejudice or in deference to the wishes of the government that they represent and willingly serve. Barbudans will, nevertheless, write their own history and the Antiguan working class and everyday people will help them when they too fulfil the dreams of their ancestors by becoming the true masters of their own land.


posted 13 Sep 2020, 18:31 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 13 Sep 2020, 19:25 ]

Raymond Watts
I left Central early to attend the final send off for Comrade Raymond Watts, anticipating traffic congestion en route and in Arima itself. I was wrong. I did find a parking spot by a park near to the funeral home and waited until close to the time of the ceremony.

It made no difference. The officials at the funeral home pointed out that there would be no service because when we found Raymond his body had already begun to decompose and it was going straight to cremation. They misled me somewhat, I found out from his relatives later. I could have gone in,

My last link with him this side of Heaven was a neon sign, flashing over the chapel, giving the relevant information. Raymond Watts, completing his transition in a Christian chapel! Wonder what would have been his views on that? Driving back, I reflected that like two of his closest comrades, CLR James and Lloyd Best, Raymond, world traveller in politics and culture for some five decades, now lay at rest back home in Trinidad.

When I drove into Raymond's yard two weeks ago, I had planned to help him organise his books and writings. Usually I would park outside but there were boxes in the car to offload. His lifelong comrade in arms and politics, Ibrahim Mahmoud, stranded in Jamaica because of Covid, kept in touch with us both and we agreed to keep a closer eye on him because his circumstances had changed significantly over the last couple of months.

When I came out of the car and looked through the open windows, I saw Raymond lying with his head at the foot of the bed. I noticed that he was not breathing. The fan was on. It soon became clear that he was gone. The next three hours were spent contacting his landlord; his relatives; calling the police and the medical authorities; Mahmoud of course. The next day we sent news of his passing to his comrades and acquaintances, old and new.

I first met Raymond at National Workers Union’s ''Pavement lime'' in 2017; that is the beginning of year lime we hold in front of our NWU offices. We invite comrades, labour movement colleagues,
At NWU 2017 pavement lime: Lutch Rampersad, Kasala Kamara, Raymond Watts, Brother Book
intersectional activists, friends and family. I do not recall saying much to him; I, then, knew nothing of his history in political struggle but several other comrades did. That was to change significantly.

We in the NWU have documented the contributions of comrades who have not become household names, but whose contributions to the revolutionary struggle are no less valuable. I was given the task of interviewing Raymond. In doing background research, I came upon a book written by David Austin Fear of a Black Nation. It dealt a lot with Caribbean politics in Canada in the '60's.

Raymond was mentioned as the main organiser behind the seminal Black Writers' Congress of Montreal 1968.This was a conference of leading Black Activists from the English speaking Caribbean, Haiti, Canada and USA. CLR James, Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture), Rosie Douglas, Walter Rodney, Lloyd Best, Orlando Patterson, Kari Levitt, Bukka Rennie, Miriam Makeba, Rocky Jones, James Forman, Harry Edwards, Bobby Clarke, Jan Carew Alvin Poussaint, Rap Brown, Eldridge Cleaver, Le Roi Jones had been invited but Martin Luther King had been assassinated that April and the U.S government was not about to let US citizens attend such a gathering.

Though he was the key organiser, Raymond did not participate in the forums, rather overseeing operations and the entertainment segments. This conference was the forerunner of events that would shake and shape the Caribbean in a way nothing had since 1937.

Over the next 3 years we would provide further opportunities for Raymond to reconnect with old comrades and to provide primary source, first-hand accounts, of significant historical events he had participated in or initiated. These would include the anti -war/ ban the bomb demonstrations of the 1960's in London; promoting the steelband in London; participating in Writers’ Congresses in London; 9 years after the Montreal Congress organising the Congress of Commonwealth Caribbean Immigrants An Appraisal of one decade of Immigration to Canada from the Caribbean; the 1970 uprisings in Trinidad and Tobago.

When he fell ill in 2020, we were going to record his prescience in addressing the issue of the immigrant worker way back in 1976 Today, some 44 years later the issue of migrant labour and refugees bedevils much of North America, Europe, Africa and Latin America today. How he had moved from a shoestring budget for the '68 Congress, greatly aided by Lloyd Best, to getting sponsorship from the likes of the "Chilean Association/The Communist Party of Quebec/The Canadian Council of Churches/Union of Vietnamese des Canada/Association of Concerned Guyanese. To tell why he chose to chair this conference unlike 1968.

Through the kind and interested intervention of Dr. Jerome Teelucksingh of the UWI History Department he would twice visit the campus. Unfortunately,
he did not manage to meet Dr. Teelucksingh. There were mix ups and delays based on timings. He was down to participate in the ''History Fest of 2020'' but ill health prevented that. He did attend a seminar at the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute to attend a workshop organised by Dr. Hamid Ghany. To his utter delight, he renewed acquaintance with Kari Levitt, whom he had not seen in decades. He walked across one of the greens outside the history department, laughingly recalling how he had terrified 'poor Lloyd'. He had been sent to tell Lloyd the role he was expected to play when the military coup they were planning came off. "Lloyd would always lend me his Volkswagen,'' he recalled.

His life story is audio recorded at the Alma Jordan Library at UWI. It took us 3 mornings to complete. This was possible through the intervention of Dr. Glenroy Taitt. Outside of NWU's video, Raymond was interviewed by Wesley Gibbings for the Trinidad Guardian, by the Heritage Division of NALIS in Port of Spain, facilitated by Ms. Janice Regis. He spoke on Llewellyn "Short Pants' McIntosh's radio program. He was to do the same on an Andy Johnson program but that fell through because, if my memory serves me right, Mr. Johnson had to travel around that time.

He continued to attended workshops and celebrations as an observer at Cipriani College of Labour, Lennox Pierre Auditorium, OWTU offices, Henry Street, Port of Spain and inadvertently the 2020 commemoration of 1970 at the Anglican Church downtown Port of Spain. He was supposed to be in the march to outside the R.C cathedral. That galled him.

Ellie Mannette was one of his closest friends. When Raymond returned to Port of Spain from Rio Claro, he became a pan player. He spent time with the likes of Ellie Mannette and Cobo Jack. When he migrated to London, Ellie posted him a tenor pan. Our invention was to open doors for Raymond in ways he could hardly have imagined.

Raymond was a frontline percussionist who loved the congas. He played with Edmundo Ross, then Trinidad and Tobago's best internationally known dance band which played Latin music. Raymond said Ross was not much of a musician and a terrible, grumpy employer.

He was part of a powerful study group run by CLR James but he was soon playing in and around London at rallies put on by political organisations. It was in this context that he came to know Bertrand Russell, the world renowned mathematician and philosopher, as a close friend. Russell was a leading figure in the anti-war movement and Raymond's combo was the musical accompaniment. Together with another famous Trinidadian, Russell Henderson who was the promoter, they would tour Europe to do concerts.

We often speak of how Claudia Jones is buried to the left of Karl Marx at Highgate cemetery, noting the political double entendre. He would tell the story of her passing and how she was buried there. The morning of her funeral he went to tell CLR, who was conducting a study class. "They took up a collection," he said. "I think it was some ten shillings…I bought a floral arrangement for her at the funeral home. She is buried there because of her membership in the Communist party. They handled her funeral arrangements. The Holness family, who were affiliated to the Party made it possible.''

He pointed out that Claudia was at odds with many of the leading political activists at the time because she remained a communist. At the time there were multiple factions of the Left, each contending that they had the correct line and ideology. China, Yugoslavia were challenging the hegemony of the Soviet line which held that communism was to be guided centrally by Moscow. Adherents of different lines were in ideological war

Raymond would meet with Malcolm X when the latter, denied entry to Paris, stopped over in London. "Malcolm asked to meet us, some activists. Michael X had told him that there was a ten thousand strong membership of organised activists in London. Malcolm wanted to know if it was so. We told him that was not the case but the group began planning how to work in tandem with Malcolm, who at the time was building a new organisation, having parted ways with the Nation of Islam. I remember he gave me a copy of his famous speech. The ballot or the bullet, in the sleeve of a Sam Cooke record. Some 8 days later we heard of his assassination in New York.”

Although Raymond had major health issues over the last few years of his life, it was clear that this renewed activity energised him. Our major undertaking in 2018 was a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Black Writers Conference. We formed a committee which operated out of the NWU's office in Barataria. We set about contacting persons who were still alive, at home and abroad.
Grounding with another generation

We identified all the tasks involved in such an undertaking and began contacting major institutions primarily at home to support the initiative: the universities, the labour movement, the governing body for the steelband, political groups, certain sectors of corporate Trinidad and Tobago.

We were able to attract Paula Bonas, Megan Sylvester and Corinne Gregoire three young female lecturers from the Cipriani College of Labour and Co-operatives, whose enthusiasm and professionalism encouraged us older heads very much. Elicia Douglas, a young officer of the Transport and Industrial Workers Union was also a member of the committee as were Lloyd Taylor and Oliver Joseph a community activist from Barataria

We engaged in heated debate within the committee over strategy and tactics. We noted that there was not much of a response from many of the political and educational institutions who clearly had grown away from the spirit of the '70's. But for him it was a period of rebirth and a chance to share with a new generation. 

Our work came to end because the U.S. intervention in Venezuela was causing greater tensions in the region. Trinidad and Tobago as Venezuela's nearest Caribbean neighbour was fully focused on that situation and we sensed that our major potential sponsors were not about to pay us much 
With his close comrade Ibrahim Mahmoud
mind at that point. Other concerns side-lined us. Following that, we were organising to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1970's uprisings but the Covid pandemic intervened. 

Alas Raymond's last year with us was a sad one for him. A young lady drove into his trusty Volkswagen Golf in the heart of Arima, severely limiting his ability to move around. Somehow he lost his computer. He had a protracted legal family battle that had been ongoing for years. Raymond lived alone. The legal matter resurfaced in 2020 and the endless cycles that characterise these matters began to wear him down.

Mahmoud, his closest comrade had to attend to family business in Jamaica and Covid prevented his return. His strongest family support came from his cousins, here in Trinidad. But he had grown tired of it all as he would confide to Mahmoud and me struggling to support himself. Mahmoud worked miracles in that aspect. During our last conversation, he sat at the edge of the bed, saying to me "I am really tired.''

At 82, a life of revolutionary struggle, professional musicianship, profound authorship, remarkable organisational ability, true 'saga boy'' has drawn to a 
close. Like another giant who fell in March, Michael "Scobie' Joseph of Southern Marines Steelband Foundation, somehow we do not mourn their passing but rather miss them. They move on and cannot be replaced. But that is not replacing or replicating. When the baton is passed one does not reverse. All Raymond, Scobie, and all those who served and gave so much, would ask is that we continue in the spirit in which they lived


posted 4 Sep 2020, 09:14 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 4 Sep 2020, 09:27 ]

Workers at the Hyatt Hotel continue to undergo pressure from the management of this foreign-run, though state-owned hotel. Workers in the housekeeping department complain that their lives have been
It came as no surprise to workers at the Hyatt Regency Hotel that one of their colleagues has tested positive for the Covid 19 virus and that five others have been tested and have been ordered to stay at home pending results. 

These workers are in the housekeeping department and are what can be classified as room attendants.
Before Covid 19 room attendants had to clean 17 rooms per day, regardless of the size of the rooms. 

When the first lockdown came this was reduced to five. During this lockdown period, the hotel was used to quarantine workers from energy companies who were off shift. 

At the beginning of August, the hotel was fully re-opened for business from the public and workers were assigned to clean ten rooms.

Workers have complained that they were not issued appropriate personal protective equipment. Standard operating procedures dictate that rooms are supposed to be rested for 48 hours before being put back into use, but this is not being adhered to and the rooms are not being rested. 

Guests are not required to wear masks and when the hotel began to be used for quarantine purposes the workers were not officially informed. 

Workers were never informed by management that their colleague had tested positive, but had to hear it through the grapevine. 
turned upside down since the onset of the Covid 19 epidemic, although they make it clear that working conditions before Covid were no beds of roses. (see sidebar)

Workers have complained that they are not issued appropriate personal protective equipment. They are issued masks and gloves, but they have to operate in their normal uniforms, which are highly inappropriate for sanitising the rooms as it is known that viruses tend to cling to clothes and hair. It is ironic that Hyatt’s standard operating procedures (SOPs) state: “It is imperative to wear PPE which limits the possibilities of contamination.”

The gloves are of poor quality and sizes are not optimal. The gloves are also rationed and not sufficient for the work load or the environment. Although Staff has asked for disinfectant for entering dirty rooms, management has turned down the request claiming it was too expensive; yet Hyatt’s standard operating procedures state that workers should “ensure room is properly disinfected and sanitised.”

The standard operating procedures call for a contactless guestroom stayover policy, unless the guest opts in for an agreed daily cleaning time, there is to be NO room cleaning service for 4 days and checked out rooms are to be rested for 48 hours. But management ignores its own SOPs and the rooms are not being rested. The duvet & mattress protectors are not being changed and are being used over & over. Guests are not required to wear masks and when the hotel began to be used for quarantine purposes the workers were not officially informed. 

Almost all room attendants have been on injury leave. It is well known that hotel housekeeping workers, like nursing personnel are susceptible to back injuries. Some workers did surgery; some even more than once and some are on injury leave for a long time. Hyatt refuses to consider light duty and regardless of how many suggestions have been put forward by staff for maintaining productivity while upholding safety protocols they have fallen on deaf ears. It is: do your job or else someone is going to replace you…that is what you get paid for!

During the lockdown, workers’ worked two or three days per week, but since the hotel re-opened fully they are rostered for 4 days per week. The hours of work have not been reduced but the first 3 months into the lockdown salaries were, despite government claims of paying full wages. Now attendants are working 8-5 or 10-7shifts (subject to change) and 4 days but if called upon to work the 5th day and the attendant doesn't show they will not be paid.

This approach makes it well near impossible for workers to plan off days with babysitters, family etc. If workers feel fatigued or their children fall sick they have to bring in a sick leave and fit for work even if it is for one day. Failure to do so results in loss of pay.

Many workers are worried that with their school age children being stuck at home; the management has not shown empathy and there is no attempt to facilitate flexibility in hours of work to facilitate workers with children.

Before Covid, there were no stable, spelt out working conditions, as one would have in a collective agreement. Out of a pre-Covid Housekeeping workforce of 46 full time and twelve what they call regular meaning they operate under fixed term contracts. Some of these so-called fixed term contract workers have been employed for more than ten years.

The Housekeeping workforce has been continuously reduced and workers are arbitrarily laid off/retrenched, sometimes with not even a notice in writing. The reduced housekeeping staff was already stretched to breaking point; you could imagine the position now.

Some workers have to renew contracts every year. The terms of the contract may be changed unilaterally and there is no uniformity of conditions applying to workers doing the same job; basic job descriptions may vary; wages for doing the same jobs may be different. Job evaluations are done and based on these, wage rates may change. So, instead of using appraisals as a tool for upgrading skills, correcting flaws and enhancing efficiency, they are used to discipline and victimise workers.

Although there are written down standard operating procedures and human resource manuals, workers claim that policies may change every Monday morning.

Workers have to earn points to be able to go on vacation. This puts them at the mercy of supervisors and can poison the work atmosphere because of favouritism and may lead to disunity and lack of solidarity in the workplace. If workers take one day’s sick leave, they have to present a doctor’s certificate. In order to qualify for vacation, leave they have to earn points which are calculated based on what management sees as mistakes made by workers.

One of the most grievous situations Housekeeping workers face is that service charge is not remitted to them, although it is charged to the guests.

Hyatt workers used to be in a pension plan, but the plan was discontinued in 2018 and up to now, all contributions have not been remitted. The workers are members of a medical plan, but, in their words, they have to jump through hoops to access their benefits. Hyatt even charges their workers for use of their car park. Mangers, of course, pay nothing.

To ensure that the rooms are spotless, supervisors are equipped with ultra violet lights which they use to inspect the rooms after workers have completed cleaning. Of course workers can lose points if the rooms are not properly cleaned, the strange thing is that the workers who do the actual cleaning are not equipped with the ultra violet lights.

There is a culture of “writing up” or as they say documenting workers for tasks that are not completed on time, regardless of the circumstances, and this documenting goes on the workers’ personnel files and are taken into consideration when evaluations are made.

Workers at Hyatt Regency are coming to the realisation that in a capitalist economy, the bosses regard them as no more than tools to be used, abused and discarded in the course of operations. More and more workers are coming to the conclusion that as difficult as the process of seeking to become unionised may be, they have to seriously organise themselves in order to defend their deteriorating quality of life and to maintain some modicum of self-respect and dignity.


posted 3 Sep 2020, 05:50 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 3 Sep 2020, 06:45 ]

On August 31st 2020, the Barbuda Council wrote the Secretary of the cabinet of the government of Antigua and Barbuda expressing dissatisfaction with the treatment meted out by the Gaston Browne led government. It claimed that since the passage of Hurricane Irma in 2017 government neglect has intensified. (see letter). 

The council listed a number of grievances including:

· The repeal of the Barbuda Land Act of 2007

· The declaration by the Prime Minister that Barbudans are squatters

· The derogatory name calling by the Prime Minister in reference to Barbudans

· Threats from the Prime Minister to remove the Barbuda Council by way of referendum from the constitution of Antigua and Barbuda

· The fact that no audited statement or accounts has ever been generated by the government for relief items received on behalf of Barbudans after the passage of Hurricane Irma

· The lack of a proper functioning hospital almost three years after Hurricane Irma

· Permission given by the government of Antigua and Barbuda and its agencies to allow PLH to destroy a RAMASAR site with impunity by constructing a golf course on wetlands in the Palmetto Point area

· The sale/assignment of leases to PLH for millions of dollars without the knowledge and consent of the Barbuda Council and the people of Antigua

· Withholding of funds transfer grants, subventions and lease payments from the Barbuda Council which as a result causes the council to fail to meet its financial obligations

· A total abdication of their responsibility to the Primary school in Barbuda, leaving the task to the Barbuda Council to complete.

The letter concludes by saying: “We have therefore concluded that the relationship between Antigua and Barbuda isn’t working. In addition, the fact that Barbuda is being used as a bread basket for Antigua is testament of the use and abuse of our resources without benefit to our people. It is against this backdrop that Barbuda council is requesting of your government to initiate the necessary steps to discuss a separate future for Barbuda and its people.


posted 31 Aug 2020, 20:23 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 31 Aug 2020, 20:29 ]

This article is a lightly edited extract from a paper written by Comrade Alva Allen entitled THE NATURE AND AGENDA OF THE EARLY LABOUR MOVEMENT BETWEEN 1830 AND 1940

did not resolve the principal contradiction between oppressor and oppressed, exploiter and exploited. Nor did it resolve the contradiction between metropole and colony. It however, resolved the contradiction between slave owner and slave.

It is therefore suggested that in the period after Emancipation, the emerging working class, through the early Labour movement, would take steps to settle this unfinished business as the opposing aspects of the main contradiction fought each other but under new conditions and new forms.

Thus it is that the period of apprenticeship that was to be served by the slaves until 1840, was shortened by them because they continued to resist this new form of oppression and exploitation. Here, the whip of chattel slavery was replaced by the “starvation wage”. It is this continuing class struggle that forced the early end of Apprenticeship on1st August, 1838 which now fully freed all slaves from slavery throughout the British colonies. However, it was only in 1863 that the Dutch abolished slavery in their colonies.

The next item on the Agenda for the ex-slaves was to make their freedom a reality by ceasing their dependence on the plantation to provide them with a means of livelihood through wages in exchange for their labour. They therefore turned to accessing land which they used to provide themselves with a means of livelihood.

Their move away from the plantation gave them a sense of control over their own lives and independence from Massa even though they still had to work on the estates for wages. By having their own plots of land, their ability to bargain with their employers was enhanced since they could withdraw their labour from the estates and fall back on their subsistence plots.

Gradually, as independent producers, their bargaining power as well as their economic and social security also increased. Consequently, the rise of this new peasantry constituted not only an economic alternative but also an autonomous and more egalitarian way of life. While the planters sought to consolidate the plantation economy and system, the former slaves sought to develop a quite different economy from that imposed by their former owners.

The immediate agenda of the early Labour Movement is demonstrated in several ways. For the ex-slaves’ family land, not only symbolized their freedom, and provided property rights, prestige and personhood; family land was also the basis for the creation of family lines and the maximization of kinship ties.

The Caribbean freed women not only got the opportunity to work on the family farm, engage in marketing and devote more attention to rearing their children, but they were also “engaged in reconstructing the society in terms of their values, including the idea that women had rights to economic independence, whether or not they were wives and mothers.”

In addition, the ex-slaves revived their co-operative values and activities, for example, “in co-operative work groups, community churches, and religious rituals, mutual aid societies, and credit institutions.” Indeed, it is correct to say, that the nature and agenda of the early Labour Movement is the direct result of the region’s colonial history.

While the ex-slaves sought to bring their freedom to reality, the plantocracy developed new forms of coercion in order to sustain the plantations and the profitability of the colonies. The passage of Master and Servants Acts to fine and imprison workers for misconduct and breach of contract. The colonial and propertied class approach to chattel slavery was virtually identical to that of wage labour. For although slavery was dead, it was replaced by a regime, almost equally oppressive imbued with the slavery spirit.

This is borne out in the arrogant and overbearing attitude of overseers and managers towards the African ex-slaves. It is also borne out in the exorbitant land rents imposed by the landlords against the ex-slaves to deter them from acquiring land so that they could not have any independent means of livelihood and therefore perpetuate their dependence on the plantation.

Then too, there was high food prices, lack of social services, high indirect taxation such as import duties, cost of licences for those who were shop keepers, and poll tax. Also, the lack of social services coupled with rising unemployment, as the population began to expand, and underemployment, all were designed to work on the plantations.

These were some of the activities in which the colonial powers engaged that forced the early labour movement to fashion its own agenda for freedom, dignity, respect and its own moral economy based on its own ideas.

The emerging and free working class now had to realize their goals amidst these harsh and cruel measures. As if that was not enough, the state apparatus continued to be an instrument in the favour of the ruling class to whom all power was distributed. The majority of the population comprising the early labour movement continued to have no say in the shaping of their society.

Legislation was passed to ensure that property qualification for the franchise excluded them. In the colonies, the planters continued to dominate the Oligarchic Legislative Assemblies and also the nominated assembly in Trinidad. The British Government ensured that the concessions made to the planters would perpetuate their control over the political, judicial and law enforcement machinery of the colonies.

To add insult to injury, the cost of this ever expanding system shifted from the slave owners to the working class, upon whom the burden of taxation fell most heavily. Now they had to fund the cost of their own punishment. The local judiciary entrenched the rule of the planter class; After all, the magistrates were planters. Clearly, justice would be one-sided.

The storm had gathered once more and the class struggle was ready to explode again as the labour movement began to advance its agenda not only for better wages and working conditions but also for respect, justice and the right to determine their own lives which ought not to be determined by Colonialism any longer. The working class therefore, began to respond with strikes in Jamaica in 1838 which became violent in 1839 and 1848 to the extent that the Executive intervened to forestall a class war.


posted 31 Aug 2020, 17:57 by Gerry Kangalee

1.  COVID 19 is ravaging the United States. As of 08/30/2020, there are 6, 170,309 confirmed cases and 187,199 confirmed deaths (See www.worldometer.org). These numbers could be higher because some states are not reporting the true figures for political reasons. By end of this week, both the number of confirmed cases and deaths will rise.

2. Police brutality did not stop with the murder of George Floyd. On August 21, 2020, Police shot and killed Trayford Pellerin in Lafayette, Louisiana. The police fired 11 rounds after tasing him (See Ashley White, Lafayette Daily Advertiser).

3. Additionally, on 08/24/2020, a police officer, from the Kenosha Police department, (Kenosha is a city in Wisconsin) shot and wounded Jacob Blake, in front of his children. The officer fired 7 shots that eventually paralyzed Jacob (See Shayndi Raice, Wall Street Journal).

4. Despite all the protests, the marches, the speeches, the paintings of Black Lives Matter Murals, etc., White supremacy has not faded. It reared its head in Kenosha on 08/25/2020 when a young, armed white 17-year-old teenager assassinated two protestors in the street.

5. There are those who argue that America became a color-blind society with the election of President Obama. This statement is very erroneous. White supremacy is alive and well in the US. It is alive and well because police officers treat black men differently than the white terrorists who assassinate black people.

6. On June 15, 2015, Dylaan Root, a 21-year-old white supremacist, assassinated 9 black parishioners at a Bible study at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (located in Charleston, South Carolina). Root fled to North Carolina where he was subsequently held. The arresting officers did not brutalize him. Rather, he was taken to a Burger King restaurant and given a meal. Here, black people were brutally murdered and the young, white man was treated kindly.

7. In Kenosha, Wisconsin, Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old white male and an avowed white supremacist, executed two protestors. He left his home in Illinois armed with a rifle on the pretext that he was there to protect property. The police officers present did not confront him. They allowed him to roam the streets. They made no attempt to arrest him.

8. The point is that Black, young men and black people in general are deemed dangerous animals. During American Slavery, the political establishment counted black people as two-fifths of a person. Even though their labor created the wealth that enriched the capitalist class, black people are still denied full-citizenship and the right to enjoy “Liberty, Equality, and Justice for all.”

9. While President Trump and his supporters are spouting Law and Order, they have turned a blind eye to police brutality and have given tactic support to armed, white supremacist groups. These groups hijack the peaceful protests, burn buildings, and create mayhem. When this is done, President Trump justifies the sending of Federal troops in the cities. This action only exacerbates the crisis.

10. For years, many White militias were stock-piling weapons preparing for a race war. With the rise of Black Lives Matter protests all over the US, they have unfurled their banners of White Supremacy. They see the rise of Black and Brown peoples as a threat to their centuries of White privilege. They are prepared to unleash violence on non-white peoples and defend what they call the values of Western Civilization.

11. However, in their mad rush to destroy other peoples and save their world, Mrs. Blake, the mother of Jacob Blake, had to remind them when she eloquently stated, “We need healing. As I pray for my son's healing — physically, emotionally, and spiritually — I also have been praying even before this for the healing of our country.

God has placed each and every one of us in this country because he wanted us to be here. Clearly you can see by now that I have beautiful brown skin. But take a look at your hand. Whatever shade it is, it is beautiful as well. How dare we hate what we are. We are humans. God did not make one type of tree or flower or fish or horse or grass or rock. How dare you ask Him to make one type of human that looks just like you? I'm not talking to just Caucasian people. I am talking to everyone: white, Black, Japanese, Chinese, red, brown. No one is superior to the other. The only supreme being is God himself” (See Milwaukee Journal Sentinel).


posted 28 Aug 2020, 02:57 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 28 Aug 2020, 02:58 ]

Zophia Edwards is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Providence College, Rhode Island, USA. 

Her work has appeared in Studies in Comparative International Development, Political Power and Social Theory, and Journal of Historical Sociology.

Her research and teaching interests include international development, globalization, comparative historical sociology, race and ethnicity, postcolonial sociology, and labor and labor movements.
By and large, and up until recently, Caribbean countries have done remarkably well to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus and minimize the number of fatalities. From the latest figures from the WHO (August 16, 2020), the number of confirmed cases in countries like St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, St. Lucia, Dominica, and St. Kitts and Nevis has not crossed 100 and they have had zero lives lost to COVID.

Other countries range from 196 deaths in Haiti to 7 in Barbados. Admittedly, the Dominican Republic stands out with 85,545 confirmed cases and 1438 deaths, but this is a clear exception to the general trend.[1] There are many reasons we should be cautious about these numbers, because of problems with testing and tracking. However, testing and tracking is a problem across countries, most notably the US at this time. And, on the ground, we know that large masses of people are not dying from COVID-related symptoms.

That many Caribbean countries are performing relatively better than other countries is not simply a feature of our geography; many have said we have the advantage of being island states. It is precisely because we are islands that make us even more vulnerable to this disease.

Due to the enduring legacies of colonialism, Caribbean economies are tethered to the global political economy in ways that put us in a position of extreme dependency on international markets and international travel and exchange in ways that make us exceptionally vulnerable to becoming crippled by COVID.

But across the Caribbean, governments acted early, contained and closed schools, workplaces, and public events, restricted movements, offered economic support to citizens/citizens helped each other, and had vigorous public information campaigns and a coordinated public health response, and people largely cooperated. So it is in large part because of rapid, centralized coordinated government responses that we have done well to contain the virus and minimize loss of life.

But the sustainability of remaining COVID-safe is all very dicey. And we can see this in the case of Trinidad and Tobago, which, in the month of August alone, registered an alarming 1000 new cases after easing restrictions. This raises serious questions about the future of these countries in a COVID/post-COVID world. Can economies that depend on tourism really “open back up” for business in the age of COVID; they certainly cannot remain closed if this is their primary source of income?

What will happen in countries that depend on remittances when workers abroad who were sending money home are now experiencing COVID-related wage/salary cuts and lay offs? Can the government in Dominican Republic for example, guarantee that more lives will not be lost if workers return to the export processing zones? And for countries that depend on natural resource exploitation, what is the plan for the future when, due to reduced international demand, commodity prices have plummeted in spectacular fashion?

Therefore, the question of dependency and the legacies of colonialism through which dependency is reproduced still lingers. The Caribbean, African-African descended people continue to be disproportionately impacted by this virus because of ongoing racial and colonial logics. COVID may go away eventually and we might recover, but what about the next global disaster. What is the future for Caribbean countries in this time of COVID and beyond?

Martiniquan Black radical activist-scholar Aimé Césaire’s Discourse on Colonialism, a seminal work first published in 1950, remains timely and fitting for understanding the Caribbean situation and the world we are in today in 2020. While there are so many themes to deconstruct in the text, one that stands out during this particular moment is how he meticulously explicates how colonial discourse is a way of thinking. He shows how the discourse used to justify colonial domination was racist, Eurocentric, white supremacist ideology - it presented everything in Europe, everything constructed as white, as superior, better, more valuable - and this ideology is embedded in the fields of history, science, ethics, social science, theology, and law; indeed, in every realm.

It denigrated and erased the political, economic, cultural structures and practices of Black people, indigenous people, all people constructed as non-white. And African and African-descended people internalized this anti-Blackness; they suffer an “inferiority complex.” Thus, decolonization is a necessary but insufficient condition for Black liberation - “It is equally necessary to decolonize our minds, our inner life, at the same time that we decolonize society.”[2] He was vigorously against the notion that colonized people should revere Western Europe and the US, and follow their path, a path laid with cruelty, sadism, and oppression. Rather, he maintained that post-colonial countries need to pursue an entirely new direction, that we use our creative imagination and envision a new future.

Césaire’s concerns and analyses remain relevant because the prevailing white supremacist and imperialist discourse continues to plague our minds and constrain our imagination. Our Caribbean leaders, despite their impressive responses to the pandemic, are supremely guilty of having internalized white supremacist ideology and anti-Blackness.

Césaire told us that these Black tools of imperial and colonial interests have taken the place of white colonial state domination and will ensure the continuity of oppression. And we can see it now with the lack of creativity regarding how we construct a COVID and post-COVID world. Masses of people, overwhelmingly Black and brown people, are dying. At the same time the world has slowed to a grinding halt. The lockdowns and mandatory stay-at-home orders restricted many, though not all, people to their homes.

So here is a unique and an urgent opportunity to imagine a different way of organizing production, to imagine a different role for the state in the economy and in people’s lives, to imagine a different kind of education system that is not based on traditional colonial instruction, to imagine a different future.

But instead of being forward-looking, our leaders are backward-looking. How can we get back to how it used to be? How can we get workers back to work? How can we get students back to school? How can we get back to “normal?” Back, back, back. And normal was bad! The normal was exploitation, racism, dispossession, inequality, no job security, insufficient social services and welfare, police repression, violent crime, we can go on. It was not good.

Yet, the current discourse remains squarely on neoliberal capitalism, fixed on staying on the same course that colonialism and racial capitalism set us on, and continues to follow the Western model. But look at conditions in US and Europe!

As Césaire said in the first lines of the text, “A civilization that proves incapable of solving the problems it creates is a decadent civilization. A civilization that chooses to close its eyes to its most crucial problems is a stricken civilization. A civilization that uses its principles for trickery and deceit is a dying civilization.”[3]

If this is not describing the decrepit state of the USA right now, I don’t know what is. We may not have created COVID, but we have a global racial capitalist system that is unable to arrest the harm that is being caused by this invisible terror. The Western path is not the path to liberation and self-determination; it is a path to death and destruction.

Now we have the time, we have the pause, we have a critical moment to change course and create something different, to create what Cesaire called, “harmonious and viable economies,” economies that are anti-racist, “anti-capitalist” and “democratic” like in the old societies destroyed by European colonization.

Now, we have a unique opportunity to think about how we might reduce food import dependence and realize our own food security, an opportunity to think about how we might better protect Caribbean countries and people from the looming climate change, an opportunity to combat violence against women and correct gender inequalities, an opportunity to dismantle the colonial education system and construct better ways of knowledge sharing and learning.

Instead, we are boringly, uncreatively, short-sightedly choosing to go back, not to move forward and forge a new trajectory. And that choice will surely have dire consequences for our lives in the short-term and in the long-term.

Of course, Césaire does not locate Black emancipation in the state elites, the Black Afrosaxons, les évolués. They are indeed an obstacle. And admittedly, the chains of dependency are quite firm and unyielding.

Caribbean countries have been locked into a David-versus-Goliath situation for centuries when it comes to attempting to chart our own path. Haiti, the first Black Republic in the world, was punished for centuries by France and other imperial countries for daring to want to be free from colonial rule and racial exploitation.

Cuba, because it dared to forge an anti-imperialist socialist path, continues to face embargoes aimed at starving its people. But still, we persisted. The very fact that these nations do exist attests to our agency, resilience, and creativity. Césaire says the only way forward is a total destruction of the global racial colonialist capitalist system, not by our political elite, by the revolutionary force of the proletariat. So the question is: Are we heading in that direction and will COVID-19 accelerate us on that path?

[1] https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/situation-reports/20200816-covid-19-sitrep-209.pdf?sfvrsn=5dde1ca2_2

[2] Cesaire, Aimé. 2000[1950]. Discourse on Colonialism. NY: Monthly Review Press, p.94.

[3] Ibid, p.31.

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