The Union frequently comments on events or receives news of general interest and these are documented on this page.
News & Comment
Many people talk about the “good ol’ days”. How far back you have to go to find these “good ol’ days”
is, of course, a matter of conjecture. For the Employers Consultative Association (ECA), it seems the 1930’s has caught their imagination.
The 1930’s was a time of economic depression. Unemployment was high and wages were low. Best of all there were no trade unions.
Back to 2016: The government is apparently thinking about amending the Industrial Relations Act. Well, we shall see. But in the meantime it has invited what they called “stakeholders” (the interests of capital and labour to you and me!) to submit proposals on what they feel should be changed.
This is when the ECA grasped an opportunity to send us back to the 1930’s. OK, it could have been worse...at least indentured labour had ended by then. They could have been tempted by the 1830’s. From wage slavery to slavery! Maybe that’s a bit too much even for the ECA.
So here it is. The ECA’s contribution to what they call “economic and social progress”:
So here you have it. The ECA wants to take away trade union rights if you work for a small employer; unfairly dismiss you if you have worked for less than a year; charge you for processing a matter and then limit the compensation you should get.
This is what they describe as “achieving balance, equity and quality for all citizens and the wider community”.
So it's back to the “good ol’ days” care of the ECA. Good for them. Definitely not good for us!
After the coup in Brazil, political factors of extreme regional right-wing Venezuelans accelerate their plans, which are currently underway as the destabilizing actions against the government of Venezuela led by Washington and accompanied by Madrid and Bogota.
The US government requests to Congress in March 2015, increased by 35% the budget allocation for use in Latin America. 2000 million dollars requested to finalize its plans this year.
From the US capital guidelines towards Spain and Colombia, those funds are issued to implement economic, media, psychological, and political operations, among others, aimed at overthrowing the Venezuelan government.
More than a hundred political operators including former presidents Alvaro Uribe (Colombia), José Maria Aznar (Spain), Luis Lacalle (Uruguay), John Negroponte, deputy secretary of state and director of national intelligence with George W Bush, and Tomas Regalado mayor of Miami who over the weekend gathered together to discuss strategies that would be implemented in Latin America, the issue of Venezuela was spoken to the fullest.
Their agenda was developed on the actions by the former presidents of Spain José Maria Aznar and Felipe González who have abundant economic resources for that purpose. Certain radical groups of the so-called Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) would take advantages to accelerate their coup plans.
It is noteworthy that “The elites are replacing military coups by parliamentary coups.” Indeed, as they did in Honduras and Paraguay and now they do in Brazil and Venezuela. It is the new continental US format and of the right-wing in the region; as happened in the past with the condor plan which used brutal repression that meant the overthrow of democratic governments, thousands of killings, disappearances, torture, to impose neoliberal policies.
The people of Venezuela have been undertaking a process of liberation in peaceful and democratic manner. The Bolivarian policy of continental unity marching, anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist consciousness has been growing before this advanced imperial response to destroy President Nicolas Maduro and the revolutionary process.
The White House has described as the “daunting” situation in Venezuela and, according to AP, “The US believes that Maduro will not end its mandate. Spanish newspapers El Pais, El Mundo, La Razón and ABC launched their headlines against Bolivar’s homeland.
The media monopoly of imperialism has become a powerful weapon of war. To quote a few examples, to justify the coup against socialist Romania in 1989 they invented a false media slaughter committed by the communists in the city of Timisoara, taking bodies out of the morgue of a hospital. It was the first great deception of the contemporary era.
To justify the relentless bombing of Iraq in 1991, they invented photos of cormorants (water birds that catch fish diving underwater) allegedly drowned in Iraqi oil. To justify the bombing of Serbia in 1999 they invented a false slaughter of civilians in Kosovo who were actually terrorists to confront the police.
To justify the total invasion and destruction of what was the main Arab power, Iraq, in 2003 by the genocidal George W. Bush and his accomplices they invented the widely known lie of the false “weapons of mass destruction,” of Saddam Hussein. But, public opinion must remain deceived.
To justify the invasion and destruction in 2011 of the so-called Libyan Revolution and the assassination of its leader Muammar Gaddafi they invented false massacres of civilian opponents in Benghazi.
Now the slogan “Collapse in Venezuela” appears in all media under imperialist control not only the classic El País but even the Mexican La Jornada passing through Yahoo news and radio news France.info.
But with such difficulties, the life Venezuela goes on and belies the headlines. The State and its institutions are working, the government begins to find solutions, oil is extracted, people are sowing their fields, the rain improves the supplies, hospitals and schools remain open. Venezuela has nothing to do with Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Afghanistan’s “liberation”, ie, annihilation by the West and the chaos generated by the right in Brazil, the drug cartels in Mexico and Colombia.
Thomas Piketty in his book: - Capital in the Twenty-First Century - spoke eloquently about inequality. His book stirred up a fire storm as the defenders of capitalism embarked on a mission to discredit him, attempting to refute his findings.
Mr. Kevin Baldeosingh, who is a regular contributor to the Sunday Guardian, seems to have joined the ranks of the campaigners against Mr. Piketty. In his article entitled “Unequal Benefits” which appeared in the Sunday Guardian on April 24, 2016, he argues in favour of the inequality which is demonstrably present in countries all over the world.
This is a serious bone of contention in the United States of America, as the campaign heats up in the two political parties, in which the contending candidates compete for their parties’ nomination. In support of his contention, he sought refuge in the pages of a book written by historian Martin von Cerveld entitled: “Equality:The Impossible Quest”, in order to point out that the historian although he recognised: ” That where there is no equality there can be neither justice or liberty” continued to argue, that: “On the other hand, equality itself is not without its dangers. Should it be pushed too far, it can easily reach the point where it limits, or even eliminates, both liberty and justice.”
He went further to cite as an authority on the subject of this illusive dream called equality, an economist by the name of Thomas Sowell, who in his book entitled: “Wealth, Poverty and Politics” argued that: “Since many, if not most, economic outcomes depend on more than one factor, the likelihood of all the various factors coming together in such a way as to produce equal levels of prosperity and progress among peoples and nations around the world seems very remote”
What Mr. Baldeosingh needs to understand, and I suspect that he does, is that the capitalist system recognised long ago that while it must educate the human resource, which is an important component of the production process, it must also ensure that the capitalist view of democracy and of the world must prevail. That is the purpose which historians and economists such as those which he cited serve.
Issues such as equality, inequality, the extent of the limits that should be placed on inequality, in order to bring equality into equilibrium, are issues which occupy centre stage in societies in much of the world today. These are issues which are currently occupying the attention of working people in this country, as well as those in Europe, the Middle East and America. It speaks to the question of how the proceeds of the production process are distributed. It is also the centre of the controversy over the fact that the wealth of the world is concentrated in the hands of less than one percent of the world’s population.
But the good news is this. The people are learning the lessons which they are being taught by the actions of the exploiters. And that lesson is that we have no choice but to fight back! I hate to have to repeat this! But in order for equality to become a reality, there must be revolutionary change.
Most of the examples which he cited, in order to justify inequality, were differences in the personalities of individuals which, he claimed, can be explained by genetic hard wiring. He argues that leftists may advance logical arguments against inequality, which are not supported by empirical evidence. He refers to findings which researchers in the field of genetics, medicine, sociology, anthropology and so on, usually present as their findings, resulting from investigation into such matters.
But it is also well known, that some of those studies, are studies, which have been studied by other studies, which refuted their claims. For example, the research on changes in atmospheric conditions, which found that the world is currently experiencing climate change, has been refuted by elements that benefit financially from their investments in the fossil fuel industry; the over powering desire to accumulate wealth at the expense of the rest of society.
That is why the historian went on to argue the opposite position, because he knows that the more democratic rights which the working class can wrest, operating from within the capitalist system, will drastically alter the economic power structure upon which the bourgeois political system is built.
Western civilization’s political and economic foundation is built on the existence of inequality. It is because of that situation and the overwhelming desire of the wealthy for it to continue at all cost that the struggle to change the balance of political power is currently happening in the seat of capitalism and also in those entities that are wedded to it.
People are on the march against inequality; seeking through the existing democratic processes to achieve greater democracy, hoping to achieve greater equality of opportunity. If the system fails them, then the only alternative open to them is revolutionary upheavals.
Mr. Baldeosingh is well aware that historically and even currently, there exists inequality between nations with regard to social political and economic development. These factors will obviously stand out, if one seeks to compare developing countries with those who have attained developed country status. But even among developed countries there still exist differences in the way political and economic power is managed because of the difference in cultural practices.
But the issue is not simply about inequality between countries as it relates to their respective levels of development. It is more than that. It is about equal rights and justice. It is not about genetic differences, such as the difference between a man and a woman or between a gay and straight person. What Mr. Thomas Sowell conveniently chose to focus on was that which I have already mentioned. And not on the existence of inequality within the respective capitalist countries and those emerging economies which have adopted the capitalist model.
No one will argue, that given the different stages at which the political and economic processes are at in the respective developing and emerging economies that all the factors of development will come together at the same time, to produce equality. What the peoples of those countries are clamouring for, are the following: a better health care system; an education system which does not discriminate against the poor; equal opportunity to access good paying jobs; access to affordable housing; equal pay for equal work and so on. In addition, in times of economic crisis, they expect that the burden of economic adjustment will be shared equitably, but that never happens. It is the workers and the middle class who face the full brunt of the crisis. It must be understood, therefore, that the argument against equality is really one deliberately intended to justify inequality as it currently exists in our form of democracy.
It is an argument for which the religious can find support in the Bible (where, support can also be found for the argument against it). It was disappointing to see, that the whole premise and tone of Mr. Baldeosingh's article, was really a defence against the obvious: that which is happening before his very eyes. And yet he sought to deflect blame, away from the system; arguing that it cannot and should not be held accountable for the ills and the atrocities which are the result of the centuries of exploitation committed by the controllers of the system. The struggle against inequality will eventually succeed.
The onslaught of the imperial right-wing against progressive governments in Latin America has intensified following the death of our commander Hugo Chavez. Greedy empire has launched all its batteries to destroy democratic processes and resources and focused its destructive agenda against the people instead of large transnational capital or its oligarchies.
The president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, who has also experienced the ravages of conspiracies, one of which almost cost him his life, said that we were not in a time of change, but, a change of time. But the empire does not rest and even though I expected to see it changing its tone, especially after the arrival of Barack Hussein Obama to power, it didn’t happen. Instead, President Obama devoted himself to dispel any hopes connected with his election.
Far from improving relations with the continent, Obama has been creating chaos in regional politics, for his government has finely tuned strategies of a diversified war, in some cases of "low intensity", but in cases like Venezuela the intensity has been of high impact. A total war against the government of president Nicolas Maduro has entered its toughest phase, only a notch below a frontal military attack.
The new Condor Plan (Correa calls it) is the process unleashed which is intended to oust the legitimate leaders of the people, in particular, Dilma Rousseff. Slander and legal farces have led to Rousseff's suspension whilst an investigation is conducted against her.
The impeachment case that was filed against President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil was criticized by the country's attorney general who sees the case as unconstitutional and politically motivated. Jose Eduardo Cardoso said that the law only allows impeachment under a very limited circumstance. He added that the president hadn't committed any serious crime for her to be under the clause of impeachment.
Dilma Rousseff has demonstrated, by example and her humanist vocation, to be a guarantor for democracy and social justice for the Brazilian people and the people of united Latin America. The imperialist-supported parliamentary coup seeks to overthrow popular sovereignty illegally, which jeopardises Brazil's constitution and democracy.
The legitimate president, Dilma Rousseff, the first woman elected as head of state in Brazil, is facing an onslaught motivated by revenge of those factios that lost the elections and they are unable to reach political power by other means than through force. The moral heritage, and dignity and fighting capacity of President Dilma Rousseff is undeniable. The Coup in development has been forged from the very moment of the election of President Dilma Rousseff, through the implementation of actions such as sabotage, disinformation, and lies, even to the extent of trying to prevent the realization in Brazil of sporting events of great global significance, with the aim of discrediting the government and its authorities.
There is no doubt that all these actions are part of the oligarchic and imperial onslaught against progressive popular processes and of left-wing with the sole purpose of re-imposing neoliberal models of social exclusion and spoliation of our natural wealth that brought poverty and backwardness for our towns and thus end the democratizing models.
The process of Coup in Brazil aims to replace popular sovereignty and ignores the legitimate will of its people. And the call is to the people of the world to remain vigilant and ready to defend democracy, President Dilma Rousseff and the processes of unity and integration among our countries.
As a veteran road warrior/highway child it is amusing to see the impact of the newly enforced speed limit on the nation's drivers.
Usually a long slow line means 'stop and gawk' driving caused by one car in the median or road marking at 10.00 A.M. on a busy day. But to see a whole highway on valium…imagine taking 5 minutes to pass the car in front of you; inverse drag racing and then cutting back into the slow lane.
Why? Your car, faithful to its concept design may build up to cruising speed and lead you straight into the ticket book of Cpl. Lookout. Fast lane? He he he…what name so? Well now those police cars with blaring sirens and flashing lights will reach wherever they are going much sooner.
Is this a trick by Colm Imps-bert (those disrespectful Steel workers!) to get the ruling class, labour leaders and other aspirants to sell their Audis, X6's, Q7's, Porsche Cayennes and Mercedes A.M.Gs?
A representative at Sterling Motors told me last year that they see a lot of these cars in the garages when they are not able to operate at speeds they were designed for. What? Was my Merc smell 'effluent and vomity? Nope. Pan Trinbago's office was upstairs Sterling motors for the 2015 international Panorama and I was registering for media accreditation, but it was the closest I ever got to so many luxury cars....until now.
Now I can pull alongside any Prado, Range Rover or B.M.W. 7 series and they cannot leave me in the way their purchases cause so much of our foreign exchange earnings to leave the country. My wildest dreams: drag racing with a 16 wheeler at 40 kmh and they cannot pass, unless they want to meet a licensing officer or motor cycle cop who will ask them "How yuh spell Mitsubishi' again?” Will the next traffic jam be 'total policing 2016?'
Of course Keithos and Imbert (the’t’ is silent folks) would claim this is a balancing act: gas gone up and speed gone done down. Long live the Minister of Works who goes on television to tell us that tractors on secondary roads in built up areas cannot exceed 35 kmh. Still wondering why Manning was reluctant to hire him as a front line Minister? Oh Jah!
Folks this is the traditional way of dealing with a situation: sans discussion, research and examination of our car culture in 2016 a law is enforced that was written and updated in a context some 20 years ago. To quote Minister 'Hinds-sight': road design, car design, population shifts have changed significantly in the last 2 to 3 decades.
What of driver education? How has driving behaviour changed? What is the car population and what is its distribution? What is the purpose of a speed limit and does it have to apply under all conditions? What happens at night? How soon do people own cars? From what I have seen so far the brakes come off and the rubber really hits the road.
Like the present S.S.A. amendment Bill, it was passed first and thought out later...What's that you say? It is the same administration handling both matters? Nah! Yuh lyin' man!
Environmental activists are once again raising the issue of seismic survey activity, this time as it relates to deep water drilling. They are calling for parliamentary scrutiny and review of the last government’s initiatives to encourage “virgin” deep water drilling and its related seismic activity in T&T waters.
Calling for public “accountability and transparency” one activist argued that while civic groups like Fishermen and Fiends of the Sea have made attempts though the local courts true understanding of and sensitivity to environmental concerns are lacking within the judiciary.
This activity has the potential to pose an environmental threat of the likes of the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico – USA. For T&T, where environmental vigilance and protection is sadly lacking and where energy sector giants can easily seduce governments to accede to requests without due diligence of proper international standards...well one could just imagine!
One activist called upon the government to place an immediate moratorium on this activity due to commence shortly with BHP Billiton
(an Australian company) leading the attack until proper and full Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) are done and the tax-free incentives be reviewed critically given that T&T is now facing an economic downturn due to low global energy sector prices.
This EIA marine review is much needed to protect our vulnerable island states & Caribbean seas in whose waters marine life (from fishing in Mayaro to the leatherback turtles in Toco all form part of not just T&T’s eco-tourism but the region.
Another activist wondered how could any so called responsible Government allow 100% tax free incentives to global profiteering energy giants while suffering its own population through increased taxation and losses of regular jobs in the same energy sector. BHP and its global and local partners should now be taxed fully (at least at the old rate for these activities!!)
BHP supports no indigenous cultural activities such as steel bands in schools and youth clubs that can provide creative job opportunities
One activist referred to the Sydney Morning Herald December 14 2013 an article by Peter Ker entitled Optimism flows as BHP eyes Caribbean waters, in which BHP and Range Resources executives waxed gleeful at the People’s Partnership’s extending of over-generous incentives and accelerated tax write offs for exploration.
Even with this accelerated drilling activity, one activist complained that there was no disaster contingency fund set up for potential Gulf of Mexico-type disaster in the Caribbean and pointed to the negative impacts on marine eco & economic activity of poor rural communities so affected!
It reeks of another Atlantic LNG, said the activist, where Citizens of T&T were hoodwinked by the then-government and energy sector into believing it was beneficial when between tax breaks and true ownership T&T citizens get very little on returns so that rural towns and villages like La Brea, Point Fortin, Cedros, Mayaro. Rio Claro all still lack proper health care facilities, properly maintained road infrastructure etc. yet these are in the centre of the oil belt!!
Let me say at the start that I intend the title – The Black Question – ironically. We ought to know how the “Jewish question” perturbed a certain European country in the first half of the 20th century and how such “questions” lend themselves to final solutions. Moreover to keep it simple and avoiding such debate, in this piece by “Black” I mean African. On the other hand I want to make it clear that while the focus here is on dispossessed African young people, no true community and true community-based struggle can be isolated and demarcated. It is understood here that the process involves solidarity and continuity.
There is a programme aimed at uplifting such poor Black youth being advertised on the radio, now I really know nothing of this programme and nothing I say here ought to in any way be viewed as a critique but I comment on the advertisement I heard.
The thrust of its message to such youth is that – your success is entirely up to you – you have a right to succeed. Now this is consistent with a message that is widespread. All you need to do is to work hard and you will succeed. Up North they call it the “American Dream”.
Now this is all fair enough until we interrogate its implication. In this case, if you remain poor and disadvantaged it’s your own damn fault. If you wallow in criminality and end up being shot by the police you deserve what you get because the wuk of the police is to defend we goodly citizens and our great capitalist democratic way of life from the criminal riff raff. And of course I said this is a version of the “Dream”, it is the great promise of capitalism that success is a matter of hard work. But of course it is not true.
The most economically successful got there more by luck of birth and many poor people have been struggling all their lives. There is no level playing field; we all do not take off from the same starting point. So what we have is really a Lotto. True if you do not buy a ticket you don’t have a chance but as we all know you can buy a ticket everyday of your life and never win the jackpot.
But I do not want to oversimplify. A great deal of people born in disadvantaged circumstances has significantly improved their life economically and otherwise, and this is a good thing, it ought to be encouraged. But this still begs the question as to in what does the good life really consist? Is it the capitalist dream? This may all appear rather philosophical but if we cannot answer it we will not even know whether we are being oppressed.
II. By Way of Comparison
Now one thing that human beings invariably do is compare. So there will be comparisons made between Africans and other groups in the society. So it is not my intention to cast aspersions on any ethnic group but here goes… “Look how well Syrians have done!” Well the Syrians came here with their social communal networks intact this with a strong ethos of commerce and they were thus able to effectively insert themselves into a capitalist system. And really and truly this rounds once you not actively involved in doing harm I don’t blame anybody for surviving.
There is also that matter of race and colour, here light is right, and once you are stigmatized as poor with that…black skin, you will find doors being slammed in your face. “Massa day done…" notwithstanding this remains a racist colony at every level.
Then there are, inevitably, the Indians. And in case you didn’t know there is also an “Indian question”. Again the Indians came here with the communal fibre more intact (Africans have a problem here due to a little something they call “slavery” but we’ll get to that) and while indentureship did involve coercion, unlike the “slave-system” they did come here with defined economic goals that they were eventually in a position to pursue.
The Indians as a community have here achieved significant success in “business” and it has been a legitimate means by which they have fought oppressive conditions. This ought to be commended as it is a key instrument through which the community has grounded itself in and defined our landscape. Now here is a supposed model of success and fulfilment that the capitalist dream offers, moreover it is so presented to Africans to emulate. But does this really at the end of the day liberate?
As with the Indians I do believe that proposals to empower by “Black business” may be useful as a means to an end but this can only take one so far.
Not only does the capitalist system depend on oppression and exploitation at all levels, of people and environment, but even to here “succeed” involves one in a framework of existential ontological alienation (and I use the word). This is the case in any system based on the “individual” and needs to be addressed by any authentic programme of struggle. Hence the real issue is how are we to re-articulate a fundamental idea and praxis of community that is truly liberating. What manner of community “vehicle” are we searching for?
Then there is Indians and education. Let me preface this by looking at how and when Indians as a group swelled the ranks of the “middleclass”. Again, by way of comparison. Africans began moving into the middle-tier from before Emancipation, and after in a more or less constant stream. Here they played a pivotal, though of course, subservient role in the “mainstream” itself. On the other hand while it is true there were always “elite” Indians, this alienated community really moved into the middleclass in defining numbers in a short period of time from the 1970s, post black power and the oil boom.
This means to say that Indians in large numbers as a defined and defining “middleclass” only properly entered the higher levels of the education system when it had stopped educating.
It may surprise some that up into my lifetime the model of an educated human being in Trinidad and the West Indies was the Black man. It appears that the whites who came out to the colonies sought to escape education.
Of course one may point out that it was a colonial system of education, which is true. But Queens Royal College did produce CLR James, Eric Williams, Lloyd Best and VS Naipaul. Now, the said Eric Williams came along and proceeded to dismantle all this which may have been a good idea except he did not replace it with anything (Junior Secs not withstanding). And here were sowed seeds of the very crisis of the youth we are discussing. However, in the ferment of the 1960s and early 70s critical thought continued. But the PNM pacified this by guns and the oil boom.
And so along came the Indians and they entered a void. Across the board we now really have a system of stupidification aimed at producing a class of bureaucrats and technocrats.
Note this, Patrick Manning, political degenerate that he was, still managed to call the name “Frantz Fanon” on the political platform. Roodal Moonilal can’t spell “Fanon” (err…that’s French right?).
Back to our young people: I think it is great that they are exposed to positive role models and urged to “empower” themselves and strive for success including economic but the question is how are such messages framed.
I make three recommendations by no means exhaustive but relevant to this specific discussion. First of all there has to be a proper engagement with the reality of slavery or more accurately “enslavement” (we were never slaves we were enslaved). Some will object. (I can hear a gasp of horror). Has not this subject been beaten to death (pardon the expression)? Does it not encourage our youth to be victims? To make excuses? To seek handouts? Indeed to go out and take by violence?
But there can be no proper understanding not only of the African community but our society as a whole without such an engagement. In terms of the sweep of time “Emancipation” in our society is a recent historical event. Moreover we need to be clear that the enslavement of Africans was not only an episode involving Africans, it is a key fundamental and defining process of modern Western history. It is not only a matter of what the West once upon a time did to others but it reveals how the modern Western world continues to define itself and to unfold.
We are really dealing with one of the great processes of mass genocide – involving the dislocation, the oppression and the extermination of hundreds of millions – that has ever been perpetrated. It is a process that is really ongoing. It thus stands alongside what these same modern Europeans did in the attempted extermination of the First Peoples of the Americas. It continues to cast a deathly pall over everything our still Modern Age attempts.
Now, some will object that the plantation was not as extensively established here in Trinidad but we were fully integrated into this Caribbean and indeed global “slave-system”. Also our population is to a very large extent constituted by migrants from other Caribbean territories.
Yet in this country “slavery” is like something out of a science fiction movie, like some kind of romantic fantasy in reverse. It is really elsewhere I have encountered it as a material reality. The countryside of Guyana that is still laid out as a string of plantations (now largely occupied by Indians). Or Africans herded into a church in Suriname where enslavement was just the other day. Or the experience of my Jamaican friend showing me a shackle and feeling her wince. The phrase “The Middle Passage” does not refer to a book by VS Naipaul.
The truth is that there is no past only occurrence, it is all very present … overcrowded boats still haunt our lives… the plantation has not really been done away with until the very oppressive power-relation has been abolished. Here has our community substance been shattered as we are broken into fractured “individuals”. Moreover, this historical violence of enslavement has fractured and warped our landscape as a whole. We are still ALL caught up in it. This is the reality that our young people in the “ghetto” live with every day. So let’s talk about it.
Second, we need to talk about “the system”. This is the capitalist system the nature of which needs to be analysed. The conglomerates and multinationals, global imperialism, the one percent that’s sucking the earth dry, class warfare etc. This is the political system, Westminster democracy etc. There has to be a critical interrogation of Eric Williams and his legacy, the good, the bad and the ugly.
Some time ago I heard a remark to the effect that the discussion concerning African people has been stuck and has not gone anywhere for a long time. There is a sense that it revolves around talk about “suffering” and clichés offered as solutions or that it is about drums, clothes and Egypt. But it can be no other way. Now don’t get me wrong I am all for drums, clothes and Egypt and not all offered solutions are clichés but the point is any real discussion has to be grounded in and to be about the material reality of African people, the real power-relations.
So there has to be a searing discussion of PNM nationalism and its supposed independence…PNM country… the “Black people” party… about the way our Eurocentric and ethnically divisive political system works. About Black Power and attempts at resistance, the PNM
suppression and its murdering of the NUFF guerrillas, those brave young men and women who were prepared to take up arms against systemic oppression and paid the price with their blood. And about what this entire nationalist system has done to the African community, the African psyche and African young people, the cultures of self-hatred.
Until the real discussion takes place we are stuck. But of course there are powerful dominating forces that prevent this. Indeed one strongly senses that in certain key ways as regards the Trinidadian landscape at any rate this nationalist political process is even more destructive of our spirit than physical enslavement. This latter being largely (but not exclusively) externally imposed while our politics have enmeshed us in profound rituals of self-mutilation.
Thirdly, we need to talk community. Now of course this means the African community, culture, tradition, spirituality and so forth but this has to again be materially located. We have to talk community and the aspects of oppression we have been here discussing. And we critically need to engage community and the ontology of liberation. Here freedom and liberation is not just to be viewed negatively as liberation from oppression but positively as living an authentic communal existence. Only such communal living and being can extinguish the individual, the isolation that produces all this oppression and violence.
It is here we may move away from the “blame game”. Some want to blame the system and they might want to say that it is not working. But actually it is working very well. Oppression is what it does so it makes no sense blaming the system as it’s doing its job.
Many, very many, blame the youths. True, we must not dismiss their power of agency and most are not involved in “criminal” activity. On the other hand we cannot paper over the issue or romanticize the situation. Many of our young people, in contrast to the young people of the NUFF, are involved in violent activity directed against each other, other youth, members of the community and wider society but not confronting and dealing with the real enemies. These do indeed have a lot to answer for but it is not only their fault. They did not come from outer space.
Who produced them? And guided them? The issue then is not blame but communal collective responsibility. The community must take responsibility for the situation we are in and the path to be followed. The entire collective is involved. It is thus that we need to engage in a collective process and programme of education involving the young people. And I mean education not pacification, not an obscuring of the real issues. And not prepping them to be cogs in the machine.
Let us be clear that true community is inclusive. It is open to all who suffer oppression and who struggle for a better world. The experience of oppression is not the preserve of any one ethnic group. So for instance there are many Indian young people caught up in cultures of violence whom we do not see. Let us not even get into the masses of youth victimized by our mis-education system, the entertainment industry and high technology.
However for this key principle of “collective responsibility” to be materially meaningful we have to re-image re-imagine re-articulate and engage such a communal praxis. We are seeking to thus enunciate a “popular” community vehicle. Here is a vital process that is to unfold on the ground, not preaching to the youth but involving them in this liberating praxis.
Moreover such praxis must cut across divisions that have been imposed on the people by the system itself. It seeks solidarity and continuity and it is a process that flows into the global struggle for freedom and a new world that is possible.
Hence the struggle is inclusive but it is not that of a fake universality as is the mindless nationalist fascist… “all ah we is one. The truth of the matter is that there are forces alive and well in our society committed to oppression.
A comprehensive plan is not being presented here but an attempt to help provide a framework and to make recommendations for an engaging of young people in a meaningful and effective process of self-liberation. Also nothing written here is to be interpreted as a critique of any actual programmes on the ground as I am simply in no position to do so.
It is time for such praxis. It is time for a new “popular vehicle”. Trinidadians (and I leave Tobago out of this nonsense) very much like to imagine themselves to be at the cutting edge of things and at the centre of the world. But to be honest there is a lot of crap going on in this place right now and until we deal with this and get our act together Trinidad matters very little to the rest of the world. Let us hope that the present period of unrest provides opportunities for meaningful mobilization. As a fellow comrade puts it – the situation is excellent.
It promises to grow more so.
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!