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


posted by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated ]

So one minute on 2nd May 2018, in a Press Release, the Minister of Finance, Colm Imbert say: “the minister of finance has made it clear that the government has no plan to increase the retirement age.”
Alva Allen, Assistant General Secretary of the National Workers Union, is a former labour representative on the National Insurance Board of Directors

The next thing you know, six weeks later, on 28th June 2018, the National Insurance Board of Directors, of which three are appointed by the government, accepted the 10th Actuarial Report which included the extension of the retirement age to 65.

Then, one week later, on 6th July 2018, the International Monetary Fund issued a Staff Concluding Statement of the 2018 Article IV Mission which stated inter alia: “Staff welcomes proposals to further increase the contribution rate and gradually raise the effective retirement age from 60 to 65 starting in 2025 to keep the system sustainable and reduce contingent liabilities to the government.” I am sure that the IMF must have been rejoicing.

This story about extending the retirement age to 65 reminds me when the Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Rowley told a public meeting in Marabella on 5th September 2018 that the Government was not closing down Petrotrin. But on 30th November 2018, Petrotrin was closed down. By now I have come to accept that politicians are trained to practice social distancing from the truth.

Now the Minister of Finance finally said in his Budget speech on 5th October 2020: “we will take whatever steps necessary to maintain the integrity and viability of the NIB, including a serious examination of the need to extend the retirement age to 65”


This thing is serious. This proposal to extend the retirement age is nothing but a smokescreen to cut we hard-earned pension benefits. After all, it was the Actuary who said on page 58 of the10th Actuarial Report on the NIS that:

“…It is important to note as well that since the retirement age, as given in the National Insurance Act, is already 65, an increase in “retirement age” is only hypothetical from the standpoint of the NIBTT and effectively just functions to delay how pensions are actuarially reduced over the implementation period.”

According to Recommendation No. 3 on page 94 of the 10th Actuarial Valuation of the National Insurance Scheme.

“It is recommended to reduce the calculated pension, which includes the minimum pension, by 6 per cent for each year before age 65.”

This Report was approved by the NIB Directors on 28th June 2018 according to page 18 of the 2018 Annual Report. The Report was subsequently laid in Parliament on 22nd March 2019.

In my view, if this recommendation is implemented, workers who normally retire at age 60 will get a 30% cut in their pension so they will get $2100 per month. This is $900 per month less than we receive now. They will be losing $10,800 every year, even though they paid the minimum requirements of 750 contributions. Well look at trouble now! The same monkey pants await those workers who retire before age 65.

Those retiring at age 61 will get a 24% reduction in their pension. They will get $2280 and stand to lose $8640 per annum.

Those retiring at age 62 will get an18% reduction in their pension. They will get $2460 per month and stand to lose $6480 per annum.

Those retiring at age 63 will get a 12 % reduction in their pension. They will get $2640 per month and stand to lose $4320 every year

Those retiring at age 64 will get a 6% reduction in their pension. They will get $2820 per month and stand to lose $2160 every year

Those who retire at age 65 will get no reduction in their pension. This is what the Actuary called an unreduced pension at age 65


In the 9th Report, the Actuary said at page 107 that “The minimum is too generous…it should be a percentage of the minimum wage.” The Report went on to say that the International range of the minimum pension is between 40% - 80% of minimum wage.

On Page 2 of the 10th Report, The Actuary reported that the NIS Minimum pension is 115% of the Minimum Wage and the Senior Citizens Pension is 134% of the Minimum Wage

Clearly there is the view that poor people are getting too much Pension and it has to be cut. It is little wonder that the Report recommended on page 95: “Recommendation No. 4: The parameters of the system should be automatically adjusted and the minimum pension should be frozen to give at most 80 per cent of the minimum wage.”


The real sting in de tail is not the extension of the retirement age to 65 per se but the cuts in pensions for workers retiring between age 60 – 64. All because they find that the minimum pension is too
generous and should be below the Minimum Wage.

They will come with all kinds of cock and bull story to get you to buy in to their position like fertility rate, interest rate, mortality rate. longevity rate and that expenditures have now outstripped revenues. This is the same Minister of Finance who said according to a Loop news Report on his Media Conference on 2nd October, 2018 that:

“Yes, the actuaries have said that if we don’t look at the national insurance situation, the fund will expire 35 years from now, so we have 35 years to fashion a solution to that problem.”

“We are not going ahead with the increase in contributions at this time. the nib will survive. it has over $20 billion in its fund, it has enough money there for the next 30 years.”

The stark reality is that the Actuary said that our minimum pension is too generous and must be reduced to 80% of the minimum wage.

The stark reality is that by increasing the retirement age, the Government will reduce its contingent liability (cut its expenses).

Well look at real trouble here now! Thousands have been retrenched with more losing their livelihoods every day. Thousands can’t get a salary increase for more than 8 years now. Prices going through the roof and to rub salt in the wound of working people they proposing to cut our NIS Pension. This is how working class people are treated.

But when it came to increasing the pensions of MPS, Ministers and others, the same Minister of Finance tabled legislation in June 2019 to fix their business nice. They fixed it real nice. They legislated raising their pension benefits every five years and included in the calculation of pensions, the housing allowance of these office holders.

It is clear that they have always taken good care of their business. We, working people, must take care of ours. We must organise to stop any cut in our pensions. Many workers have already paid the minimum 750 contributions to qualify for the minimum pension. They are continuing to pay more while moves are afoot to give them less. This is utter madness and, like Brother Resistance, we must say: ent takin’ dat so…de people ent takin’ dat!




posted 23 Feb 2021, 21:24 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 23 Feb 2021, 21:25 ]

The following presentation  by Dave Smith, President of the National Workers Union (NWU), was made at the opening session of  a training programme organised by the Transport and Industrial Workers Union (TIWU) at Cipriani Labour College on Monday February 22nd 2021.

It would be tempting to simply emphasise the importance of training - and of course that would be true. However, it is also important to put into context the significance of training in the development of any trade union. Trade unions are the most important organisations for workers. They represent not only the ability of workers to defend their interests but equally as important, enable unions, through collective bargaining, to try and improve their standard of living and extract from the employing class an improved share of the wealth created by labour.

The modern trade union movement in Trinidad and Tobago can trace its roots back to the labour uprisings of 1937. But as Karl Marx pointed in some of his early writings in 1848: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles”. Taking this longer-term historical view it helps is to know where we’ve come from and where we should be going. For instance, we can recognise the importance of the strike of the waterfront workers in 1919 and some early efforts of workers to organise after the abolition of slavery in 1838. We can take an even longer perspective and history has given us evidence of attempts to form some of the earliest trade unions in Britain in the 1820s as workers responded to the exploitation of capitalism as a result of the Industrial Revolution in the 1750’s.

The development of trade unions has never taken a straight path. The ebbs and flows of the strength of trade unions reflects the struggle between the interests of labour and those of capital. Let us be under no illusion that what we are talking about here is power. Who has the power and what gives them that power. There are some, particularly amongst the representatives and spokespersons of the employing class, who point to the decline in trade union membership and influence over the past period and are eager to relegate trade unions to the dustbin of history.

Those who peddle this view have little understanding of the nature and dynamic of the class struggle in a capitalist society. The reality is that trade unions are a product of the political and economic environment within which they exist. As an economy changes its structure, so areas where unions have historically been strong decline and new areas that need to be organised open up. The closure of Caroni (1975) cost 9000 trade union jobs, the closure of Petrotrin another 5000 jobs and comrades in TIWU may recall the closure of a car assembly plant that was one of TIWU’s bargaining units.

Each of these closures would have had a knock on effect in the rest of the economy with a consequential impact on jobs. In the current climate of the Covid Pandemic, we cannot ignore the blatant aggression of some employers taking full advantage of the situation in cutting wages and hours and embarking on major restructuring exercises. For some employers, it’s as if all labour laws have evaporated overnight!

But an example of how the trade union movement adapts to changes in the economy, even though slowly, can be seen in the growth of the Banking Insurance and General Workers Union who have established solid roots amongst workers in the finance and service sector. Those who want to diminish the role and influence of trade unions are keen to amend the Industrial Relations Act so that it would no longer be necessary for most trade disputes to find a way into the Industrial Court through a trade union reporting matters to the Minister of Labour.

Those who take this position want to open up the door for lawyers and consultants who represent employers today and pretend to represent the interests of workers tomorrow. The fact that access to the Minister of Labour on most matters is through a trade union is a reflection of the strength and influence of the trade union movement in the 1960’s and 1970’s which had to be recognised in drafting the Industrial Relations Act. The importance of this should not be underestimated.

Once the Industrial Court was established by the 1965 Industrial Stabilisation Act, the inevitable reality is that all unsettled trade disputes, whether individual or collective, will end up in the Industrial Court. This means that trade unions have an absolutely vital role in contributing to the jurisprudence that is developed in the Industrial Court. If this is handed over to lawyers and consultants who flip flop from one side to the other without a trade union or class perspective, then we can see precedents being developed in the Court which would not be in the interest of workers. The growth and use of consultants, and particularly attorneys, in the Industrial Court has the risk of increased legalisation of the industrial relations process. Part of our job is to reinforce a basic common sense approach to industrial relations.

Lawyers talk in a language. Instead of saying “this is an old matter” - they say “this is a matter of some vintage”. Instead of telling a judge - “I’m sorry I can’t do that date as I have another commitment on that day” they say “I would be embarrassed on that day”. We have to be careful not to fall into the danger of using their language. When a trade union representative is in Court, we should not be using lawyers' language by referring to the other side as “My friend”. They are no friends of ours, they are representing the interests of the employer!


posted 23 Feb 2021, 11:43 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 23 Feb 2021, 12:08 ]


We learnt recently of the passing of one of our most celebrated sporting heroines. Lynette ''Granny'' Luces, 93, crossed her last finish line. She came into long distance simply as a senior athlete but she was to transcend long distance running. She became an icon, cultural hero, an inspiration and a metaphor for excellence and in her own way a sporting star…and a nemesis for male athletes. When you are immortalised in calypso in Trinidad and Tobago yuh reach. 

As with any phenomenon, Granny did not fall from the sky; but rather emerged at a particular point in athletics/track and field. She appeared when local long distance running took off, primarily under the leadership of Raffique "Raf' Shah...ex rebel soldier, progressive politician, journalist, leader of a cane farmers' association and former secretary of the local athletic federation. Raf founded the Central Athletics Club and was race director for what was for a long time the CLICO MARATHON, then our premier road race. Only the BUTLER CLASSICS rivalled it for longevity

Long distance running was more or less confined to the National Amateur Athletic Association calendar. I remember taking part in a national marathon from Manzanilla to Arima with 5 runners. In 1977 local track and field underwent a major crisis with internal disputes in the Executive led by Rawle Raphael. Texaco oil company, sponsor of our major track and field and cycling event, used this as an excuse to cancel Southern Games. Leaving our shores was already their agenda anyway.

These games were internationally renowned. Trinidad and Tobago sportsmen could compete against the best from the United States, France, Italy, England, India, our Caribbean, Africa, Venezuela. It did wonders for the development of our local performers who often rose to the challenge and would later on excel at international level, even before leaving here on university scholarships. Spectators saw the world's best for a relatively small fee. Shell, B.P/Tesoro and Caroni also sponsored major games.

With their departure, track and field fell into a slump and road running took off. Granny would have been a novelty, given her age, but soon proved she was a genuine athlete. True, there were other
outstanding female athletes: Sharon Alleyne, Movina Parris and Ms. Westmaas, but Granny was making a statement for her gender and her generation.

At that time too, races were being held all over the country from 5K's to full marathons. There were the CLICO MARATHON from Freeport to Port of Spain; a 20k from Princes Town to San Fernando called the HOSPITAL RACE; Eastern Credit Union sponsored half marathon from Port of Spain to Curepe and the LABOUR DAY/BUTLER CLASSICS HALF MARATHON. There was an event from Port of Spain through Santa Cruz, over the Saddle and back

Raf, while on the Board at Caroni, also made another important contribution in organising and sponsoring the CARONI CROSS COUNTRY. Held in the rainy season, it was a 5k slog in mud up and down the hills at Sevilla in rain. This too, alas no longer occurs. In all of this people came out to see Granny, a slight grey haired figure, all in white, eating up the miles

Male athletes paid a heavy price for her success. Any male runner preferred the fatigue of a 1000 road races to the 'fatigue' heckling of finishing after Granny. Even if in the process you set a personal best, topped your age category, set a world record for your age, it did not matter the heckling was consistent and eternal.

Many a male athlete, less prepared than she was, fell into the chauvinist trap. No woman could beat me, he would muse. When she did appear, he would change pace, throw off his race plan and burn out. The closer she came the more the athlete would panic, aided and abetted by hecklers from the crowd. “Run boy. Granny comin' to pass yuh” Taking the bait, he would literally run himself into the ground. And God help you if you were known and Raf was doing commentary. Did this writer ever suffer this fate? Careful research and selective memory strongly suggest otherwise.

There is an expression organisers and promoters use that 'someone is good for a sport’; meaning they attract revenue and spectators. We in the Butler Classics can attest to this. Many persons would 
have lined the route and ended up in Fyzabad for Labour Day to see her participate and stayed on for the day. Then co- chair of our organising committee, Sister Comrade, Donna Coombs Montrose and our technical director the late Winston Lewis said Granny never paid an entrance fee. Winston would say we should take it out her prize money but we never did. Granny was ''good for our event''. I should point out that the prize money helped out a lot of athletes at the time, some of whom would run in 2 races a day, contrary to coaching advice

Track and field made a comeback in later years. The Senior/Master games programme developed where local seniors and master compete locally, regionally and internationally. There was less participation in the major events. The Fun and Fitness races, where hundreds, maybe thousands, would participate for health benefits, are now the order of the day. Time exacted its price, as it does on all, and Granny competed less, though she remained immensely popular
Will there be another Granny? 

Other female senior athletes will and have emerged but they would not have played the pioneering role of Granny. And male chauvinism is not as much a problem now as it was then. Female athletes can, do and will excel over their male rivals. We are glad she achieved recognition, a Humming Bird medal, in her lifetime. May she rest in peace!


posted 4 Feb 2021, 14:44 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 4 Feb 2021, 18:11 ]

This retrospective on The Coffee was prompted by the death of Milton "Wire" Austin. I knew Milton, a prior neighbour when I was a toddler in a 'barrack yard' on the Coffee (behind Rivoli cinema which was previously a transport hub with horse and carriage). 

He, being the eldest of his siblings, symbolised how culture could and did shape our world since we were among creative people who were into pan, mas, dance and who were self-appointed guardians. This is the late 40s: world war 2 had just ended, euphoria in the air, ration card, Redufusion radio and fresh, mouth watering bakery bread. 

Little did we realise we were in the crucible of our town affectionately called Sando. I give a nod of respect to a citizen who will meet our ancestors such as dentist Clyde Cooper; bandleader Henley Cooper son of the pharmacist; masmen like the Wilkes brothers and Stokely Jack; 'Artist" the camera man and more.  All of us touched by Teacher Bailey's school. 

No wonder Free French, Sando Organettes, Lil Caribs, Antillean All Stars evolved into Fonclaire and Skiffle Bunch. My ode to Wire would be Guinness Cavaliers bomb 'Is Paris burning' around 1966 (or thereabouts) leaving the Coffee 'naked' when they pass and of course, 'Pan by Storm', after which, on being placed second by half a point, i refused to go to another Panorama final.


This is a tale of a place starting from the viewpoint of a seven-year-old boy, embellished by others of similar age and better memory. It’s about a street, not even the entire street, which was a cradle for wide-eyed children; an oasis for the aspiring country folk, a melting pot of people seeking to simply establish themselves in life.


Even though Coffee Street was part of the main thoroughfare to the commercial centre of San Fernando, it was a continuation of two roads - Royal Road and Navet Road, both of which allowed entry into the town from the east, not forgetting Bertrand Street, emptying itself close to the starting point of the Coffee.

As a young adult, Bertrand Street would bring a smile to my countenance especially whenever I met Rodney Wilkes in person. Seeing him close up, I would shake the hand of this electrician by trade who 
brought fame and glory to Trinidad and Tobago as an Olympic medallist (if memory serves me right) in the featherweight weight-lifting division. He would demurely accept my verbal praise because, I suspect, recognition was not the norm. Now, for what it’s worth, the street sign says Bertrand Street- in honour of Rodney Wilkes.
The Coffee circled the southern face of San Fernando Hill and ended at Library Corner; so named because it was, and still is, the hub for pedestrians, motorized traffic, vendors, rum shops, tout bagai, since seven roads then, now eight, coming (or going) to the cardinal points of a compass.

The eighth road, now dignified by a street sign named Ken ‘Professor’ Philmore Street, added or determined by present day politicians ironically expose those who decided its fate. This piece of road, which can only hold one vehicle at a time, merges upper High Street onto Harris Promenade. It is a right hand corner whose only resident was a red QE (Elizabeth Reign) standing post box.

Some of us while reminiscing, figured out the answers to relevant questions such as why the name - Coffee Street - or why the street is where it is. Sugar cane was the main crop as evidenced by a number of sprawling estates; so Coffee Street was the dividing line with coffee trees planted at a higher elevation. After all, imported tea had its clientele based on cost, so local coffee, cocoa and bush tea had working class popularity.


Truth be told, my cradle of existence was boxed in from Maryatt Street in the east to Johnstone Street in the west and Carib Street one block north of the Coffee. It was roughly half of the entire street length but, in hindsight, it felt like a potpourri of sounds, smells, shops, schools music, cinema (known in those days as theatre, pronounced teartar) people - characters included - activities galore.

Why was it like this? A collective with a distinct rhythm which manifested itself in carnival, steel bands, dance groups, even I dare say, in the laid-back, easy going but intense approach to culture for instance.

I want to posit two reasons for this milieu. I have learnt it is virtually a historical fact that second cities tend to be the capitals of culture in their respective countries and secondly, immigrants in a foreign place gravitate towards their culture to keep the links alive. In the 50.s, that burst of energy after world-war 2 took flight, I hereby state with no empirical evidence, only personal experience, that Milton ‘Wire” Austin was a product of this crucible.


As Trinis would say let me begin from the start. In the geographical middle of Coffee Street there was a horse and buggy transport hub before the war which was transformed into Rivoli cinema (now housing a church) owned, I believe, by the Roodal family with big Fred, the ticket collector for entry to the front section, known colloquially as Pit. The fare was a set of British newsreels and some black and white films. The other form of entertainment/communication was Rediffusion with its triangular shaped box speaker with two channels.

From the street, there was a passageway at the side of the picture house leading to some steps that would take anybody to Ground Zero directly behind the cinema. Nothing fancy, just a barrack yard with two double apartment ‘tenement’ flats bracketing the yard.

To put the Coffee in context, this street had a laundry – now it’s an empty lot next door to Standards - Humming Bird roti shop with its light blue facade run by the Karamath family noted for the attractive sisters who tended to customers where Cooper Street butted the Coffee; Sumadh motor-car parts store; a church, rum shops; ‘Chinee’ shops; parlours or cafes; various vendors selling coconuts, pudding, souse, cigarettes, et al.

There were eight streets flowing off its south side and five on its north side which confirms its organic status.

There was an imposing hog-plum tree which was the meeting spot to see and take part in outdoor activities. There was an open fire continuously stoked to turn oil, biscuit (all kind of) drums into musical instruments and so Lil Caribs was born and soon Henderson Cooper, son of the pharmacist whose establishment faced Cipero Street, brought out a mas-band. The same fire for the pan was used to melt lead into sling-shot bullets for the chirping birds on the plum tree. Another group would be turning truck batteries into aquariums for canal fish by replacing a side of the battery with plexi-glass and decorated with some coloured marbles.

Most actions seemed to be seasonal, like flying cheeky chong, common or mad-bull kites; making scooters with ball bearings as wheels; a little ‘goes in/goes out’ wind-ball cricket with a coconut bat; or barefoot football or three-hole marble pitching. Don’t show you vex (or else is licks) when your mother want you to go in the shop with the ration card: a ration card that is neatly pressed with a hot iron-heater to make the pin holes disappear before you reach by ‘Chin’, the shop- keeper, which allow you to get more goods than the card allows.

Then the season of all seasons – Carnival – comes around. Some of us who were fed by the Coterie would get to play in the annual Coterie Children Mas. In those days the Coterie was on the corner of Coffee Street and La Coulėe Street – a link road to the Power Station on Carib Street.

When you come out of this area carnival was serious business. Case in point was when Stokely Jack ‘break down’ a side of his board house to bring out his fancy Indian costume and leave it on the side of the road (Carib Street) near the Carib House for competition later. Well bacchanal erupted when an inebriated driver bounced the hat, as large, elaborate costumes depicting native American Indians were called since they were carried by the masquerader on his head. The ‘cut-tail’ (assault) he got, you would think the alcohol of choice he consumed would evaporate, and it did.

But the Coffee was not only about the children. In the yard there was Clyde Cooper, the neighbourhood dentist. Now deceased, burly, six foot plus, Clyde was like a mentor, protector of the youth in the area having a few of his own himself. I, for one, cannot call him a quack, because I knew outstanding citizens of the society, including my mother, who swear by his handiwork which I think relied on his natural strength to pull out any long suffering tooth.

Somewhere in time, another artisan showed up fleetingly in one of the apartments and that was Artist, the camera-man, so-called because of this gadget strapped around his neck. Next door, behind Guide’s funeral home in Crosby Lane was Dutchy, father of the De Vlugt brothers, who made up the Dutchy Brothers Orchestra, at one time the most popular dance bands in the country.
Talking about Dutchy reminds me of a current phenomenon at the time. During this period, either during or after the war ceased, as it has been for two hundred years, Trinidad was a magnet for other nearby Caribbean islanders to find jobs either on the Base at Chaguaramas or the oil industry. I personally knew of at least three men who ‘jumped ship’. I am not saying they did it illegally, but Dutchy came from Dutch Guiana (now Suriname); my father and a close friend came from British Guiana (now Guyana) while, of course, others from Grenada and Barbados made their way further south in the oil industry or onto the hills of Laventille.

Like in any society, people have to organize around food, shelter, jobs, education facilities for the children and when time or resources permit, culture, entertainment and basic rituals of life such as births, weddings and death. So, next door to Guide’s funeral home, where Skiffle Steel Orchestra is now resident, there was a bakery with hops on banana leaf, aroma to match and long lines to collect. There was an ice-factory where Food Basket grocery now is, with Siberian type winter-jacketed men doing good business since ice-boxes at home needed regular stocks especially on Sundays.

The primary school of choice was Teacher Bailey School behind Tookie’s Bar. This Bar was opposite Guides on the Coffee, therefore Teacher Bailey was off the main street at the corner of what is now called Dickson Street and Belgrove Lane (formerly Henry Street). This is where Milton ‘Wire’ Austin had a role to play. Being older than me, his siblings and others, his task was to escort us to Teacher Bailey’s school while he went on to the government primary school on Rushworth Street and pick us up after school in the afternoon.

Next door to Tookie’s Bar was a ‘Friendly Society’ and you could get a ration card in this two-storey building. Aah the vagaries of memory! I cannot recall what was on the site where Belgrove’s Funeral Home is at present.

If one kept going west on the Coffee, one would meet Rogers hardware and Sam Craft who used to make caps although I am not sure about hats which I suspect had to be obtained somewhere else. If and when you needed to upgrade your coal-pot, one could enter Mr Taitt’s store at the corner of Johnstone Street and the Coffee to buy a galvanized oven or bird cage. I am not sure who used to make a Safe which would not be complete until you put sausage tins under the legs filled with water to prevent ants from invading your treasured food or, for that matter a necessary ice-box.

Going east, one would know about the coal depot on Upper Hillside Street or Mr Beckles’ store with the latest innovation
for sale – Singer sewing machines, and the now disappeared steps from the Coffee to Lower Marryat street now called Cooper Street. It was a decade or two which ushered in steel bands, pockmarking not only the Coffee, but the town itself: Silvertones, Free French, Sando Organettes, Antillean All Stars, Maestros, Gondoliers, Cavaliers, Rogues Regiment, West Stars, Fonclaire and others. 

Having exhausted my soliloquy, a rhetorical question belies my experience. Is it any surprise that the best known, earliest organized Trinis in the United States diaspora, based in New York, called themselves the ‘Coffee Boys’ or, American panist Andy Narell, with the University of North Texas College of Music composed a 16 minute Ode to Coffee Street in 1998. 

Let me put it bluntly. As a tropical country we experience dry and wet seasons annually, but with my school-boy recollection, the two seasons on the Coffee were carnival and preparing for carnival seasons.

San Fernando evolved as a town on the west coast of Trinidad in the southern half of the island and became the second largest commercial town when oil was discovered further south.

Carib House on Upper Hillside has to be the oldest building in San Fernando still standing.


posted 29 Jan 2021, 15:06 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 29 Jan 2021, 15:07 ]

I read a report about the government's new request to those persons applying to return home having been stranded overseas because of the COVID restrictions. They now demand that applicants make their requests for entry via an online form rather than emails as had been the case until recently. This episode vividly illustrates the lack of appreciation and understanding within the government of the critical issues and benefits of digitization and digitalization.

From the outset I complained that the use of email for requests was inefficient, ineffective and would create problems later on. Firstly, applicants were not effectively guided to provide the specific information needed by decision makers. They would compose their request as they thought best. This is never a good basis for decision making especially where applicants are effectively competing for limited opportunities to return.

Without a digitized data entry system there would also be no audit trail guaranteeing that all applicants and applications could be reviewed so as to guarantee a fair process. How easy is it for an email to be accidentally (or otherwise) deleted? Further, access to the emails received would depend on the initial recipient forwarding all in a timely manner to those who needed it. There would also be no automatic control and reporting on who had access to what is surely deeply personal data. I could list several more weaknesses of email based applications as opposed to a fully digitized one but you surely see the stark differences by now.

From what has been said, all free format email applications submitted to date will form no part of the process going forward. Given that this (email applications) is what they were directed to do by the authorities, can this be considered even remotely fair or appropriate? I am suggesting that any properly done digitization should include all data submitted to date.

At this juncture I should repeat the explanation given in an earlier article about the difference between digitization and digitalization. Digitization converts existing data, however held, into a structured, digital format usually in a specially designed database. The existing data could be in any of several formats including hand written, unstructured or partially structured electronic format. Digitalization layers an app or application over that data in much the way that the online reentry form is now available.

The discarding of all emails from the system is only because no initial digitization was included in the email system as implemented. Had a digitization consultant been part of the initial design of the email based system a means would have been found to gather data via email such that it could be easily pulled into the online database once it became available. At the simplest level, this could have been a Form created in MS Word that users filled out and attached to their email. At this stage we would easily import the contents of those forms into the new system. I don't think I have to explain how much more effective that would have been and why applicants would have been so much better served.

What this episode illustrates for me is that even where we are building completely new data management systems inclusive of applications processing, we are not utilizing the expertise of data management specialists. Converting data from existing systems is already an onerous and time consuming process without us creating new difficulties by acting as if we do not plan to digitize our operations in the near future.

With this approach we can have little confidence in our ability to achieve digitalization in any sensible timeframe. What we will do is what we have done for two decades with very little success. We will acquire expensive and mostly foreign sourced digitalization systems that struggle with the paucity of data presented to them. The digitization is .missing for the most part, and projects will fail.

With respect to the reentry applications, I can advise that inclusion of the email contents can be accommodated within the database that sits behind the system. There are a few methods that could be used that I do not need to delve into today. Suffice to say that entire emails including attachments should present no insurmountable problems.

Had I been an applicant who diligently provided all the data and documents requested by the government utilizing email as instructed, I would be unhappy to be treated in similar manner to those who had not. I would also be concerned that all institutional memory of my interactions had been so easily disregarded.

There needs to be a complete reset of our thinking regarding digitization and digitalization. I'm told that this cavalier, last minute approach is the norm across all government data management. Eventual digitalization starts with an understanding of the data being collected and the use to which it will be put. Almost every existing data gathering routine could be optimized for ease of digitization in the future so as to facilitate digitalization later, inclusive of the retention of data so laboriously and expensively gathered in the meantime.

The announcement also concerned me for another important reason. It was the hope expressed that it would cope with the volume of updates and not crash. Is that the level at which we are operating? On line database developers were building mission critical systems in the 90s that coped with millions of transactions daily without fail We did that using hardware and software with less than one hundredth of the capacity and performance specifications of today's systems. This reentry application would service at best a few thousand entries per day. Please, performance and resilience should not be issues unless developed by totally incompetent persons.

Given how important and emotive the issue of reentry applications is for a great number of people I respectfully suggest that government reconsider the decision to eliminate all the data previously submitted by applicants. I assure you that their information can be included if the need is deemed to be an essential requirement.

Further afield, if digitalization is to be the success that we claim to be aiming for, then we should already be mapping all the data that is gathered and held in every nook and cranny of the public sector. We should be forecasting, where possible, the data needs of any prospective digitalization and finding ways to accommodate same in the data gathering and digitization processes currently being used.

The digitization that I envisage and am certain that we absolutely need is a massive exercise, equivalent to designing and building a complex structure, a city even. If our leaders understand that the benefits accrue from day one, as exemplified by the more efficient and humane treatment of our returning nationals, then I expect that they will take such an approach and begin to reap benefits immediately.

I should add that I am concerned that business applicants will continue to use emails as their means of applying. That is totally illogical. All the benefits described for the general population also apply to business applicants, in fact moreso. Is there some unspoken reason for treating business travelers differently from others?


posted 26 Jan 2021, 18:40 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 26 Jan 2021, 19:46 ]

The National Trade Union Movement since the colonial period of the 1930’s through Independence and up until the present time has called and fought for state control of the commanding heights of the economy and the end of foreign control of our nation’s economy. The trade union movement was born in the midst of anti-imperialist uprising and has carried that “nationalist” stance ever since.

This is so not only because of the absence of a developed national capitalist business class and the export of the resources and profits to others


A grievous example of nepotism and victimisation involves a case favourably handled by President Dave Smith of the National Workers Union. 

Despite being awarded a large sum as compensation by the Industrial Court for wrongful dismissal, this unjust dismissal destroyed the career of a bright, long serving and loyal worker in a leading state enterprise.

All because, so the story goes, some person from the governing party eyed and wanted this managerial position at this company. 

So, millions of dollars of the people’s money were paid in legal fees and wrongful dismissal awards. Why? Because of a job coveted by a party loyalist supported by a party financier, with access to the Union-negotiated higher salaries and benefits in the Energy Industry. 

This job had to be delivered to this politically connected person at the expense of a long serving managerial worker.

So a case for dismissal had to be manufactured. Every action or decision had to be examined with a microscope for the smallest hint of error that could be used to dismiss. This is despite it being a clear case of victimization and most likely would result in high financial compensation. After all the money is not paid by the politicians but by the State Enterprises, by public funds - the people's funds.

, but most importantly to create other industries based on our natural resources that would enrich our society and reduce poverty. Those nationalised industries would create a large pool of skilled technical workers and managers who in turn would train other workers and push our society forward. That was the vision

Butler was robbed of his freedom and isolated for many years on Nelson Island. Many Trade Union Leaders were imprisoned during the two states of emergency in the period 1970-1972. Many others were beaten including nationals who supported the cause of national development and peoples’ control. The history of that almost 60 years of struggle to control our economy and have the fruits of our labour serve our people is written and available as a testimony that nothing is gained by passivity and conformity.

It is by first identifying the source of the problem and then uniting people to rid ourselves of those and that which enslaves us and hinder our progress.

For varying periods over the last sixty years a large slice of the commanding heights of the economy were put into the hands of our governments. The benefits were great for us in terms of education, training, health, construction projects and in many other areas of our country.

However, it was greater and much more profitable for the politicians, their operatives, their business financiers and their upper class opportunists – the contractocracy, the kleptocracy. Many of these political operatives were given high positions for which they were not qualified nor interviewed for. So that not only incompetence, political victimization and nepotism became a feature of our political culture, but corruption and wastage competed for being the major cause of the rise and fall of the State Enterprises Sector in Trinbago with nepotism being the major weapon. 

These dirty political sins were criticised and called out by the Trade Unions for almost fifty years but with no change to these economic evils of political intervention. Trade Unions proposed but to no avail. Governments of the day not only appoint directors but control the hiring, firing and operational systems of the Peoples Enterprises.

As both a worker for some 40 years in both a foreign owned petroleum company and then the nationalized successor company, I am a witness to many instances of destructive political intervention at the operational level of that company and others by every government that came into office during my years as worker, trade union leader and manager. 

We are now at the stage where most of the State Enterprises, fought for by workers and which uplifted the economy of the country and the standard of living of many of our people, are now being dismantled. The largest of all, the Petrotrin Refinery, has been closed down for almost two years now with the Union trying to buy the company and resume operations in what seems to be a recurring mamaguying of the union by the government with undelivered promises one after the other.

Several years ago the Unions, fed up with political interference, wastage and rumours of corruption, had suggested that the authority for the operations of State Enterprises and the selection of the Boards be removed from the Ministry of Finance – Corporation Sole and be vested in a separate non-political State Enterprise Authority appointed by the President of the Republic and approved by Parliament.

But perhaps it is too late to resurrect that idea as our state entities may soon be of the past: some mothballed, others sold and the full scale return of foreign control in an import consuming society. After all we are now importing fuel for our vehicles.


posted 19 Jan 2021, 19:11 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 19 Jan 2021, 19:38 ]

Matthew Quest has taught history and Africana Studies most recently at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Quest is editor of Joseph Edwards's Workers Self-Management in the Caribbean.

Forgotten and neglected ideas can be useful for contemporary resistance if we assess them critically for innovation for our own place and time. In the 1970s, the characterization of oppressive electoral politics, political parties, and trade union hierarchies as “Doctor Politics” and “One-Menism” took root in the Caribbean to challenge such degrading iterations as it became clear to commoners that politics were not arranged for them to directly govern in the post-colonial independence era.

“Doctor Politics” was a challenge to the tendency for electoral politics and political parties to be dominated by doctors, lawyers, economists, and professors to the exclusion of the working class and unemployed that such bourgeois professionals claimed to represent.

Similarly, “One-Menism” was an idea that was critical of political parties and trade unions organized to benefit one man, or charismatic personality. One-Menism prevented toilers from directly controlling so-called labor parties and organizations. While the critiques of Doctor Politics and One-Menism emerged in different locations in the Caribbean, the conclusions of the analyses enjoyed widespread resonation among common people throughout the region.


Doctor Politics and One-Menism criticisms reverberated most with ordinary people when wielded against politicians and leaders deemed “progressive.” Progressive generally means political ideas that aim to express the national interest and welfare of ordinary people as one and the same. Progressive both thinly approaches and avoids socialism. Progressive might seem valuable in contrast to a conservative politics that openly wish to serve the rich and powerful. However, it is also the disposition that often veils one’s collaboration with finance capital, multi-national corporations, and pursuit of personal wealth.


Doctor Politics made sense as a criticism of Dr. Eric Williams, historian and author of Capitalism & Slavery who is viewed in many circles as a part of a Black radical tradition. He was the first prime minister of post-independence Trinidad and Tobago who held power from 1962-1981. Although his politics were never insurgent, Williams represented himself as an “advisor to labor” before becoming prime minister. However, he advised the British foreign office and US State Department under the guise of the Anglo-American Caribbean Commission.

As prime minister, Williams repeatedly and contemptuously publicly lectured and suppressed independent labor action. This culminated in the Industrial Stabilization Act of 1965. The growing resentment toward Williams was expressed in insurgent fashion in the Black Power revolt of 1970. It was a revolt of students, workers and unemployed against a Black prime minister. The implications of this have been minimized in recent years as the critique of neocolonialism has lost its way. Subsequently, the Black Power revolt has been invented as achieving an ambiguous cultural consciousness of the legacy of enslavement, and the preposterous creation of the national development bank.

Williams, from the perspective of Bukka Rennie, author of A History of the Trinidad and Tobago Working Class in the 20th Century, is seen as completing the capture of working-class resistance. In the 1930s, it was more independent. This independent opposition was misdirected by middle class professionals. Rennie perceptively explains how Williams demonstrated that elites, for a time, could speak like a “bad john” to bewilder the popular will.


What was once a robust objection to the Black political class has dwindled into pessimistic sympathies that Black elite administrators have no power independent of white patrons. In the past, the Black political class was opposed as an oppressor class; today, many strangely believe that as a social class, they are oppressed also. Those that opposed Doctor Politics and One-Menism didn’t feel this way.

The critique of the Black political class has been formulated to be a loyal opposition to Black rulers above society. Objection to neocolonialism once meant advocacy of class struggle at the post-independence moment. It now means advocacy of national development in collaboration with those who police ordinary Afro-Caribbean and Indo-Caribbean people and property relations. Awareness of indirect rule by multi-national corporations and global finance capital is shared with those with ethnic capitalist aspirations.


One-Menism, derived from Rasta idioms implying such political forces were satanic, was a criticism of Jamaica’s Michael Manley, who some grassroots Rastas called “Mikhell Menlee.” Manley was a trade unionist and politician, who many continue to believe falsely led a revolt against neo-colonialism. Manley was able to co-opt through symbolically embracing Haile Selassie and taking on the prophet identity of Joshua.

Michael Manley was falsely labeled by the US as a communist threat during the period of 1974-1975. Norman and Michael Manley actually repeatedly purged people they deemed radical from their political party going back to the 1940s, as embodied by the “Four Hs.”

Manley obstructed the project of Caribbean federation from below and repressed independent labor action of Jamaicans as a maximum personality of his associated trade union. In Jamaica, like in Antigua and Guyana in certain respects, many trade unions were directly linked to a capitalist political party with progressive pretenses. That is the best way to understand Manley’s People’s National Party that had a long history of purging members dedicated to popular mobilizations or people who were perceived as having radical politics.

We often don’t understand the history of the conflicting tendencies in Caribbean politics more broadly, because rebel individuals protest within party politics and are purged only to return directly or indirectly. In mass party politics there are specialists in popular mobilizations that are always intended to be brought to a timely end, serving the election of those whose main goal is power above society for themselves and those they patronize.

Doctor Politics and One-Menism can lead to ambiguous conclusions just as the popular slogan “Let the People Decide.” These ideas can be wielded at the intersection of participatory democracy and direct democracy. The former is a subordinate discourse to elite representative government. The latter suggests that ordinary people directly govern without professionals as the embodiment of culture and government.


When workplace councils and popular assemblies form, these may appear to suggest the frameworks of direct democracy in terms of process, where those who are not professionals and politicians deliberate and discuss what is to be done. But many can be convinced, or never leave behind the idea, that capitalist politicians and trade union hierarchy can and should govern. This mistake can be labeled “progressive” if these elites advocate and implement certain policies.

The discourse of “Groundings,” as Walter Rodney amplified this idea from the Rastas, has a critique of “politricks.” Still, groundings are also willing to dialogue with any social class, though there is awareness that the average professional is socially blind in significant ways. There is an unexamined tension here. Just as Rodney’s insurgent opposition to the Black political class in Jamaica in 1968 and Guyana in 1980 has been minimized as a relevant legacy for today.

For workplace councils and popular assemblies to arrive consistently at a direct democratic vision and program, dedicated facilitators need to take part in politics which propagate the destruction of hierarchy, not just in how people discuss, but what they ultimately decide. Workplace councils and popular assemblies can disagree on many things without being a failure. Such projects are destroyed when it is decided that ordinary people will not directly govern.


Populism is often misunderstood as an expression of racism and xenophobia though in some places, as embodied by Donald Trump, it is that. Politicians of color in the Caribbean at times have articulated a racial populism against perceived outsiders. More substantially, populism is the idea that wisdom is plentiful among ordinary people to govern.

By articulating the “wisdom of the people,” bad-minded elites can wield this proposition against others of their own social class. Popular mobilizations, especially just for elections, can be a type of crowd politics directed by one form of state bureaucracy against another. This lack of ethics can be wielded by white racists but also people of color who are perceived as rejecting racism. One can reject racism and not discard the empire of capital just as Doctor Politics and One-Menism, expressions that emerge in a populist environment, can be used to ally with hierarchical government and contain the insurgent instincts of ordinary people.


In Trinidad, it is said that Lloyd Best, New World Group political economist and leader of the Tapia group, articulated first the idea of “Dr. Politics” leading some to revel in the irony that Best was “the
Doctor of Doctor Politics.” Best habitually advised Eric Williams, and at insurgent moments in Caribbean History of 1969-71, clearly discredited and disoriented popular uprisings. One can discredit uprisings by joining them and speaking for them, not simply denouncing them.

We might better understand Best’s relationship to the criticism of “Doctor Politics” by recognizing he found this resentment in the populace but purposefully did not put it to maximum use against Caribbean rulers. Best never got his chance to become prime minister after Williams, but like him could make a pappyshow of political criticism that had no clear target. Raising awareness is not an objective that has a clear function.

Best is known for his critique of the legacy of underdevelopment of the plantation economy in the Caribbean. It was not an anti-capitalist critique. Where one diagnoses the problems of global capitalism or white imperialism it does not necessarily mean one mobilizes against accumulation at home and abroad. Otherwise, the well-behaved professionals the Caribbean perennially produce, with a plethora of such analyses, would have overthrown these social relations by now. It is an aspect of the national culture that needs rethinking.

Best epistemically challenged the racism and imperialism that underdeveloped the Caribbean while advising the neo-colonial state how to negotiate its structural dependence in the world system. This is the prime contradiction of most university professionals and trade unionists today. One of the reasons why Best’s archive of thought is being recognized and recorded globally today is because it serves as a firewall between Black rulers in a post-colonial society where instinctively Black commoners wish to lash out against them.


Joseph Edwards, a Jamaican refrigeration mechanic who led strikes of sugar workers, banana workers, and meatpacking workers, popularized the challenge to One-Menism. As a consistent critic of Michael Manley, he best articulated the challenge to politicians falsely representing the dignity of labor. Edwards at the wildcat strike at the Western meat packing plant at Westmoreland, Jamaica, organized a workplace council advocating the importance of rank-and-file workers managing a significant portion of their own dues. Edwards urged financial support be given to single mothers among their group.

Edwards advocated for sugar workers’ councils in the famous Black Power publication Abeng arguing that no matter the union workers were organized in, they were subordinated to electoral and parliamentary party politics without regard to whether their leaders were executives or in opposition. Edwards clarified that labor unions could be run like a business, where there was no significant political education and decision-making meetings for toilers and professional organizers could live a life far removed from those who toiled in workplaces.

Unions could function to discipline labor to the production process while spreading no awareness that the profits in jeopardy were not their own. The two-party union/management sell-out could coerce labor by suggesting their independent labor action was an attack on paltry welfare measures set aside for the poor thereby manipulating workers to remain subordinate.


Andaiye, Walter Rodney’s comrade in Guyana’s Working People’s Alliance and leader of Red Thread Women’s organization, looking back on the Caribbean New Left, has
 rethought politics from the point of view of counting women’s caring work, the collapse of the Women’s League in the Grenada Revolution, and the forgotten historical revolt of Guyanese housewives in 1982-1983. 

Women (like many men) in Caribbean radical movements have not always known how to take initiative in crisis (especially where they are politically organized not to do so). And when they do so, women are not always perceptively recognized (whether by women or men) by those who are observing such interventions first hand. Recognition is key, not for renewing repr
esentation above society, but acknowledging independent ruptures with orthodox frameworks.

Alissa Trotz, scholar and editor of Andaiye’s selected writings The Point is to Change the World, reminds us that she shared with George Lamming’s In the Castle of My Skin, a mindfulness. Caribbean teachers who become politicians, can become like the character “Mr. Slime.” Mr. Slime will create a mutual aid society where he collects the masses money and he is thought of as Moses. He will promise land to the landless, and then hoard the land for himself while evicting commoners off the land. Mr. Slime can initially lead commoners in strike action until they find themselves under his hierarchical rule. Somehow Mr. Slime, a seemingly activist voice, comes to monopolize all the property of his village.

Andaiye also saw that there are “Mrs.” And “Ms. Slimes.” Under the guise of an intersectional analysis (gender, race, and class), women professionals and administrators can become overlords in the name of development, NGOs and international consulting work. Andaiye, following the poetry of Martin Carter, was in search of new political formations of the wageless and wished to forge a “free community of valid persons,” alert that elitist and even progressive politics was organized in a way that did not see Caribbean commoners as politically or economically viable. The archive of Andaiye can contribute to advancing the critique of Doctor Politics and One-Menism.


Why does the Caribbean radical tradition as embodied by the critique of “Doctor Politics” and “One-Menism” never complete itself fully? There appear to be at least two reasons. First, in the Caribbean there is a disturbing pattern of purported radicals and progressives going in and out of elite party politics and representative government. An ethical and evolving person can begin in electoral and capitalist party politics to ultimately grow and lead a rupture with these on principle. This can help educate their audience about the bankruptcy of institutions. However, a continuing collaboration with elite factions reveals a loyalty only to ethnic patronage politics and the politics of racial insecurity. This can misleadingly be framed a politics of national purpose.

Those who genuinely believe society is not arranged properly for ordinary people to govern must stay away from elite party politics and trade union hierarchy and help a more grassroots gathering of forces find and maintain their autonomy. They cannot steer it back into the old mess. Such people who go in and out of electoral politics and advise hierarchical administrations speaking of a national purpose and popular assemblies for Caribbean people are not credible.

Second, the logical fulfillment of the critique of Doctor Politics and One-Menism is to advise the toilers about historical experiments in, and challenges to, the direct self-government of working people, the unemployed, the wageless, and caregivers. Most often ordinary people will not mind someone with formal education who is genuine and engages them confident in popular capacities. Such confidence cannot be a mere trope or cheap trick. Can prime ministers, hierarchical administrators, and everyday people all be beautiful and heroic? Who proposes to sustain that “activists” should be advising above and below society?

Too many Caribbean thinkers and populist intellectuals on a world scale, speak as if they wish to liberate ordinary people from obscurity while expressing loyalty to hierarchy and domination. The politics of mass mobilization should be checked by a clear awareness of the goals as we go marching. Where we are valid persons, our consciousness need not be raised by those so mediocre in vision and malicious in intent, that they will obstruct everyday people directly governing.

Too often, we learn by experience, what we begin marching for, is in fact not what we exactly wanted. Yet, overcoming mistakes, like our relationship to the fraud of elite representative government, is what radical democratic politics is all about. We cannot have genuine workplace councils and popular assemblies that directly govern when they share a belief that politicians and administrators above society can be basically good and have some useful function. Democracy is majority rule not minority rule through periodic elections and professional appointments.


Caribbean politics has a tradition of talking about ordinary people – how beautiful and creative they can be. What the fulfilment of the challenge to Doctor Politics and One-Menism requires is that those who offer counsel, must refuse office and professional administration. We should not aspire, or support the aspirations to run a government, a political party or trade union above society. The power to be found in workplaces and neighbourhoods is the antidote to Doctor Politics and One-Menism.

Some may hesitate to agree and say: “Well protest is nice but it is the policies in government that matter.” I did not suggest the power in these locations was to protest, but to govern. A protest strictly speaking, is an appeal to hierarchical government. Of course, when we mobilize, we can petition and protest as a means to expose those who rule above society. But we must be alert and ring the alarm that there are activists for the government who wish to sustain those who keep us down, not help us create our own direct self-government. We must be alert that calls for “people’s centered movements” include some other social class, perhaps off-center for a brief moment, that in fact aspires to rule.

Be alert for those who wish to liberate everyday people from the obscurity of themselves and still wish to advise those who govern above society. Let’s renew our critique of Doctor Politics and One-Menism making it more consistent, and our awareness and challenges to them stronger.

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