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1989 GENERAL STRIKE: WE WENT TO THE WORKERS by Cecil Paul

posted 16 Jul 2013, 08:25 by Gerry Kangalee
After being betrayed by the PP Government our trade union leaders still have not learned the lesson that T&T's political parties and political leaders belong to an elite Professional Class whose political careers and election victories are financed by business empires and rich elites and therefore when in power their (politicians) focus is to repay their financiers with overpriced business deals from state resources and political appointments. 

From these corrupted deals politicians receive kickbacks that enrich them and make them multimillionaires. Both corrupted parties (the business ruling class and the political elites) are in a win-win arrangement at the expense of peoples' development. Political Parties in Trinbago have a financial agreement to serve their business financiers not working people. 
 
Why then are trade union leaders surprised that the Workers Agenda has not and will not be implemented by the PP Government? The Workers Agenda looks to improve the living standards of working people which eats into the obscene profits of the corporations and financiers. The PP government can never increase the starvation minimum wages and conditions without the approval of the business class. 
 
Throughout history the working people of Trinbago never received any benefits from the ruling classes. All the benefits and improvements we gained resulted from our own sweat, blood and tears and our struggles. Why then do our trade union leaders believe that forming an alliance with the PNM will see the Workers Agenda being implemented? 
 
IS THE PNM DIFFERENT? 
 
Is the PNM different from the PP? Is it merely a difference of form between the parties but not of substance? Have they (both parties) not been implementing the same policies since 1986? Remember the NAR, UNC, COP are the same with the same recycled corrupted anti-worker politicians. While the “stable” PNM remains the same with all of its anti-worker policies and its own library of corruption. Massa bull, Massa cow; same old khaki pants! 

If the MSJ wants to form an alliance or a working relationship with the PNM as they did with the PP, they are free as a political party so to do, but to involve the labour movement in that relationship is to compromise the vital interests of the workers and to sell out the independence of the trade union movement and tie the hands of the workers behind their own backs. 
 
This is dangerous and could lead to disaster for working people. There must be a clear demarcation of both entities. Labour leaders fail to understand and have not come to terms with the fact that the very union and non union workers who are members and supporters of the corrupted parties do not want the trade unions to be compromised by an alliance with political parties as it takes away their protective armour. 

If some labour leaders want political office, they must do so under the umbrella of their party - the MSJ. If they want to form another "Partnership", this time with the PNM, having already being taken for a nonexistent ride by the PP, they must do so with the MSJ and not prostitute the trade union movement to achieve their ends. 
 
By using the historical struggles of working people to serve themselves with Ministerial and Senatorial appointments while the workers got wage restraint of 5%, job losses in the State Sector and social programmes and political victimization because of perceived political allegiances, these trade union leaders entered into a self serving Partnership with politicians who previously had cut workers wages by 10% and took away their COLA. 
 
CAPABLE AND WILLING 
 
Our history informs us that working people are capable and willing to struggle for political, economic and social justice: from breaking up the barrack system in oil and sugar, to Adult Franchise and the right to form trade unions, getting rid of Colonialism and gaining Independence and then vastly improving the living standards of workers. 

We don't need any party that is not our own working people and farmers’ party to fight for us. We can fight for ourselves. To illustrate the self reliance of the trade union movement, we went into the archives of the Council of Progressive Trade Unions (CPTU) and the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) to give an example of just one period in our struggles to defend and promote the interests of working people in Trinbago. We use the period of the NAR Government when many of the people in the PP Government today were Ministers and powerful players in the 1986 to 1991 period. 
 
When we were confronted with the IMF measures of 1987- 91, the unions got together under the banner of the JTUM and brought out the ALL UNIONS NATIONAL COSSABO which mandated the CPTU and the Labour Congress to organize for a national strike. The JTUM set up a mobilization committee comprising Alva Allen, Lyle Townsend, George Camps, and Ross Alexander to do the mobilization plan. The plan was accepted by the JTUM and by the Federations and implemented by the Committee. 

WAR COUNCIL 
 
A Secretariat or War Council was established comprising of the General Secretary of the CPTU and First Vice President and Chief Labour Relations Officer of the Oilfields Workers Trade Union (OWTU), Cecil Paul; Assistant General Secretary of the CPTU and Labour Relations Officer of the OWTU, Alva Allen; Dr. Kenrick Rennie, President of the Public Services Association and Albert Aberdeen, President of Transport and Industrial Workers’ Union (TIWU) who served as President and Vice President of the JTUM respectively. 
 
Joint meetings were organised at strategic locations. For example, there was a massive meeting in the Rio Claro Junction bringing together Government daily paid workers, public servants, T&TEC workers and Teachers. They were addressed by various trade union leaders calling for support for the Day of Resistance on 6th March, 1989. 
 
The very first meeting was held on the POS Docks and was chaired by Vernon Glean. Errol McLeod spoke at that meeting. Meetings at T&TEC, ISCOTT, PTSC and WASA come to mind easily. We went to the workplaces and addressed the workers. They were able to see that all the unions were holding one common position and were engaging in massive mobilization. This gave them strength, a sense of solidarity and a good chance of victory against the pauperization policies. 

These acts of Unity and Solidarity gave rise to the big public meetings, like the one in Mid Centre Mall where the date for the strike was finally announced. All that time the momentum was building and the second line leaders were saying in the Cossabo that the workers only wanted to hear the date for the strike. Of course we sought the support of the Taxi and maxi associations. Essentially we relied on our own efforts to mobilise the workers to fight their own agenda. 
 
We did our announcements in the communities for ourselves and at times keeping our own spot meetings. We also solicited and won public opinion on our side as we defeated government in all the radio and TV debates. 
 
We fought for our own agenda for ourselves. Where would we be today if T&TEC workers didn’t strike against the removal of COLA? Would we have stopped the 10% pay cut if teachers didn’t close down all the schools and the public servants didn’t shut down the public service and workers and the general public did not support our just cause? 

Shop Stewards at a COSSABO called for a mass-based peoples' organization which led to the formation of the Summit of Peoples Organizations (SOPO) which broadened the struggle. All this was done without any lobbying of any political party for "help". 
 
ON THE GROUND 

How was all of this possible? We did our work on the ground because the shop stewards and branch officers made it happen at the work place. It was the workers’ fight and they fought and beat back the advance of the IMF programme. WE RELIED ON NO POLITICAL PARTY TO DO THAT FOR US. We relied on the workers and their leaders at the work site and the working people of the country. 

Why have we since 2010 depended on the politicians to do what we can do for ourselves when history has shown us that politicians have never given workers anything but anti-worker policies and repression. Our history is littered with oppressive actions and policies against poor and working people. 

One wonders if our trade union leaders have lost faith in workers are feel we are incapable of winning battles and protecting and promoting our own interests against the onslaught of Big Business, corrupted politicians and party financiers. 

Have they forgotten or don't know the working class history of T&T? We in the labour movement certainly don't need the empty promises and betrayals of political parties who historically serve their political financiers and who invest in a system of corrupted political governance.
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