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posted 29 Nov 2012, 03:09 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 29 Nov 2012, 14:11 by Dave Smith ]
The n
ewly-installed President General of the All Trinidad General
Workers Trade Union (ATGWTU), Nirvan Maharaj delivered the following address at a recent function to celebrate the seventy fifth anniversary of the union.
Seventy-five years ago on this very day, The All Trinidad Gener
al Wor
kers Trade Union, your Union, was registered, thereby laying the foundation for the development of an institution, that to this very day continues to make a momentous and
overwhelming contribution to the development of our beloved Trinidad and Tobago

But more significant is the fact, that this is an organisation which emerged out of the depths of unrelenting poverty, an organisation created to provide hope and sanctuary and a medium of change, in answer to the pleadings of a people facing harsh, terrible and oppressive conditions of life at that time.

Interestingly enough and based on the historical antecedents of the past, colonialism and slavery and indentureshi
p, every single one of us sitting here today, if we go back far enough into our personal history, may very well find that at least one of our forefathers would have laboured in the fields of this nation, in cocoa, coffee, sugar, coconut and even peasant farming. 
It is for this singular reason that the All Trinidad Union must be viewed by the national community and more so by you the membership as a sacred institution, a historical symbol, containing a personal part of every single one of us, who are here today, simply because, when sugar became king, and Europe demanded more, our forefathers were brought here to labour in the plantation fields of the new world. 

And so you must never forget that this Union, your Union was moulded and shaped by the struggles of the past, a union built on the sacrifice, the sweat, the toil and the tears of our forefathers as they attempted to create a life out of the cane fields to which they first came.

You must never forget, the battles fought in the sugar industry, more so in 1934 when 15 thousand sugar workers downed tools throughout the sugar industry and protested, and demonstrated and demanded better working conditions: men and women who were not afraid to challenge the might of the colonial authorities, in order to ensure a future for their children and the generations to come.

You must never forget 1937 when oil and sugar united as a formidable force, Indians and Africans uniting together to challenge the might of the colonial dragon.

You must never forget more recently, 1975, when oil and sugar united again, in the march for bread, peace and justice. When our African and Indian brothers marched hand in hand, demanding better living and working conditions, and together faced the tear gas, bullets and batons of the police force unleashed against them by the then PNM government.

The membership of this Union must never forget, that in every, struggle, every battle fought on behalf of the working class of this nation, the All Trinidad was always a part of that struggle.

You must never forget the good we have achieved, the contributions made, the struggles, the sacrifices, the battles fought and the victories won.

Never forget that as strange as it may seem to us today, there was a time in this nation of ours when men were willing to fight and die for causes and nothing more. When men genuinely believed in the concept of equality and brotherhood and were willing to sacrifice themselves so that the people of this nation could have a better life.

You must never forget the struggles fought and the battles won, because if you do, then you become complacent and the rights and privileges you now enjoy, that which your forefathers would have fought for and laid the foundation for that which is due to you, which you earned by your sweat and your toil, that which was not won overnight, but took many daunting years to achieve, could be easily taken away from you through the disguise of legality and reform and restructuring and policy and nice promises.

You see brothers and sisters, the struggle is not over, the struggle will always exist, because the working class of this nation will always have to fight, and beg, and protest and demonstrate, for the rights that are due to them.

You have to fight for better wages, you have to fight against 5 %, you have to fight for a better working environment, you have to fight against technocrats implementing economic policies without taking into consideration the adverse social and economic consequences on you.

You have to fight for labour reform, even though there are so called representatives of the labour movement in Government. Every single tangible benefit the working class has ever gained in this nation, you have had to fight for it. Worse than this is that you have to fight against those who are supposed to be representing your interest.

In fact these same people who walked side by side with you and who having now attained political office suddenly realise that the main purpose for being a member of parliament or a minister, is nothing more than an opportunity to buy a black Prado with tinted glass and a driver to open their door and carry the food they would take away after attending official functions.

It has become so ridiculous, obscene and vulgar, that Government officials and Members of Parliament, expect to be praised and thanked for paving a road, building a box drain or providing water to a community. They expect you to go down on your knees and thank them for doing their job, for doing what they are paid to do in the first place.

There is no doubt that Labour has again been betrayed by those who profess to have labour at heart. And in order for labour to deal with this betrayal, there must be unity on the labour front. Trade Unions must unite together; we must become a band of brothers united together in a common cause. We cannot and will never succeed if we continue to allow petty differences to take precedence over the good of this nation.

Labour will always fail if we continue to sacrifice the interest of the working class on the altar of pettiness and political expediency. Labour must never have to depend on gifts or handouts from any politician or political party.

We must remember that we are the representatives of the struggles of our forefathers as they tried to forge a society from the cane fields to which they first came and the time has come when we the labour movement must say enough is enough.

The time has come to stand up and say whatever it takes we are going to protect what is ours that we will decide what is to be done with the legacy that was left to us by the sweat of our fathers and our ancestors. You did not beg anybody for the rights and privileges you enjoy, nobody did you a favour, this was not a gift, this is what you earned and worked for, and this is due to you.

We must therefore demand what is ours, we must demand our due, we must demand our rights, we must be united in battle and when we speak we must speak with the legitimacy of thousands of workers whom we represent.

Today I make a plea, I appeal to the leaders of the Trade Union Movement, I appeal to Natuc, I appeal to Fitun, I appeal to the joint trade union movement, l appeal to the Independent trade unions, let us meet together at the table of brotherhood, let us forge a new direction, let us begin afresh to chart a pathway of labour unity never before seen in this nation.

Let us create a labour lobby as powerful as any political party. So that never again in this nation will any Minister of Government be so bold as to tell labour to wine to the side. Let us unite for if we don’t we shall perish.

I will even go so far as to say, perhaps the time has come for the Trade union movement, to embark upon a struggle to change the psyche of our people, to change the consciousness of our people, to change from a culture of mediocrity to a culture based on fairness, equality and justice. Our struggles must never be selective, what is good for one must be good for all.

Perhaps the time has come for the trade union movement to begin the process of educating our people, of teaching them that Ministers and Members of Parliament are nothing more than persons holding on to a job.

That they are public servants; that their duty and responsibility is to serve you the people, not the people serving them. How terrible an injustice to our society, when you have Ministers and Members of Parliament, without an original idea, without, independent thought, without logic or rationale, some who can’t even string a proper sentence together or write a proper essay, some who do not even have the decency to respond to their constituents, but yet expecting you the people to honour them.

Truly the time has come for the Trade Union Movement to begin the process of breaking the shackles of mental bondage that makes us believe that elections and parliament are only about Party politics.

Maybe just maybe, the time has come, for us to recreate the age of the Independent candidate as an option to the mockery that passes as candidate selection for constituencies.

Win lose or draw, why can’t the Trade Union movement begin the symbolic gesture of putting up candidates in any constituency it may so choose. Why can’t the All Trinidad put up a candidate in Couva North or Couva South, why can’t OWTU put up a candidate in Point Fortin or Point a Pierre or the PSA in Bon Air/ Lopinot or Maloney /La Horquetta?

As Trade Union leaders we cannot continue to sit on the sideline and allow party politicians to take this nation, our nation, into a dark abyss of no return.

This is our nation and we must decide if we are going to be part of the problem or part of the solution. I say, this very day that the trade union movement must charge itself with the responsibility of creating a new political dispensation for the people of our beloved nation.

We as leaders of civil society must never again allow ourselves to sustain a system based on exploitation, favouritism, racism, discrimination and nepotism. We must challenge both sides of the divide and demand change. If we don’t then history will never forgive us.

Today comrades the All Trinidad face many battles, as the general secretary would have indicated to you, because of the historical dynamics of the past, the All Trinidad still has a residual interest in the affairs of the Ex-Caroni employees and as such must play its part in any issue affecting the Ex-Caroni workers.

The appeal against the Deyalsingh Judgement by the former regime was withdrawn by this government, yet after two and a half years this government is unable to fulfil its promise to the ex-Caroni workers. In fact you have a Minister of Food Production and a Minister of Housing who have basically refused to meet with the All Trinidad to discuss the plight of these workers.

This chap, this Minister of Food Production, Devant Maharaj has with utter audacity and impunity, treated the Ex-Caroni workers with total disdain and contempt, by refusing to meet with us to discuss the difficulties facing these workers.

This is the same Minister, Devant Maharaj, who when 17 workers of Caroni Ltd 1975 were viciously, and callously fired on the eve of the 50th Anniversary of our Independence, he had the gall to say no one was fired. When we produced the letters of termination to the media, he buried his head in the sand and to this date, total silence from him on this issue.

But we have not forgotten, and we will deal with this issue when the time is just right and in due course.

We have not forgotten that by its very actions, this Government seems intent on deliberately frustrating the ex-Caroni workers. It seems intent on making it impossible for these workers to effectively take possession of the lands that are legally due to them. In fact if after 10 years 25% percent of the provisions of the VSEP package with regard to land development and distribution have taken place then that is plenty.

Yet the Government is seeking to go to Guyana to engage in agriculture, while turning a blind eye to the plight of the farmers and cane farmers and ex-Caroni workers in Trinidad and Tobago.

It is my view, as though the Government is intent on undermining and destroying the small farmers in Trinidad and Tobago, destroying a way of life for thousands of our people or simply to make their technocrats and advisors many of whom probably never even planted a head of lettuce or a tomato tree their life, feel as though they are working for their day’s pay.

I want to point out one thing to the Government,

Section 59 of the Deyalsingh judgment states it understands that such an exercise will take some time to be finalized. But it understands, too, that Government has the power and the capacity to expedite the process if it so desires. The exercise was after all, in the hands of a Ministerial Committee, a Land Use Planning Team, Caroni and the EMBDC, the latter two being wholly owned State-owned Companies. 

61) On the facts and in all the circumstances of this case, I find that the promise to the former sugar workers has not been kept and that their legitimate expectation has been and is being frustrated by the lack of reasonably expeditious action.

62) Government’s lack of the sense of urgency with this matter warranted is in my view, tantamount to an abuse of power. 

The Order 

98) There will therefore, be judgement for the Applicant as follows:

(a) A Declaration that the Respondents have deprived the former sugar workers of Caroni (1975) Ltd. who are eligible, of their legitimate expectation to have Agricultural plots and/or residential lots conveyed to
them by way of lease. 

(b) A Mandatory Order that the Respondents, soon or before 30th June 2008, grant leases to the said Workers of 

(i) 2-acre agricultural plots with all proper Infrastructure including access, drainage and Irrigation facilities to each plot. 
(ii) 1-lot residential lots with all proper Infrastructure including access, water and electricity to each lot. 

Why is the Government following in the footsteps of the former regime and showing contempt for the Deyalsingh Judgment? What is the sinister plot? Is it that they are planning to go to Guyana to engage in agriculture, while placing all of our lands in the Ministry of Housing so that prime agricultural lands could be used for Housing.

Does the Government and those who make decisions involving the agriculture sector believe that in a food shortage, we the citizens of this nation, will be content to eat glass, and concrete and paint and steel.

I am therefore calling upon the Government to do what is right, to do what is just, to do what is fair and seek to ease the dilemma facing the ex-Caroni workers and the farmers of this nation as a whole.

I say to the Government that you must understand that the people are waiting, the people from the plantation fields upon whose backs you would have stood, whose backs today provide the foundation upon which you stand, they are waiting.

Remember always that any people, no matter how docile, no matter how passive, no matter how humble, if pushed too far; if they are betrayed by those whom they trusted to seek their interest; if they feel hopeless and spurned, especially by those who they supported, they may very well react in a way not expected of them.

They may very well withhold their support, loyalty and allegiance, in order that it is never again taken for granted.

Comrades, there are so many battles and so little time. When I became President General Of this Union I vowed that never again will the All Trinidad be used and abused by anyone, especially politicians, who pretend to be friends with this Union in order to serve their own ends.

For I know that as the social, political and economic dynamics of our society changed, so too did our union and in order to adapt to the different circumstances, today a union born out of the blood of sugar, represents workers in every sector of this nation. And of that we are extremely proud.

And when I examined our society I knew that as a people we are the collective totality of our shared experiences and circumstances going back over 500 hundred years in the Caribbean. We must therefore reclaim our history, so that the heroes of the past will continue to be the heroes of our children and if we cannot depend on the authorities then we must do so ourselves. You see the history of a people is the history of its heroes.

When I examined our society I am certain that our forefathers are weeping for Trinidad & Tobago. They weep for our ignorance, arrogance, forgetfulness and our lost innocence. They lament that we have forgotten the lessons of our past, that the concepts of brotherhood community neighbourhood, morals values and the oneness that made us who we are, today seems to have faded into oblivion.

The heroes of the past, the simple and not so simple people, those who were willing to give their lives for change are weeping. Those who toiled and sacrificed, so we could enjoy the fruits of their labour, they weep, because we fail to understand or appreciate the battles fought in the towns and villages, the streets and fields of long ago. We are betraying our forefathers.

They weep for the young men in the killing fields of the northern hills. They lament for the sons and daughters, kidnapped and brutalized. They watch as the lives of so many are ruined and constantly washed away by the flood waters now affecting the whole of this nation. Shuddering in disbelief, the ancestors wonder at the housing settlements in prime agricultural land and the destruction of the hills.

Comrades, our forefathers are weeping for a land fertilized by the blood of the indigenous peoples, the slaves, the indentures, the labour leaders gone before us, blood seemingly now to have been shed in vain.

It is for this reason that I again say to the leaders of the Trade Union Movement - let us unite. We do not have to go to war or fight to express our discontent; we do not have to shed blood to stand up for our rights; we simply have to unite as a people, as leaders of civil society and send a message. We must ask ourselves what weakness is this that we cannot see. Where indeed has our spirit as a people gone?

There are times when lines of demarcation must be removed and political, racial, ethnic, and class differences must give way to the good of the country. And we must ask where are the descendents of those who struggled in the Camboulay Riots, who faced the wrath of the colonial authorities in the Jahagee Massacre, who took part in the Water Riots, those who protested and demonstrated in the 1934 and 1937 Riots, where indeed are the descendants of those who were willing to face death in 1970 and others who faced tear gas, bullets and batons in 1975.

If we open a quarrel between the past and present we would find that we have lost the future. It is imperative that the Trade Union Movement reclaim the legacy that was left to it and redefine itself as a pillar of working class struggle and as a check and balance on politicians gone mad.

Comrades, one can speak for hours about the difficulties we face as a people and the solutions needed.

Yet I must start first with the All Trinidad, I cannot call upon you to change if we ourselves are not willing to and so to my members I say, as we travel along a pathway forged from the callous dissolution of the Sugar Industry and carved by the social, political and economic dynamics of an ever changing society, we must create a new dispensation in order to successfully adapt to an environment without sugar and triumph over obstacles both present and future.

After the loss of ten thousand members with the closure of the sugar industry, my vision is to rebuild and place this Union on a sound footing and even with limited resources to be proactive and initiate the process of once again making the All Trinidad a bastion of working class struggle. My goal is to regain this Union its rightful place at the National level, with the respect and prominence due to it.

Dear Comrades, it should always be our intention to pursue as vigorously as possible, the mandate of seeking the interest of our membership and ameliorating the working and living conditions of every worker in this country. We must strive to ensure that every man, woman and child in this nation is afforded equality, fair play and justice before the law and before the institutions that govern our society.

Under my stewardship this union must once again become a watchdog on the society, involving itself in issues of national importance and any other matters affecting the society in an adverse way. It is also essential that we struggle to maintain and ensure the integrity and Independence of this Union, and not to be tied down by historical political ties real or imagined.

I wish to openly praise the Central Executive and General Council Members for taking the initiative to serve their Union and by extension the Nation. At their own level, they have committed to making a difference and protecting the rights of their colleagues. They are indeed leaders in their own right, with little reward but the knowledge and contentment that they are helping to make a difference.

To the general Membership, I say thank you for your continuous support and dedication to this Union, which belongs to all of us, moreso you the membership without whom there could be no union.

We must always seek to conduct ourselves in a manner so as to ensure that the heroes of the past, those who toiled and sacrificed so we could enjoy the fruits of their labour, did not do so in vain and we must be very vigilant, for that which was earned by sweat and tears could be easily eroded by silent and gradual encroachment.

I therefore appeal to you my comrades to strive to make a difference; do not allow the idealism, fire and passion of your youth to be extinguished by the lies, half-truths and innuendos of those who will seek to undermine this union and the labour movement for their own ends. In spite of the many challenges facing us, let us together continue to maintain the pride and dignity of the All Trinidad General Workers Trade Union.

Today our union can stand tall, stand firm and stand proud as a national institution that played a vital role in helping to shape the very fabric, the very essence of what we know today as Trinidad and Tobago.

Yours is a union, comrades, that at 75 years have stood the test of time, and stood strong, even when it faced its darkest hour with the end of sugar.

And though the soothsayers and doomsayers predicted our demise, we are still here today, tough and sturdy, still representing the interest of those we serve.

Remember always that the solutions to our difficulties and the answers to our questions, lie not in the hands of others, we cannot depend on and hope for others to solve our problems, these things lie in our own hands, we have to get up and say what we want, and demand that we be heard and seek our own interest.

I therefore urge you to join with me in rebuilding and restoring the All Trinidad General Workers Trade Union to its rightful place as a major contributor to the holistic development of Trinidad and Tobago.

Let us always be guided by the principle that only in unity can there be strength and let us understand that every single time you stand up for an ideal, or act in such a way as to help others, or strike a blow against injustice, you create a movement of ideas and actions that can build a tsunami that could sweep away mightiest walls of oppression and exploitation. 
My Comrades, at times the task ahead seems daunting, I remember one day I said to Mr. Jaglal, “John it is not easy, at times I stand alone, I cannot please everyone, everything I do is under scrutiny and the buck stops with me, at times the burden of leadership is overwhelming”

John replied to me and I thank him most sincerely for what he said to me, He said PG, even when you are alone, you are never alone, you walk with destiny, you walk with the leaders who have gone before you and you walk with the legacy and the spirits of thousands of people who would have laboured and fought and died for the struggle, you are never alone. I thank you John

Dear Comrades, I want to assure you, that the All Trinidad General Workers Trade Union will be firm and unwavering, we shall not be daunted, we shall not fail or falter, we shall not abandon you, I assure you that we will continue to stand by you, we will struggle with you, we will fight with you and we will never turn our backs on you.

All I ask of you is to help me to help us and by extension the nation.

As Winston Churchill would have said let us do our duty and conduct ourselves in such a manner that if the All Trinidad Union should last for a thousand years, men will still say that this day, this new journey, was its finest hour.

Let us begin this journey together; let us unite together, let us work together to safeguard the future of our nation and our children for generations to come.

Long live the All Trinidad General Workers Trade Union!

Long live the struggle for peace, for justice and for equality!

I thank you, may god bless