Where we stand‎ > ‎News & Comment‎ > ‎


posted 22 Jun 2012, 14:44 by Gerry Kangalee

This website publishes a lightly edited version of the address made by President of the Banking, Insurance and General Workers Union (BIGWU), Vincent Cabrera at the June 19th 2012 Labour Day celebrations in Fyzabad

“I wish to bring to you militant and revolutionary Labour Day greetings! As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the modern trade union movement, let us all join together and loudly proclaim the battle cry: “We are Butlerites!”; “We are Butlerites!”; “We are Butlerites!” 

Today, we invoke the memory of the warrior workers of 1937, led by the Chief Servant – Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler. The Butlerites charted a new course for all workers in Trinidad and Tobago. It was Butler who negotiated the first collective agreement in our country with an overtime clause. For his valiant efforts at agitating, mobilising and organising Comrade Butler was rewarded by being loved by the workers. 

Indeed, right here at Charlie King Junction, a particularly brutal and unpopular colonial policeman failed in his attempt to arrest the Chief Servant. For that he paid with his life. On the other side of the fence La Brea Charles, a comrade who had a marked resemblance for Comrade Butler was shot dead by a colonial policeman. These are but two examples of what took place in the disturbances, as the period is referred to; disturbances which spread like wildfire throughout the Caribbean.   

It is absolutely imperative for us all to understand that the historical mission of the working class, which was started by the Butlerites, may have continued, but has yet to be completed. But exactly what is our mission? Our mission comrades, is to take control of political and economic power in Trinidad and Tobago! 

Comrades, I wish to mention a number of struggles which are all taking place among the working people in our country. These struggles involve genuine and justified attempts by workers and their trade unions, in the service sector, to improve their standard of living and to enjoy real decent work standards. 

I want to mention firstly that the Telecommunication Services of Trinidad and Tobago Limited (TSTT) have been waging constant warfare against the Communication Workers Union (CWU) and their members. The company continues to announce billion dollar plans for expenditure of massive quanta of money on 4G technology; plans which have not been discussed with the Union. 

In fact only yesterday TSTT published results which show that the Company continues to be very profitable indeed. TSTT has refused to submit a proposal on wage increases to the CWU for the Collective Agreement relative to the period 2008 to 2010. 

The Company is also refusing to apply payment of COLA based on the New Index which was converted in 2003. Comrades, on this the 75th anniversary of the modern Labour Movement, I want you to join with me to condemn TSTT Executive management for conducting a most backward form of industrial relations in Trinidad and Tobago. I stand here in solidarity with the members of the CWU and urge them to continue the struggle until victory is secured.

I must also mention the Trinidad and Tobago Postal Corporation (TTPOST), who has also refused to put a salary increase proposal on the table in relation to the collective agreement for period 2008 to 2010, in their negotiations with the Postal Workers Union (TTPWU), which began since January of 2012. 

TTPOST must be condemned for reorganising the postal services in such a way, that at some locations only one worker is stationed; they must also be condemned for refusal to implement the results of a recently conducted Job Evaluation and for the extremely slow pace at which they have been conducting collective bargaining with the Postal Workers Union. 

We urge all members of the Postal Workers Union to band together and ensure that victory is realised for postal workers in Trinidad and Tobago. Workers of TSTT and TTPOST are well advised to collaborate and join forces to carry the struggle to both employers. JTUM is ready and willing to lend solidarity to your cause. 

Comrades as we meet here today, the workers of Cipriani College of Labour and Cooperatives continue to face the five percent cap, despite the claim by certain government politicians, that there is no 5 percent cap and that there was never a five percent cap. Such politicians including the Prime Minister would have you believe that the five percent cap is the figment of someone’s imagination. 

They would have you believe that we just got up one morning and wickedly accused the government of imposing the cap. We all know however that this government is one that says: “Yesterday was yesterday and today is today”. 

Well, we know that yesterday the Prime Minister herself said that the state companies could not pay more than the five percent. Their incipient intrusion into collective bargaining is matched only by their lies and deception. We resisted the cap, before the State of Emergency, during the State of Emergency and will continue to do so, as long as that proposal is on the table. 

Those who have ears in the government had better listen up. Cipriani is a University, producing tertiary level graduants; the lecturers and the administrative employees must be paid at University rates. I am today proposing that we forge an alliance, between the workers of UWI, UTT and Cipriani and begin to hot up the place. 

We intend to camp in front the office of the Prime Minister to bring this to her attention. Cipriani workers are paid less than UWI and UTT despite the fact that at these two latter institutions negotiations are ongoing in one case and have not yet begun in the other case. Cipriani workers are you prepared to struggle? 

Then the struggle has to be carried outside the institution if our message is to be heard. I wish to assure the workers of Cipriani College that your trade union leaders are prepared to walk the extra mile and we shall do all in our power, arm in arm with the workers, to ensure that the struggle for decent wages and the struggle for tertiary labour education are won. 

I want to turn now to developments related to the credit union movement. BIGWU has been successful at winning salary increases for workers in the credit union sector ranging from twelve percent to as much as thirty three percent. 

Yet, Eastern Credit Union which now boasts about eleven branches, have offered the Union substandard salary increases. With a new overpaid CEO, they are attempting to hoodwink workers while at the same time attempting to victimize branch leaders. Let me sound a warning. The BIGWU has been able to forge a unity amongst finance workers. 

We intend to lead a massive march against Eastern Credit Union, consisting of workers from throughout the Credit Union sector, inclusive of bank workers and members of the Joint Trade Union Movement. It is workers like us who are members of credit unions. 

The credit union movement grew out of the trade union movement. It is ironic that after credit union workers sacrificed for long years with miniscule wages, that today former bank managers have been employed as credit union managers and the Boards of Directors of many credit unions are deliberately hostile to trade unionism and unionisation of their workers. 

Instead of fighting down trade unions, credit unions should join the struggle which the unions are putting up in defence of the working people of this country. 

BIGWU does not want to close down the operation of any credit union, but if we have no choice we shall withdraw our labour. The voice of workers at Eastern will not be stifled and we shall resist every attempt at worker victimization. 

Comrades, people of Fyzabad, an epic struggle has been unfolding at Republic Bank Limited, where over 2500 workers have been engaged in collective bargaining with their employer. That bank has been posting profit figures of over a billion dollars annually. The bank’s income has been increasing by over 5% annually. 

Dividend interest paid to shareholders is more than 7% annually. The CEO of Republic Bank has refused to publish his salary, on the grounds that it is unsafe to do so. Based on an initial analysis done by the Union’s Education and Research Department, it was determined that there was massive inequality between salaries paid to the bank workers and salaries paid to the fat cat, big boys at Republic Bank. 

For that statement which was made at the TCL strike camp on May Day, the bank had the audacity to expend their dollars on a firm of attorneys whose ancestry can be traced to the times when they were importers of slaves. Yes, they sent me a pre-action protocol letter. 

Let me make it pellucidly clear! No amount of pre protocol letters will silence the BIGWU. Therese Mills of Newsday newspaper tried that a few years ago. She is so vindictive that she has placed a ban on the use of my picture or name in her newspaper. So much for the freedom of the press! 

The Central Bank Governor tried the same thing in 2010, when I accused him of unethical behaviour, for refusal to pay severance to CIB workers. Republic Bank can afford to pay a hundred percent increase and still make their money. 

It is simply capitalist greed along with their willingness to act as an ideological guide for employers in the finance sector, which is preventing them from agreeing with the union on appropriate salary increases. 

I wish to throw out a challenge to Republic Bank workers. Each of you must find a way to mobilize at least five other workers. When that task is accomplished we will announce a major initiative which will involve all workers in the finance sector. We intend to rock the finance sector; yes I say rock it! 

Let me move on to First Citizens. That bank has been extremely profitable; they have recently acquired a Barbadian bank. As in the case of Republic, it is the workers who are responsible for the Bank’s performance and productivity. 

The BIGWU has received reports that Mr. Dookeran has refused to give any instructions to the bank and so the bank has refused to initiate collective bargaining despite the Union submission of proposals for over one year. First Citizens have asked Republic to keep their salary offer down because of the effect it will have on their negotiations. 

Workers of First Citizens are hereby placed on alert! The time for action is coming. Howai and his cohorts are determined to sell our national patrimony for a few pieces of silver. We are faced with the threat of privatisation. The new owners will certainly engage in restructuring, workers will be retrenched, and an attempt will be made to impose a wage freeze on the workers. Workers at First Citizens: either we struggle together or we die together. 

Comrades, again at the Trinidad and Tobago Mortgage Finance Company we are faced with the albatross of the Finance Minister. The Board of Directors of TTMF had agreed to a fifteen per cent increase. Dookeran enquired if they could sustain this increase; they replied in the affirmative; yet Dookeran instructed the TTMF to offer only 5%. If this is not wickedness, it is cruelty and evil all mixed up into one. 

We use this occasion of Labour Day to announce to the public that the five percent cap is still alive and kicking and the workers of this country and their trade union must continue the struggle to burn, destroy and bury that cap, once and for all. 

Comrades, members of the media, we of the BIGWU are quite satisfied with the withdrawal of the MSJ from the Peoples Partnership Government. In fact the government had become a partnership wreck, and some have renamed the government, the People’s Parasites. The government is guilty of supporting old draconian laws and even passing more draconian laws which can be applied to the detriment of workers in any financial institution which is taken over by the Central Bank. 

In the case of the CLICO Investment Bank (CIB), in February of 2009, over one hundred workers were sent home by the Central Bank, their services terminated, without a cent in severance pay, for no other reason than the crookedness of people like Duprey and Monteil. 

In their ongoing efforts to frustrate workers’ claims, the employers’ attorneys argued that the Central Bank is not the employer and therefore not liable to pay severance; even though it was the Central Bank which sent the workers home. 

This happened under the PNM and despite representation made to Dookeran to right this wrong, what this nasty anti-worker government has done, is to pass legislation to prevent everybody, workers included, from making claims against CLICO and any other financial institution that is being restructured under Central Bank supervision. 

This is what the Central Bank Amendment Bill, 2011, means for retrenched workers of CIB, CLICO and British American Insurance Company. BIGWU was stopped from pursuing a dismissal against a CLICO worker because of this oppressive, asinine, unjust law. The Industrial Court refused to hear the matter half way during the process of arbitration on the grounds that the law prevented any claims being made against CLICO. 

Finance workers must understand that not only their right to severance pay is being threatened, but the very right to representation by your trade union, has been taken away by this right wing madman called Dookeran. 

I call on all workers in the financial services sector to condemn this law and demand that our rights are protected and guaranteed. 

BIGWU hereby lodges a formal complaint to this assembly of the people at Fyzabad: in the area of inequality, a 2007 – 2008 managerial and professional compensation report puts annual Chief Executive Officer (CEO) base salary in 2001 at over $35.000.00 per month. That is just basic salary. It does not include perks and bonuses. 

Over the next five years there was a more than 50 per cent upward movement. By 2007, executive pay more than doubled over the period to an average of $80.000.00 per month. While these fat cats and supporters of capitalism were living of the fat of the land they were telling workers to accept the government’s five percent wage cap. I ask the workers here gathered, do you support these ridiculous salaries for fat cat CEOs? Do you support this level of inequality?”