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DEMOCRACY AND THE NATIONAL INTEREST by Sylvestre McLaren

posted 21 Jul 2011, 22:35 by Gerry Kangalee

The national community is now aware that the trade union movement has called on the Prime Minister to remove the 5% cap that was placed on wage and salary negotiations. This call was supported by a massive demonstration of workers which delivered a letter to the P.M. in which certain demands were made on behalf of the workers of T&T.

 This action by the unions is an expression of their right to free speech; the right to freedom of assembly and the right to make known the extent of their dissatisfaction with the position taken by the 

government in the matter of their wage negotiations. The Unions also made clear their intention to take strike action if their demands were not met. e spin doctors in the government and the media went to work to dampen the effect of the unions’ action on the minds of the citizenry. The Employers Consultative Association (E.C.A.) said the threat of a national strike w

as highly irresponsible. Government Ministers in the persons of Dr. Tewarie and Minister of Labour Errol McLeod attempted to get the unions to go back around the table which they never left.

 While all these attempts were made to get the unions to act in a manner of the 

government’s choosing, rumours were spreading that the national strike would happen on Thursday 21, July 2011. Union leaders were described as being selfish and workers were also accused of only wanting more and more money. The government was also busy making plans to meet head on any possibility of a national strike.

 At times like these the worker with the analytic eye should begin to see how democracy in a capitalist society works. Here you have the government declaring its intention to protect the national interest against the demands of the unions who represent the interests of the working class, the vast majority of the citizenry who live in the State. It’s absurd! The government defending the national interest by shooking the protective services on the citizenry of the nation.

 Whose national interest does the state really intend to defend? Is it the interest of the working people who are in the majority or that of big business that are in the minority? Some of us who have been looking at the actions of governments in capitalist societies know that it is the interest of big business that is being described as the national interest.

 Democracy in a capitalist society is premised on the economic foundation of who owns and controls the means of production. Here in Trinidad and Tobago, very little has changed since slavery and indentureship. The majority is treated as a minority in an environment where it should be recognized for what it is - the majority! That is what the working class is!

 But no respect is given to “it” which is responsible for producing the wealth of the society. This is borne out by the fact that while prices keep rising workers are expected to make do with 5%; yet the government continues to find money for every imaginable thing.

Apologists for the government say the government cannot do better. What rubbish! Democracy is not only about your right to vote every five years. It is also about the right of the working class who are in the majority to enjoy the largest slice of the economic pie.

 In the not too distant future, the working class will have to define its national interest and whether it is being served in the current political and economic system. A distinction will have to be made between the national interest of the working class and that of the capitalist. In so doing the contradiction between labour and capital; employer and worker will be exposed. The fact is that these interests are diametrically opposed to each other.

 You see the democracy that we practice cannot serve the interest of these two classes indefinitely without conflict erupting at times. In some societies when the minority class defends its class interest against the majority class which it consciously exploits, class conflict breaks out into civil war.

 In this country, we have had many instances of class struggle over the last hundred years: the 1919 general strike; 1937 worker-led anti-colonial insurrection, 1946-1947 when Butler led the workers in a series of strikes, the 1970s and 1989-1990. What was absent was the leadership of a certain type that was capable of guiding the struggle to a conclusion which encapsulated the political and economic interest of the working class.

 In that regard however, the ruling class was not found wanting. They responded with brute force in 1919, 1937, 1970 and Bloody Tuesday in 1975. They marshalled their forces and descended on the working class like a ton of bricks in defence of their class interest.

 Several individuals have written books about these instances of class struggle. What I am not aware of is whether progressive elements have done any analysis of the successes or failures of the leadership of these struggles. But what we know as a fact is that the working class fought for the right to form trade unions in 1937 and the right to vote in 1946. In 1970 the struggle was for the nationalization of the commanding heights of the economy and against the racist employment practices of the ruling classes. All these were struggles for democracy for the working class. The struggle for democracy found expression in the many strikes which occurred over recognition rights in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

 In the current political and economic climate commencing in 2009, the ruling elite found that the P.N.M. had out lived its usefulness and, with the support of the workers a new government calling itself the Peoples Partnership came into office. Workers have now become painfully aware that the PP represents the other side of the same coin. That is to say: like the PNM it also represents the class interest of the capitalist.

 In the face of this reality, the workers and their unions must come to the understanding that the struggle against the 5% cap being imposed on public sector negotiations is a struggle for democracy and in the national interest. That is why the trade union movement must unite as they have never done before to ensure that the working class is victorious by carving out more space for itself in this capitalist democracy. The interest of the working class is the national interest.

 

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