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DISMANTLING THE WELFARE STATE By Ken Howell

posted 13 May 2014, 19:57 by Gerry Kangalee
Prior to 1970, Trinidad and Tobago could not be properly described as a welfare state. We had attained Independence in 1962, but all the colonial trappings were still well in place. 1970, the year of the revolt against colonialism, created the conditions for the establishment of such a state and that was possible because of the rise in the price of oil, and the success of the mass movement. 

The people enjoyed a rise in their standard of living, because of the successes of the trade union movement, and the various subsidies which the government were able to provide. This lasted until the price of oil fell drastically in the 1980s and the George Chambers regime could not sustain the subsidies, due to a drop in government revenues. This led to the removal of the Peoples National Movement (PNM) from office in 1986. The National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) won the elections by a landslide vote of 33-3 and set itself the task of disposing of the portfolio of assets which the state was forced to build up because the people had demanded that it do so in 1970. 

It must be understood that the significance of the General Strike on the
Day of Resistance, March 6th 1989 is to be found in the fact that it was a strike against the IMF conditionalities which included the 10% cut in Public Servants salaries and the suspension of cost of living allowances. That was the first step taken by the NAR government in the process of implementing structural adjustment policies as was required by the International Monetary Fund. 

It is important to understand and appreciate the power of the people, when and how they choose to exercise that power. Although neo-liberals and those who are on the extreme right as well as some who purport to be democratic, in the social democratic sense, choose to ignore this fact and argue against governments that establish and finance social programmes, because in their view, tax revenues should not be spent on such programmes. 
 
MASS MOVEMENT

In response, we must let them know that the PNM government of the Dr. Eric Williams era did not nationalize certain enterprises and introduce the social programmes out of the goodness of their hearts; it was because the mass movement of the people demanded that he should do so. Today, students benefit from the Gate programme, the elderly benefit from the CDAP and other subsidies which provide support for travelling, electricity and social assistance. Of course, one can point to widespread corruption and abuses that have been running rampant in these programmes, as well as widespread corruption in state enterprises and utilities, then and even more so now. 
 
However, we cannot and must not, allow this government or any other government to complete the IMF structural adjustment policies in order to complete the privatization of the people’s assets. In this regard, we must be vigilant, and demand greater efficiency in public utilities, the public service and state enterprises, while campaigning against corruption; because there are several weapons at the disposal of advocates of privatization and the dismantling of the so-called welfare state, which they are deploying simultaneously; weapons such as corruption, crime, the American type religion and culture. 

During the oil boom years, this weapon (corruption) was used very effectively, along with the drug trade and the influx of these religious groups. The Televangelists, the Mormons, alongside those which existed before. This is not to say that corruption did not exist before 1970; it is its use as a psychological weapon with which to damage the confidence of the people in the ability of governments to manage state enterprises efficiently is what I am concerned about. 
 
While they plunder our resources in the energy sector and successive governments take turns looting the treasury, many youths hooked on crime, the illegal drugs and the American culture and many of our adults are made to believe in illusions conjured up by some of these snake oil salesmen who call themselves religious pastors. We have to understand that in the struggle of the working people to create not just wiggle room, but to clear enough space for the advancement of its cause which is to change the political and economic system, whereby working class democracy is allowed to take root; the welfare state is just one station along that route. 

 POLITICS

Politics defines the economic structure of a country. Our country's economic structure was determined by the politics of slavery, and indentureship, during the period of the rise of colonialism when the foreign policy of the colonial powers were written in the plunder and annexation of countries less advanced as Europe was at that time. 
 
1970 was the year when the people, in the exercise of their political options took the bold step to redefine the economic structure of our country, within the perimeters of the post-colonial constitutional independence which was granted to us. 
 
There were limitations on the ability of the movement to take the struggle forward to its ultimate goal: these limitations consisted of the fact that the leadership of the movement was divided and had no clear idea as to the way forward beyond the call for nationalization of certain enterprises. Therefore Dr. Eric Williams, the historian that he was, saw the opening, against the background of the many anti-colonial and anti- imperialist struggles, he bowed to the demands of the movement. 
 
Where we are today, following the collapse of the economy in the 1980s and the PNM government with it, is at a place where the people have been changing governments very frequently. Clearly, this has to be because we are looking for the right formulae with which to put into political office a political entity which is representative of the aspirations of the working people and whose stated objectives must be outlined in its policies and programmes, to change the current political and economic structures. 

PRIVATIZATION
 
Currently our economy is structured for privatization. The energy sector is largely in the hands of foreign multinational capital; with a local private sector that is basically leeching off the rents which the state collects from the energy sector; and a state sector which comprises a dysfunctional public service; public utilities that are still largely inefficient; some state enterprises that are efficient and profitable and as a result, are listed for privatization and special purpose companies whose reason for being is to cut through public service red tape in order to spend tax payers money so that friends and family can grow rich through their ability to acquire state contracts. 
 
Successive governments have been implementing privatization in the Regional Corporations. WASA, T&TEC and TSTT have been privatizing their core functions for years. Privatization of various shades has been with us but we have not been paying attention to it largely because it involved in many instances, small or medium contractors. There are also known cases of trade union leaders, who were interested in getting contracts at the expense of the workers whom they represent and who were likely to lose their jobs. 
 
It is also alleged that some Trade Unionists, were able to get CEPEP contracts from the previous and current governments. One thing is certain, and that is, because of the lack of vigilance on the part of some trade union leaders who represent workers in the energy, public service and state utility corporations, contract labour and privatization has been allowed to flourish. Due to the gross negligence and the dereliction of duty displayed by these leaders, the task currently facing the working class appears to be insurmountable. 
 
I am confident, however, that notwithstanding the unwillingness of the leaders to unite the workers to fight in their interests, instead of in the leaders’ narrow interests which is being demonstrated by their collaboration with the existing political parties in power and their unashamed attempts to ingratiate themselves with the PNM, the COP and the ILP, the working class will be united and strong at the time when they are needed to be. 
 
These leaders are like a pothound: they want to pee on every political Maxi Taxi that they see in order to mark their territory. The role they are playing is dangerous because they are shifting the workers’ focus away from the need to fight against the ills of privatization, contract labour and the struggle to defend and save the gains made in the 1970s which resulted in the coming into being of the welfare state.

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