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posted 25 Jul 2011, 19:47 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 26 Jul 2011, 15:28 ]


By Gerry Kangalee

(This article was written before the Tuesday July 26th 2011 meeting between the Prime Minister and the joint trade union leaders takes/took place).

The joint trade union leaders have made it clear that the meeting with the prime minister was not requested by them and that they are only attending out of courtesy. There is one over-riding demand being made by the joint trade unions and that is the removal of the wage cap imposed by the government. “Failing which”, the trade union leaders say, we will be left with no choice but to continue with our joint actions as outlined in the Labour Day Accord.”

Workers must keep a hawk eye on their leaders so that they are not pressured or seduced into being “Duked” (good word Comrade Roget!). Workers must not allow their trade union leaders to shift the goal posts so as to make an accommodation with a government which many of them support(ed).

The government, obviously with the intention of holding the line on their policy of wage suppression, has put the armed forces on alert; cranked up their media propaganda painting trade unions as greedy, not mindful of the national interest (whatever that is) and being controlled by the PNM; sent Jack Warner to sweet talk some union leaders and unleashed Errol McLeod to confuffle other trade union leaders. Classic iron fist and velvet glove approach!

Minister McLeod is utilising the oppressive Industrial Relations Act to further interfere with the process of free collective bargaining. His breaking down the T&TEC negotiations demonstrates that he is using T&TEC workers as guinea pigs for what appears to be a new tack being taken by the government in their effort to suppress workers’ wages and effect a wholesale transfer of income into the pockets of the bankers, the election financiers, the big conglomerates, the transnational corporations and other assorted financial swindlers and party hacks.

This new tack involves running a rumour throughout the state enterprises that the government is willing to settle for 8%. At the same time, in the midst of this agitation for general strike, MTS had the brass to offer TIWU 5% and the Minister of Labour is using his powers under the IRA to force negotiations into a third party process which is heavily weighted in favour of the government as employer.

In the midst of all this pressure workers must make sure that their leaders do not crack and adopt a line of least resistance. Let us call a spade a spade: there has always been a tendency in the trade union movement to make behind the back deals and try to spin those deals as being in the workers’ interests.

The WASA/PSA sellout is being spun as the best thing to happen to the labour movement since geera pork! Watson Duke is not the first trade union leader to change jacket and he will not be the last. The vigilance of the mass membership is the only obstacle to this tendency.

The only way we can sustain this vigilance is if the workers participate fully in all aspects of the struggle and do not leave it up to their leaders alone to develop strategy and tactics to defeat the policy of wage suppression.

The deadline given to the prime minister to remove the cap expired on July 21st, so we are already into the period of continuing the joint actions outlined in the Labour Day Accord.

What are these joint actions? They are: 1. Launch a campaign to pursue changing the system of governance; 2. Massive Protest Demonstration at the Office of Prime Minister 17 days from today 7th July, 2011; 3. Continuing our joint workplace meetings and mobilization towards achieving numerous workplace shut downs commencing last week in July, 2011; 4. A series of protest demonstration involving workers from all sectors with outstanding wage negotiations across Trinidad and Tobago commencing end of August, 2011; 5. These series of Joint Actions will culminate in a General Strike on a date to be announced.

Item no. 1 seems to be a long term goal and does not spell out specific action. Item no. 2 has already been done. Therefore, the concentration now has to be on holding joint workplace meetings, mobilising for a series of rolling shut downs; protest demonstrations and organising for the general strike. Items nos. 2 and 3 can also be seen as part of the mobilisation for a general strike. But a general strike is not a river lime and has to be meticulously and scientifically organised.

The National Workers’ Union (NWU) has been rather strident in its repeated calls for the resurrection of the Cossabo as a tool of serious scientific mobilisation. In the NWU June 19th 2008 statement it is stated:

“A shop steward movement, cutting across union lines must be built, where debate on policy direction can take place in a democratic manner.

This can be the foundation for the revitalisation of the COSSABO which proved so successful in the seventies and eighties in mobilising the working class to defend its hard-won benefits. Great struggles lie ahead. We must be ready for battle. Let us mobilise working people and the poor for the only thing our enemies understand: mass resistance and general strike!”

The NWU June 19th 2009 statement stated: “The rank and file through their shop stewards and local officers must set the agenda. A shop steward movement, cutting across union lines must be built ... This can be the foundation for the revitalisation of the COSSABO.” It was extremely pleasing when trade unions began to hold COSSABO’s from 2010, both single-union and multiple-union.

At the famous All Union Cossabo at OWTU Headquarters on April 18th 2010 where the Workers Agenda was adopted and which declined to endorse the MSJ, NWU published its perspective on the importance of the COSSABO and how it should proceed.

The call for widespread use of the COSSABO was re-iterated in the NWU June 19th 2011 statement, when the joint trade unions decided to defeat the government’s wage suppression policy. It becomes more important now that the strategy of mobilising for a general strike has been adopted.

Based on this view of the COSSABO as a tool of mobilisation and a clear understanding of the tasks facing the labour movement in this lead up to the general strike the NATUC COSSABO held on July 23rd at TIWU headquarters was conducted in a disappointing manner.

The COSSABO must have a specific agenda and should not just be another platform for union leaders to talk on and on and not allow the shop stewards and officers to take the lead in the discussions.

The COSSABO should be a working session where the readiness of workers could be assessed workplace by workplace, union by union and suggestions made by the shop stewards and officers as to how to strengthen weak areas through providing assistance with resources, whether of personnel, propaganda or material.

The Cossabo could be divided into workshop sessions where ideas are concretised, suggestions firmed up and reports made back to the full sessions by the shop stewards and officers. The plenary session in turn could make recommendations as to the direction which the campaign must take to lead to a successful conclusion.

This leads to the need for what the National Workers’ Union has dubbed a War Council, made up of a smaller committee which is charged with turning the recommendations of the COSSABO’s, workplace meetings etc. into concrete action.

For instance: the War Council must be responsible for drafting a schedule of workplace meetings, crafting publicity for the campaign, organising public meetings, making contacts with other sectors which may have an interest in supporting the general strike.

Some of the other sectors which must be drawn into the campaign include: first of all unorganised workers, small farmers, fisherfolk, students, small business people, progressive environmentalists, the unemployed and those on the leftOf course, the draft programmes drawn up by the War Council must be approved by the joint leaders and the General Councils of the individual unions.

The War Council should take ownership of the campaign, to implement and monitor it and it must be provided with the resources to achieve that end. Of course, this does not relieve the individual unions from carrying out the campaign within their areas. The first battalion in the campaign is the individual union.

The joint trade unions must keep the initiative. They must choose the terrain on which to engage in battle. They must ensure that their troops are in good order and  be judicious in the use of their firepower. They must not go on the offensive too early or too late and must be creative in developing a mix of tactics.

Remember the strategic objective is to defeat the government’ policy of wage suppression and not to boost the images of trade union leaders or show who is more militant than who.  The working class can defeat the policy of wage suppression if union members exercise vigilance over their leaders, participate fully in the campaign and if tactics developed by the joint trade unions are realistic and can electrify the masses. We cannot afford to fail!