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HOW DISUNITY AFFECTS INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS by Ken Howell

posted 12 Apr 2016, 07:28 by Gerry Kangalee

It would be difficult to deny the fact, that a united trade union movement can and does have influence on the state of industrial relations. The national strike in 1989 demonstrated this quite clearly. What followed on the heels of that display of unity and solidarity was a return to the bad old days of disunity and opportunism, as was demonstrated in a National Trade Union Centre (NATUC) Annual Conference of delegates held at the OWTU head office in San Fernando in 1995.

From that time to the present, its role and influence on the state of industrial relations leave a lot to be desired. Efforts to bring about unity in the movement, was replaced by open displays of leftist infantile behaviour on the one hand and, on the other, backward displays of pro-capitalist anti-worker bantering.

As a consequence, the movement remained mired in a quick sand of ideological bankruptcy. This state of affairs has nourished a desire held by certain elements with political ambitions. Such persons have no interest in building a strong movement but are very bold in their attempt to capture the movement and use it to serve selfish political ends.                                                                                

As a result of this sad state of affairs, no effort is made to bring about unity in the movement on such issues as collective bargaining, organising and so on. Even on the question of inter-union solidarity and solidarity in struggle with other unions there is silence.

Clearly, unions have drifted far away from their moorings because they seem to be rejecting the blood which gave the movement life. Trade unionism is built on the foundation of unity and solidarity. That is why they are described in law as combinations.

It is as a combination of workers that they face the employers across the negotiation table. And it is in recognition of this fact that unity must be maintained. We must be clear in our minds that trade unions are not political parties and, therefore, they should not be measured with the same tape as political parties on the question of unity. That ultra-leftist, anti-union, anti-worker position has done serious damage to the movement over the years.

Because of this, unions have reverted to individual approaches when it comes to collective bargaining.

This position is supported by the absence of any available research being carried out and or distributed by the NATUC to its affiliates. In addition to this, the leading trade unions seem to have removed research, education and on the job training from their list of priorities.  As a result, what passes for serious industrial relations on the union’s side in some cases, if not in all, is the absence of a coordinated approach to this business of collective bargaining.

Fortunately, however, some unions are able to settle Collective Agreements, but very few, outside of the Industrial Court. When it comes down to the question of how effective is the Shop Steward in treating with grievances in the work place, the answer is clear. Very few matters are settled at that level. But that is where the relation between the workers and the employer is tested on a daily basis. That is where industrial relations can be viewed in its rawest form. That is where the unity of the workers on the shop floor gives the union leadership the initiative at the negotiation table.

When the whole movement achieves unity from the ground up; when it is united in the task of adhering to its true mission, then and only then it can win the war. For the time being, it will only win small skirmishes. Therefore, the task of building labour unity and solidarity must be the number one priority for the movement.

But in order to achieve this, the individual egos of those leaders who believe that their respective union is their play thing with which to do as they please must be eliminated from the equation; then and only then can the movement regain the initiative in the industrial relations arena.

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