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LABOUR MARKET REFORM IS NASTY BUSINESS BY Ken Howell

posted 12 Jul 2019, 07:58 by Gerry Kangalee
Prior to the closure of Petrotrin, as you may recall, there was a secret meeting of employer organisations and individuals. A secret recording revealed that the subject of that meeting was the trade unions and the Industrial Court.

Subsequently, there were a number of articles, appearing in the print media, critical of the Industrial Court, and purporting to be concerned about judgements of the court which went against certain companies. In addition, some of these articles, called for amendments to the IRA to allow workers to take trade disputes to the court as individuals and not through a union, as is usually the case now.

One might be tempted to ask why are employers so interested in having the labour laws amended at this point and time. Well labour market reform also requires the laws which govern the relations between labour and capital to be amended or repealed in order to clear the market of any obstacles to the freedom of capital to rule without let or hindrance.

You see, in a liberalised market, capital/employers must be allowed to buy and dispose of labour as and when it chooses. Have we not noticed the systematic destruction of the Ministry of Labour and the delay of the government to appoint new members at the Registration Recognition and Certification Board for almost a year? That is an indication as to the thinking of the government which is clearly in the corner of the employers on this matter.

Image result for labour versus capitalThe question is what should be the response of the trade unions to this threat? Well, the trade union movement must call a conference of branch officers and shop stewards to discuss and take concrete decisions to initiate a fight back in order to protect the limited gains which the unionised workers have achieved over the years. This conference must not be just another talk shop for labour leaders to gallery themselves and harangue the workers for hours. It must be a working session to come up with proposals, suggestions and ideas geared toward developing a self defence campaign.

Immediate steps must be taken to initiate a campaign to mobilise and unionise non-members in recognised branches and also to influence the more than 85% of those workers in the private sector who are not in a recognised bargaining unit in any union at this time. In order to achieve the above the leaders must rise above their respective insularity and insecurity. They must put the interest of the workers above their selfish interests and strive for unity within the movement.

While the current crop of leaders may not understand or believe it, the survival of the movement hinges on genuine unity and solidarity. It means that a blow to one is a blow to all. It means that we fight together or we die alone. If we fail to achieve that level of unity, we are likely to commit hara-kiri. By that I mean, that some unions are likely to die, if the major federation fail to recognise that mergers are a viable option for small unions to consider, in order to counter the attack on the movement.

It would ensure that the merged entity has available to it human and other resources which would not otherwise be available to small unions. Of course it is not the only measure that must be adopted. But these are some of the things unions must begin to talk about whether they like it or not. If they choose to procrastinate they will do so at their own peril.

Now is the time when leaders who are truly in the trenches with the workers they represent must stand up in order to be counted. The government and the employer class has already set in motion the plans through which they intend to destroy the unions in order to clear the labour market of the trade union movement.

In other words, when the movement decides to demonstrate strength in numbers on the streets, that strength must be reflected on the job in the work place. If and when the employers choose to flex their muscles by firing a Shop Steward or branch officer, the power and unity of the branch must be demonstrated in support of the officer, demanding his reinstatement.

If that can be achieved it will demonstrate that the movement is capable of confronting the enemy on any terrain it chooses. I am saying all that I have said, to say, that if the current crop of leaders are not aware, the fact of the matter is that we are currently involved in a class war. The ruling class has launched an attack on the working class. Therefore we have no choice but to respond.

However, when we do, our response must be effective and devastating. And we must be prepared for an oppressive response from the state apparatus in defence of the class interest of the capitalist. Make no mistake; they are determined to break the back of the trade union movement. I have no doubt that this is going to be a fight to the death. Someone will win and someone will lose. Labour market reform is nasty business.
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