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posted 31 Jan 2011, 09:58 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 31 Jan 2011, 11:22 ]

by Gerry Kangalee

White Friday it was dubbed and White Friday it was: the National Trade Union Centre-organised demonstration against the government’s five percent offer to public sector workers on January 28th 2011 through the streets of Port of Spain. 

Many, including white-clad demonstrators, were bemused by the symbolism of the colour. White, some said, was the colour associated with, particularly Hindu, funerals. 

This was bolstered by the appearance of NATUC president, former senator and UdeCott board member Michael Annisette, who appeared resplendent in what can only be described as his “priestly vestments” (white, of course) at the head of the 1,000 odd demonstrators. 

Was he performing the last rites for a labour movement battered and bruised, (though still unbowed), by its leaders who, so caught up in partisan political trickery and personal aggrandisement, seem blissfully unaware of the brewing revolt they will soon face from their frustrated and increasingly restless membership. There can be no funeral without a corpse and the labour movement is certainly not dead. 

Our labour leaders seem to mirror the lack of awareness of the leaders of the Peoples’ Partnership. They also seem to have no clue that their perceived betrayal of the expectations of those who elected them has re-ignited the advance toward a social explosion that was clearly on the cards when the de-frocked emperor was monarch of all he surveyed. 

Even those who waved the white flags on the march through the city were uncomfortable; understanding that the white flag symbolised surrender. While the workers were in no surrender mode they were not so sure of their leaders who seem quite content to hold demonstrations that reflect weakness and not strength. 

Many were moved to remark that it was time to change the tactics if they were to force the government out of its comfort zone. Many called into question the sincerity of labour leaders who talked unity but practised division. The absence of the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union and the Communication Workers’ union spoke volumes about the attitude of labour leaders toward advancing the interests of the working class. 

It is clear that the labour movement missed the boat when trade union leaders refused to throw their battalions into the struggle when public servants came out last year in their thousands. They must be held accountable for this dereliction of duty. As far back as the Conference of Shop Stewards and Branch officers (COSSABO) held in April 2010, there were calls for joint workplace meetings, a sustained programme of education and mobilisation and a return to united collective action. 

What we got was a refusal to bring out the troops and PSA was hung out to dry. It is clear that the strategy of staging smaller and smaller demonstrations is taking the movement nowhere. Trade union leaders have to change strategy and put the interests of the working class above securing their board positions and sucking up to a government that is pursuing a clear neo-liberal anti-worker line. Workers are struggling against the weight of inflation and exploitation. They are going to revolt. Trade union leaders better be pretty sure on which side they stand when that revolt breaks out.