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LAW AND THE CLASS STRUGGLE

posted 26 May 2015, 22:24 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 26 May 2015, 22:48 ]
The National Workers Union (NWU) has issued a discussion paper called A LOOK AT THE INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS AMENDMENT BILL as a contribution to the discourse raging across the labour movement about the government's attempt to enact  the Bill which the trade union movement views as a an attack on its very survival. The discussion paper is attached at the bottom of this page and can be downloaded.

Because it is a rather long document, this website will publish it in parts over time beginning with the following article.


The Law does not drop from the sky. It is not made in heaven to regulate man’s activity for all time. Laws are enacted by those who have the power to do so to deal with particular situations that may arise or that may have to be dealt with and those laws, generally, are meant to serve the interests of those who have the power to enact them or to have them enacted.

In addition, the shape which laws take is influenced by the balance of forces in the society in which these laws are enacted. While laws generally reflect the class bias and attempt to serve the class interests of those forces that dominate the society, economically and politically, their final shape is influenced by how the subordinate classes and sectors react and how strong they are vis a vis the dominant forces in the society. So while the ruling classes in a society, generally, determine the kind of laws that are enacted, they cannot do so as they see fit.

What are the factors that have given rise to the legislative constraints and conditions within which the class struggle on the industrial relations front is being played out and which has given rise to the Industrial Relations Amendment Bill 2015?

Between the period when trade unions came to the fore in the 1930’s and 1965 the so-called voluntarist approach to industrial relations was practiced. This meant that the relationship between trade unions and employers was left for them to determine with no formal interference from the state. This was the position at political independence in 1962.

LABOUR LAW INTRODUCED

By 1965, this approach had changed dramatically, with the Government introducing the Industrial Stabilisation Act (ISA). The Eric Williams led administration before independence had publicly expressed support for workers right to strike. Dr. Williams, himself had stated; “industrial democracy is based on the right of workers to withhold their labour by way of strike, even though the community is thrown in turmoil.”

Once formal independence was achieved the administration embarked on a policy of industrialisation by invitation based on inviting foreign capital to invest in the country by offering tax holidays, waiving of custom duties, full repatriation of profits, the provision of infrastructure at low cost, cheap labour and offered them industrial stability.

To ensure this industrial stability the government enacted the Industrial Stabilisation Act (ISA) which prohibited strikes in what was deemed “essential services” and instituted such a convoluted procedure by which workers could legally strike that for all intents and purposes strikes were outlawed. The Industrial Court was a creature of this ISA.

The government, on March 18th 1965, declared a state of emergency in County Caroni in the wake of the struggle of sugar workers to get rid of their corrupt union leadership. On that very date the Industrial Relations Act was introduced in parliament and within twenty four hours it had completed the process of being enacted. It was proclaimed as law by the Governor General on March 21st.

The 1970s was a turbulent period in the history of T&T. There was a nationwide youth and workers revolt against the policies of the government; there was a mutiny within the army followed by a state of emergency where many trade unionists were detained without charge; there was a period of armed guerrilla attacks against the state; there was a second state of emergency where trade unionists were once more detained.

During the second state of emergency the ISA was repealed and replaced by a law called the Industrial Relations Act. This law introduced the essential industries schedule which prohibited unions which represented workers in one “essential industry” from representing workers in another “essential industry.” Of course, the government decided which industries were deemed essential. This infringed upon freedom of Association and violated the rights of workers to join a trade union of their choice.

The rational for introducing the concept of essential industries was entirely political. At the time, there was a movement amongst workers towards the more militant unions of OWTU and TIWU and the Government wanted to avoid these unions having control over too much of the economy.

Over the decades since the enactment of the Industrial Relations Act many trade unions have produced critiques of the Act and have suggested that the Act be repealed and replaced or suggested amendments to the Act to make it reflect more of the interests of the working people.

Of course, most of these comments have been ignored and here we are today faced with government sponsored amendments to the IRA which of course were not seen by the trade unions before they were introduced in parliament on May 1st; of all days - International Workers Day.

What are the conditions which gave rise to these new amendments to the IRA? The PP government like the PNM government before it has bought into the neo-liberal agenda lock stock and oil barrel. One of the mantras of neo-liberalism is that trade unions distort the labour market and affect its flexibility, which means it constrains employers from having free rein to deploy workers as they see fit under conditions that they determine in order to maximise their profit.

The problem is that they have to weigh how and under what conditions they go about dismantling the strength of the trade union movement while keeping an eye on the next election. The IRA was already heavily weighted in favour of the employers and they had to be careful that any renewed assault on the rights and freedoms of workers did not backfire.

They got the perfect opportunity when some sections of the leadership of the trade union movement believed that by becoming part of a government underpinned by the neo-liberal philosophy, they would get a window of opportunity to institute the Workers Agenda which was adopted by a COSAABO held on April 18th 2010 just before the May 2010 General Election. Their illusion was solidified when a renegade trade unionist was appointed Minister of Labour.

What the working class got from the PP government was a 5% wage cap; reneging on pension increases, reneging on the minimum wage, a stepped up privatisation policy, widening of the PNM’s policy of turning permanent jobs in the public service and throughout the public sector into contract positions and a state of emergency

Now that the PP government’s term is coming to an end they are trying to mamaguy the public into believing that they are instituting the Workers Agenda after five years of twiddling their thumbs. But the Bill brought before the House far from being designed to institute the Workers Agenda will result in further shackles on the trade union movement.
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a look at thr IRA amendment bill.pub
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Gerry Kangalee,
26 May 2015, 22:25
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