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MEMORANDUM OF MISUNDERSTANDING by Ken Howell

posted 28 Apr 2016, 08:03 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 28 Apr 2016, 08:32 ]
Unless the leaders of the trade union movement see the unions as organised divisions of a workers’ army, they will always, unwittingly or deliberately, lose sight of the fact that the movement is engaged in class struggle. It does not matter whether the economy is in a state of growth or decline. It could be the best of times or the worst of times, the conditions do not change the facts which define the labour/capital relationship, which is premised on interests which are diametrically opposed.

Therefore the movement must always be in a state of readiness, united at all levels, like an army that is prepared to fight any kind of struggle; hidden or open warfare. The fact that trade unions exist like thorns in the side of the capitalist class is because the working people fought for and won the right to form trade unions. That right was conceded grudgingly under great pressure because labour is the critical factor in the production process.

When taken in the broader context of the political and economic system, the interest of the working class as a part of the electorate and taxpayers and consumers of goods and services, they are capable of wielding enormous power in furtherance of their class interest.

In the absence of a political party, that is genuinely representative of the working people, it is the trade unions which are supposed to assume the responsibility to lead and represent the class interest of the working people. In so doing, the movement must not allow itself to be misguided by those political parties who are wedded to the ideology of the capitalist system and subscribe to its principles and practices.

These parties, because of their view of the world are incapable of being impartial and are unable to treat equitably with the competing interests of labour and capital. If that is understood by the leaders of the movement, they would avoid entering into arrangements with such parties; believing that they can be trusted. If the leaders are consistently engaging them in a display of smoke and mirrors designed to achieve the illusive dream of employer and labour cooperation in the national interest, the workers must begin to question the motives of some of their leaders.

The country is in the midst of an economic crisis as a result of a serious decline in the price of oil and gas as well as a fall in production levels. This development has caught the movement disorganised; at a low level of unity and generally unprepared. But the leaders do not seem to believe that they are and seem prepared to bluff their way by sounding militant.

They call for the removal of persons from certain government think tank committees while reminding said persons of a redundant Memorandum of Understanding, which the PNM signed with a loose grouping of unions, known by the acronym “JTUM,” while the majority of them belong to the National Trade Union Centre.

In such circumstances, how could the workers feel confident, that their class interests will be represented forcefully, when the leaders prefer to leave them disorganised, without a clear understanding of what the movement is prepared to do in defence of their interest in any forum which is treating with the serious nature of the crisis, the brunt of which is being felt by the middle and working class, small business people and the farmers.

Workers are being placed on the breadline by the state and private sector companies; plans are being laid out by the state to dispose of profitable state enterprises while the oil companies in the face of a steep fall in revenue, resulting from the economic crisis, are seeking to wring the arms of the government in order to get additional incentives, against the background of a drop in their production levels. But the leading unions do not seem to think that these are issues worth discussing with their members at branch, section and general council levels.

In the current situation, Conferences of Branch Officers and Shop Stewards should only be called after branches are well informed and are directed to discuss and take decisions on these issues which can form the basis for decisions which the General Councils will be required to take in order to guide the leaders in representing the interest of the workers.

Unless the leaders are prepared to do the hard work, no attack on Dr. Terrence Farrell will have any effect on the plans of the government and how it intends to treat with the labour movement. It was during the period of the administrations of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan that Trade Unions were described as: “opportunistic elements in the labour market”. Bourgeois economists view trade unions as “distortions in the labour market.” Trade unions seem unaware that they are still being described in that way.

That is why Dr. Terrence Farrell deliberately chose to make those disparaging remarks which were reported in the print media. What must be understood is that the Doctor was saying exactly what the government is saying in their analysis of the unions and the leaders. It is not prepared to be pressured by the labour movement into continuously funding social programmes, managing state enterprises and employing workers for whom the representative unions will be calling for increases in wages and salaries. it holds the view that it should divest itself of that responsibility. If the labour leaders who once befriended Doctor Farrell did not know that he was one of the standard bearers of supply side economics, (structural adjustment) well they know now.

Farrell never concealed his views about government involvement in economic activities which he holds should be the business of the private sector. He made his position clear earlier this year while as addressing a business forum hosted by the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry. His address to the Rotary Club of Maraval and Port of Spain was aimed at the labour movement to make it clear that the measures which the government is prepared to take is already clearly defined by his Economic Development Advisory Board and there is nothing which the labour movement can do about it.

If it is not being kept abreast of what is said, or was not a party to the discussions about what should be said by its putative representative, that is not his business. Therefore, the Tripartite Advisory Council is a place where the representatives of business and labour will be required to endorse the decisions already taken by the Advisory Board.

The IMF's presence in this country at this time is not to advise the government on how to proceed with the adjustment measures, In fact it is to ensure that everything is on stream with respect to the undertaking given to kick-start the divestment programme, as a condition which will qualify the country's application for a standby arrangement, if that becomes necessary. The down grading of the country by Moody’s was followed by the visit of the Minister of Finance to the USA where he met with representatives of the IMF and the World Bank, whose representatives accompanied him back home.

If the trade union leaders take the time to join all the dots, they will realise that the Memorandum of Understanding which they were conned into signing will soon be the instrument which will create a grave misunderstanding and greater disunity in the movement. If steps are not taken to repair the damage before an avalanche of increasing unemployment, the destruction unions and the loss of income due to the privatisation, retrenchment and foreclosures will reach epidemic levels in this country.

Leaders will have to decide where they stand when the battle lines are drawn; because the other side has already begun to ready their troops. That is why Farrell chose to tell the trade unions how he felt about their obstructive behaviour. That is only done when a man feels that he is badder than the other man and he is trying to psyche him out. In poker, that is what a player will do to find out what kind of hand the other player is holding, especially if he suspects that the hand he is holding is not a good one.

It is clear that the government is convinced that the labour leaders are not holding any hand at all but believe that they can get away with bluffing. It is time that they understand that the livelihood of the workers is serious business and come to their senses that the Memorandum of Understanding, just like the “Workers Agenda was just another hoax that was played on the workers with the connivance of some of the leaders of the movement.

The government has succeeded on two occasions in applying some of what Sun Tzu advised in his book entitled:” The Art of War”. Du You ' “Seduce them with the prospect of gain, send interlopers in among them, have rhetoricians use fast talk to ingratiate themselves with their leaders and followers, and divide up their organisation and power.” Zhang Yu “ You may cause rifts between the leadership and their followers, or between them and their allies-cause division and then take aim at them. ”

These labour leaders must wake up and recognise that the PNM is not like the People's Partnership government. They have more than thirty years experience in government and during that time they perfected the art of deception and as a result it is not easy to commit them to anything which will cause the labour movement to tilt the balance of power in the politics and the economy in favour of the working class.

We must learn from the lessons of 1970 and 1989-1990! Forget the MOU; talk only when you are well organised, united at all levels and prepared for struggle!
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