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posted 9 Aug 2011, 21:02 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 10 Aug 2011, 19:41 ]


by Sylvan Wilson

World economies lurch from crisis to crisis with shorter and shorter intervening periods. Official society seeks all kinds of excuses and scapegoats to blame for an economic system that has taken on a life of its own and is torpedoing the entire world into economic and financial crises, climatic and political turmoil, wars and diseases that are increasingly global in scope. The mass response has far too often been addressing the symptoms rather than the disease.

Sylvan Wilson is the President of the Yara (former Fedchem) Branch of the Oilfields Workers' Trade Union. He is a long standing member of the OWTU's General Council, a former Vice President of the OWTU and acted as Chief Labour Relations Officer.

Comrade Wilson is widely respected throughout the labour movement for his wide experience. He led two of the longest and bitterest struggles in the 1980's against Federation Chemicals - the 1980 strike and the 1986 lockout.

He is well known for his meticulous preparation for negotiations and is one of the originators of the Social Wage concept that the OWTU developed in the 1980's.

Comrade Wilson is deeply knowledgeable and passionate about workers' pension funds.

It is now the worldwide road march that world economies are gripped in the latest round of financial strangulation which sees governments buried in debts. The solution that is being advocated is that of “smaller and leaner” governments. This means retrenchment of government employees, reduction in earnings for those remaining; decimation of social programmes and elimination of subsidies to the poor and vulnerable. We can see and hear the exact same position in Trinidad and Tobago.

What we are not hearing from these so-called guardians of national interests is what is the cause of this debt crisis. Just over two (2) years ago the international financial system had crashed because of corporate greed, corruption, hefty bonuses, doctoring of financial records, Ponzi schemes.

World governments refused to allow the natural consequences for such recklessness and decided to bail out these companies to the tune of TRILLIONS of dollars. They did not have this amount of money sitting in the vaults of their respective treasuries so they borrowed heavily to save these PRIVATE companies.

Having salvaged these enterprises the State is now saddled with mountainous debts.  Since then most of these companies have returned to profitability but the governments are now in crisis.

If we are to discern corporate response and gauge from the US business response, there must not be ANY increase in corporate taxes. The US Federal Government would have defaulted on loans and would have ground to a halt, but NO increase in corporate taxes; so said the guardians of the national interests of their respective countries. The only acceptable solution is “smaller and leaner” governments.

Is this not a case that the perpetrators of the crisis simply washing their hands from the consequences? Is this not a case of the State bending over backwards to save its class allies by bludgeoning the working-class?

In T&T we have heard ad nauseam from the Hon. Prime Minister, our home-grown defenders of the national interest, the private sector and lately the Governor of the Central Bank that the country cannot withstand the shutdown threatened by trade unions We did not hear a clear statement from the Governor that the country could not afford to bail out Clico and HCU!

When Manning mania was in full bloom and billions of dollars were being spent on conferences, Summits of Americas and the Commonwealth; NAPAs, Brian Lara Stadium and all the other delusions of grandeur, where was the clarion call of condemnation by the goodly governor?

He lamented the stagnation in growth of GDP but has offered no explanation to the voracious appetite for foreign exchange that has pushed the US$ to almost TT$ 6.50 and that has no nexus to legitimate business activity

Recently we have had a 10%-15% increase in bread prices. This follows steep increases in flour, milk, rice eggs et al. Have we ever heard the Honourable PM or ANY member of the PP government making the point that there are tens of thousands of nationals who are poor and hungry and cannot afford to cope with food inflation in the country? Have we heard any appeals to the private sector to find other approaches to price increases? Not one word!

 Mr. Duck and Run in his first incarnation in government being the faithful acolyte of neoliberal economics had removed COLA and cut public servants salaries by 10%. Sometime later he made a public statement that interest payments and prices should also be reduced. Well, his masters called him to a meeting and since then he has never uttered a single word on corporate earnings.

Our guardians of the national interest, the private sector, as recent as two years ago were clamouring that the State was “crowding” them out of domestic economic activity. They pounded the media keyboards, castigating the government for consuming too much aggregate and building materials, forcing the cost of capital (interest rates) to exorbitant levels, employing all of the available labour etc.

Well, the state has been marking time for the last eighteen months or so; interest rates are at their lowest level in living memory, plant machinery and equipment are idle, unemployment levels are rising, wages are depressed. Where are the investments that were being stymied by an overzealous government? Why haven’t we seen for instance a major initiative in food production? A FOUR BILLION dollar ($4 Billion) industry is in the offing just based on import substitution.

Why is there no drive towards the construction of low cost housing, given the fall in building materials and interest rates? Shouldn’t our guardians of the National interest be motivated to reduce the multi-million dollar mortgage price tag which our young people are saddled with?

Instead what we are hearing is that the private sector is waiting on the State to stimulate the economy. They are sitting and waiting on the very same issue which they complained about. The Minister of Finance is on record as committing the Government to this “stimulus” programme. Is it not the same treasury which they claim to be empty? Is it not the same treasury that will see plagues and pestilence if public servants get more than 5%? Is this the same treasury which has found over $7 billion for the Point Fortin highway project? Is this the same treasury that is expected to fund a new airport in Central?

The issue is not one of money but one of choice. Most of the collective agreements that are being negotiated now have already expired. This means that they covered the period 2008-2011 or thereabouts. This means that tens of thousands of workers had their last increase in 2007, so that for all of the boom years none these workers got any salary increase.

The choice exercised by the government is conditioned by their class perspective and the interests of the financiers of their political campaigns. The so-called guardians of the nation’s interests are really only interested in their own corporate well being. They see the workers’ and their trade unions’ demands as an attempt to interfere with THEIR money that is resting in the treasury in transit to their accounts.

The most critical task of the working class is not simply to say no to the 5% wage offer. That offer is clearly absurd. However, if we succeed in getting 6% or 8% or even 15% does this mean we have won the war? An important battle maybe but not the war!  

It is important that the perspective of our long term goals not be lost. Workers were clear that the PNM was not working in the interest of the country and certainly not for the working class. Many workers made the fatal error of believing that any one of the existing parties in T&T will be fundamentally different, particularly when we see familiar faces who may have voiced progressive positions. It simply does not work that way.

It is only when the Working Class takes its time and carefully builds a party with controls firmly entrenched at the grassroots level that our long-term interest will be served. All political parties which are primarily election machines will never faithfully serve the interests of the Working-Class and indeed the true national interest