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posted 26 Aug 2015, 08:04 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 26 Aug 2015, 08:08 ]
When the National Health Workers Union (NHWU) began organising in the NCRHA in June 2014 there was, literally, just a handful of members. It was not satisfactory that the national executive of the union should come from one branch, but it could not be helped! NCRHA was the only existing branch at the time.

The NHWU was starting from scratch and as we have explained repeatedly had signed an affiliation agreement with the National Workers Union (NWU) who would provide the initial resources to tackle the tremendous task of building a health workers union from the ground up. (See affiliation agreement here).

As we stated in one of our bulletins:  It must be borne in mind that the National Health Workers Union is not a previously existing organisation that health workers are joining, but a union that has to be built by the health workers themselves in their own image and likeness.

To build a union from scratch is a humongous task. A new union would have little in the way of resources. It would have no office, no fulltime staff, no ability to employ lawyers or other advisers or to undertake research." It is extremely difficult to start a union from scratch, but for health workers to survive the difficult times lying ahead it has to be done.

This is where the National Workers Union comes in. The National Workers Union provides human, financial and material resources, technical expertise in terms of organising, industrial relations (grievance handling; collective bargaining), training, education, research, printing and publications to its affiliates, including the NHWU.

The NWU provides office facilities, secretarial and administrative support, maintains membership records data base, which is very important when the application for recognised majority union status is made to the Recognition Board. The NWU also maintains the union accounts.

From the beginning it was quite clear that the strategic objective of the NHWU is to gain recognised majority union status in each RHA and in private sector facilities in order that a collective agreement covering health workers could be negotiated with the managements of the RHAs. It is only when health care workers have a collective agreement that the chaos that passes for industrial relations in the health sector will be brought under the control. The single most important task of the NHWU at this moment is the task of organising the thousands of monthly paid health care workers into the union so that in each RHA when we have the majority as membership we can apply for recognition. 

In order to register as a union rules must be provided to the registrar of trade unions, even though the rules of necessity had to be crafted by a handful of people and it had to be recognised that when the task of organising really took off the rules would have to be reviewed, amended, repealed or otherwise (see union rules here).

In the stage of building a union from scratch, organisational structures and practices have to facilitate the main task which is attaining the goal of recognised majority union status.

The NHWU, therefore, is chanting two mantras: recognised majority union status and building from the ground up and not from the top down. Health workers, given the experience with other organisations have to build their union on the workplace and not in the union office; to serve their interests and not the interests of those who see the union as an opportunity to acquire position and status.

Health workers have rejected the top down approach that is making some unions impotent. The most important organisational task therefore is to build the structure of representation so that the chaos that exists in the worker-employer relationship can be regulated properly.

When the organising work took off in SWRHA, the situation began to change rapidly: activists were coming forward, workers were being communicated with through flyers and on the Facebook, grievances were being handled, training programmes were being organised, hundreds of workers began to join the union, direct action activities were organised.. We could therefore get a wider input into the building process and put into practice the concept of building from the ground up.

When it was realised that the majority of the medical orderlies were members of the union, election for shop stewards were held. This was a step forward and provides a template for choosing representatives in other areas as we grow.

If we are to build a union in the image and likeness of health workers, members must step forward to take up the historic responsibility of building a union that is not a one person show, a union where the most important people would not be the “union man” in an office somewhere, but the driving force would be the members acting through their shop stewards.

Members must attend branch and other meetings, as far as possible. They must actively participate in union activities. Members must be vigilant about the violation of their rights and entitlements as workers and not allow management to get away with poor industrial relations practices. Members must see their union as their shield and armour and to file grievances when it is the right thing to do, so that the master-servant culture in the RHAs can be wiped out.

Over the recent period the NHWU’s banner has been fluttering high in the breeze as we step up the struggle for justice and equity for RHA workers. Workers who have not yet been organised have begun to turn to the NHWU publications (on and off line) for information and the politicians and the general public have begun to take notice.

 We are at the stage where the issue of structuring the branches becomes important. We have reached the stage where we must hold more shop steward elections and train them to serve the interests of the members. This is the dominant discussion among the activists and those who have a good idea of where the union stands on issues.

On Saturday 29th August at 11:30 am, the SWRHA branch of the NHWU will be holding a branch meeting at 4 Hart Street, San Fernando, the office of the NWU. The meeting will deal with: report on finance and administration, structuring of SWRHA branch, choosing union reps: from the ground up.

 If you intend to attend please indicate: On NHWU WHATSAPP or Sending PM on NHWU Facebook page or Emailing kangaz@workersunion.org.tt or Contacting Arlene Bynoe-Maillard # 725 8950.

Gerry Kangalee,
26 Aug 2015, 08:04
Gerry Kangalee,
26 Aug 2015, 08:04