The statement reproduced below was contained in a flyer distributed by the National Workers Union at the "COSSABO" organised by the Joint Trade Union Movement at Cipriani Labour College on May 19th 2012.
The "COSSABO" was attended by approximately one hundred and twenty people, largely from the Banking, Insurance and General Workers Union and the Oilfields Workers Trade Union. It dealt with the "topic" Political Identity and the Working Class and ended up being more about the MSJ than about the trade union movement. Two presentations were made on the "topic"; one by Reginald Crichlow, General Secretary of the Postal Workers Union; the other by Dr. Roosevelt Williams, deputy political leder of the MSJ.
Comrades, the working class in Trinidad and Tobago is under sustained attack from the employers and the state. We are facing a situation that could mean either the revitalisation of the working class and trade union movements or the imposition of a regime of repression upon working people and the utter marginalisation of the trade union movement.
The ruling classes, through their enforcers in the government which includes elements from the trade union movement, have sabotaged the struggle for a decent minimum wage. They are dragging their feet on the promised overhaul of labour legislation and inflicted a 5% wage cap on public sector workers (which was swept away by militant struggle in some sectors, but which still faces workers in other sectors)
They imposed a state of emergency to block the trade unions from mobilising their members and have embarked on a policy of privatisation. The ruling classes have made it clear that they are going to block the advance of the interests of working people at every turn. The lessons of Trinidad Cement are very clear.
During the nineteen seventies the trade union movement created the Conference of Shop Stewards and Branch Officers (COSSABO) to deal with major threats to the forward march of working people. The National Workers Union since 2008 has been agitating for the revival of the COSSABO and welcomes its return since 2010, but thinks it necessary to make certain observations.
We see the COSSABO as a deeply democratic institution which facilitates participation in the debates and decision-making processes of the labour movement by the shop floor representatives of the membership and through them the mass membership itself. It strengthens the movement of working class democracy and undermines the authoritarian top-down approach that we criticise in political parties but of which we in the trade union movement are just as guilty.
A COSSABO is not a seminar or symposium, but a working body which addresses fundamental issues by drawing on the input of as wide a range of the membership as possible through the deepening of the process of democratisation - a bottom-up approach.
The COSSABO is not an educational forum. It is called to develop responses to serious issues that impinge on the interests of workers, in this way calling upon the collective wisdom of the shop floor representatives of the movement who are the ones in closest contact with the members of the unions. While education programmes are absolutely vital for trade union representatives, activists and members, the COSSABO has a different function.
A COSSABO is not a forum for the propagation of partisan party-political propaganda under the guise of dealing with educational “topics”. Any political organisation which purports to represent the interests of the working class should be confident enough to organise political education in its own name and not hide behind the skirts of the trade unions.
A COSSABO is not a routine happening where lecturers are invited to discuss “topics”. It is an institution of workers’ democracy developed to defend and advance the interests of workers when they are under attack. It is a working body which discusses and recommends measures and mechanisms to deal with whatever the threats to the movement are.
The head table should not monopolise the precious time available to the COSSABO. It should state concisely what the situation is that the COSSABO has been called to deal with and facilitate preliminary comments and questions from the floor.
The COSSABO should then break up into workshops which would discuss, come up with tactics and measures to deal with the situation and report back to the plenary sessions. The head table would then collate these suggestions, encourage further discussions which may accept, reject or amend them and take them to the decision-making bodies of the individual unions for ratification.
While the COSSABO is not a duly constituted decision making body, its recommendations are enormously influential given the quality nature of the discussions which would have gone into the development of the recommendations.