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posted 19 Mar 2018, 11:01 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 19 Mar 2018, 11:29 ]

Cecil Paul  

Former General Secretary of the Council of Progressive Trade Unions; former First Vice President and Chief Labor Relations Officer of the Oilfields Workers Trade Union; former Deputy General Secretary of the National Trade Union Centre;  chairman of the BWIA Pension Fund; chairman of the national issues committee of Trinidad and Tobago Association of Retired Persons; member of the Labour Advisory Bureau of National Workers Union (NWU) and vice president of NWU.

The following item is the speaking notes of Comrade Cecil Paul at a discussion held at the Alma Jordan Library, University of the West Indies St. Augustine on March 7th 2018. The presentation was organised by Dr. Jerome Teelucksingh of the History Department entitled “Empowerment of the local work force: an evolution 80 years strong”. 
Even before the 1937 workers revolution the working class of our country was struggling to empower themselves. Some of these revolts were the water riots, the dock strike, the hosay riots, and the struggles of Elma François, Jim Barrett and others of the Negro Welfare Social and Cultural Association.

However the empowerment movements of 1937 and 1970 were, in my view, the most significant post slavery and post indentureship struggles. Why I say this is because 1937 brought us organized trade unionization and the empowerment to bargain for wages and conditions of employment.

While the British working class enjoyed the right to put a price on their labour, we in this colony had to take what they gave us and under the worst working conditions even akin to glorified slavery without the whip.

Eight years after colonialism ended the local work force again waged a struggle of empowerment, this time in 1970. The issues were the right to employment in the local white businesses and the foreign banks, the promotion of ethnic pride, culture and history, and most important for empowerment over the national natural resources and the control of the commanding heights of our economy.

Those two struggles of 1937 and 1970, in my view, were critical aspects of the continuing struggle for empowerment of the local work force and responsible for the social and economic gains during and after colonialism and independence. This is not to simplify or trivialize the other struggles for universal suffrage, for independence and other struggles our ancestors have waged since we came to theses islands from all corners of the globe in all sorts of inhumane conditions.

Our history tells us that labour has always pushed the society forward - water riots, dock workers strike, 1937 strike, the home rule struggles of labour leaders such as Cipriani, Butler and Rienzi, the 1970 workers’ revolution. 1976 had the oil and sugar workers strike that greatly increased the economic conditions of the local work force. Just to mention the major movement forward of our evolving revolution as a comparable young country.

So these are a few points on colonial, post colonial and post independence empowerment struggles of the local work force that pushed our society forward. so that if we are still in an evolving revolution after eighty years what then are the empowerment challenges the local work f
orce faces? 

1. A low percentage of unionised workers. Some estimate it to be 15 to 20 percent of the local work force.

2. So that the majority of workers some 75 to 80 percent are not organized in trade unions and can be used to destabilize and undermine the 15 to 20 percent organized local work force.

3. Organizing workers into trade unions is an exercise in horror. The bureaucracy is time consuming, takes years and in many cases those wishing to be organized are victimized and lose their jobs so that when the matter is due to be heard most of the workers are dismissed or the company closes down and reopens under a different name. Recently a civil action brought by an employer saw a union losing the right to 
represent workers. 

4. Po
litical interference, nepotism, corruption and inefficiency in major economic enterprises where large segments of the work force is situated have seriously hampered and weakened the labour force through total job losses as with the sugar industry and retrenchment in oth
er key large scale areas. 

5. The vast majority of workers are minimum wage workers in the retail sectors spread throughout the country making it extremely difficult for unionization.

6. The labour movement is very divided. There are now three labour federations. This makes it very difficult for united actions to bring about change and empowerment. Unity, power, influence, a progressive programme and united action making demands in the national interest are major factors in continuing the evolving revolution of 1937.

7. E
mpowerment of the local work force is not empowerment of the leaders. Continuous change is achieved only when there is democracy, workers participation, an empowered secondary leadership and workers participation in decision making. 

8. There must be unity of the labour movement which will unify the local work force. There must be one labour federation, three federations creates disunity of the work force.

9. The recognition process for bargaining status and union recognition must be simplified and democratized. The Industrial Relations Act historically is a tool to weaken the local work force and must be changed through united workers struggle.

10. Trade unions must retreat into joint consultations in a democratic manner with members involvement; develop a programme of policies and actions for empowerment of not the already empowered leaders but also the local work force.

11. Such policies must comprise economic, political, social, educational, democratic and overall development proposals to empower and improve the conditions of the local work force, the majority of who are poor.

Historically the local work force has played the important role as leader of the change movement with ideas, proposals, policies and struggles. Labour has also been the instrument of equity, justice and improvement in all areas of our society.

Our politics, law enforcement, judiciary, family life, schools and education, sporting organization and virtually all areas of institutional governance have been in crisis for the last fifteen odd years. An organized and progressive intervention by a united local work force is urgently needed. Our history demands that labour plays its historical role: restart and continue the evolving revolution of our local labour work force.