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posted 10 Sep 2016, 09:27 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 10 Sep 2016, 09:42 ]
Alva Allen is the Education and Research Officer of the Banking Insurance and General Workers Union
“I have learnt...
Of men dreaming and living
And hungering in a room without a light
Who could not die since death was far too poor
Who did not sleep to dream, but dreamed to change the world!”

Martin Carter

Just like so many of us who grew up in the 1960’s and early seventies, Ralph Haynes (1949-2016) was profoundly affected by the 1970 uprising. Not yet twenty one, this Vance River raised East West corridor youth’s future trajectory was irrevocably set. He embarked on a lifetime of activism in the service of working people and the poor that had a great influence on the history of this country.

Ralph was a lot of things to a lot of people: panman; revolutionary political activist; militant trade unionist; football manager...but I will concentrate on those areas through which I knew him best.

In the early 1973/1974 period Ralph and I were part of a collective which studied Marxism-Leninism, but more importantly applied its perspective to our tasks as revolutionary activists wherever we found ourselves – in the political sphere, the trade union movement, the cultural arena, in community organising, in the academic and intellectual fields. It is this perspective that would inform his approach to the contribution he would make to the struggles of the workers of WASA and those of the National Union of Government and Federated Workers (NUGFW).

The Ralph Haynes I knew was an exceptional comrade; in that he was one of history’s fortunate few to see some of his dreams come true. One of his dreams was to see the members of the NUGFW having an opportunity to elect their leaders through one member one vote.

After Ralph was dismissed from Century Eslon for organising workers to become members of the Transport and Industrial Workers Union, he found employment at the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) and became a member of NUGFW.

I (then employed at the Electricity Commission (T&TEC) and active in the Oilfields Workers Trade Union) interacted with him and a few others (like Jimmy Singh and Warner) who were committed to the cause of democratising the NUGFW. In that era, the union’s leadership was elected by the delegate system and not along the lines of one member one vote. 

But these comrades faced the odds and gradually gained widespread support among the workers and branch officers after many years of intense struggle in the Union. The momentum became unstoppable and eventually NUGFW’S Triennial Conference of Delegates in 1982 adopted a resolution to elect its leadership using the principle of ONE MEMBER ONE VOTE. Thus the rank and file members of the Union would now have a say in who would be their leaders for the first time. Even though it took another twenty six years for the leadership of NUGFW to put the conference decision in place, Ralph lived long enough to see this dream come true through hard work and sacrifice 

Another dream was to bring WASA workers on par with their counterparts in T&TEC. I remember Ralph challenging then Minister of Public Utilities, Pam Nicholson, as to why a Foreman in WASA should continue to be paid less than a Labourer at T&TEC. Ralph played his role as Chairman of the WASA Section, leading the workers in many battles to correct this great injustice. He has to be thanked for his contribution when at long last the Union and WASA Management signed the parity agreement in 1999/2000. The salary increase was just over 50%. This epic battle for parity intensified at a time when the NAR Government had implemented Structural Adjustment
measures. Another dream became reality.

I vividly remember Ralph’s undying belief in the principle of retaining national ownership of our public utilities and state enterprises. He had every confidence that WASA could become a better utility if only the WASA workers were given the opportunity to impact upon the decision-making. Ralph and the workers of WASA were vehemently opposed to the privatisation of WASA. 

When the UNC Government implemented the PNM’s decision to hand over the management of WASA to Severn Trent, all hell broke loose and the workers fought back at every opportunity. Severn Trent’s tenure was coming to an end and they were seeking a long term contract. Ralph was able to bring tangible evidence to show the miserable failure of Severn Trent to a Ministerial Committee on which we both represented the Union (I was then employed at NUGFW). The Union’s recommendations were accepted and Severn Trent was sent packing. Ralph had made his contribution and lived to see that dream come true.

Without question, Ralph had confidence in a better tomorrow for the people of Trinidad and Tobago. His contribution to the realisation of his dreams bore testimony to the maxim that we can shape the future by taking hold of today. Thanks Ralph. Thanks much!