Where we stand‎ > ‎News & Comment‎ > ‎


posted 4 Mar 2012, 16:26 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 4 Mar 2012, 16:26 ]

For most former colonies in Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, political independence, did not confer on them economic independence. The idea of economic independence will continue to be an elusive dream which will remain in their subconscious mind, never becoming a reality. 

This is the case with Trinidad and Tobago, South Africa and Zimbabwe to name just a few countries. The major obstacle in the path of some small first world economies and those of former colonies, is their failure to wrest control of their mineral, energy and agricultural resources and to work together in the various international organizations to break the strangle hold which the former colonial powers continue to have over trade in the international market place. 

Having said that, we must not lose sight of the fact, that most of the leaders of that era –with the exception of a few- schooled as they were in the culture of the colonial masters, were unable to conceive of economic independence as the next stage of the struggle. This is the case even today with some of the current leadership of these countries. 

One of the ways to judge where they stand on economic independence is to examine the position which they take on some foreign policy issues. In most instances they take their cue from the big powers such as the USA, the UK and now possibly China; and when the time comes to vote, they may choose to vote or abstain; dependent on which of the big powers were able to lobby them first. 
That is the quality of the leadership which we had and continue to have. Because of that type of leadership, the anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggles waged by working people across the globe were only able to achieve limited success and, as a consequence, the imperialist powers through the various lending agencies, were able to launch a counter attack following the collapse of the price of oil in the period 1985-1987. 
That attack came in the form of the liberalized economic policies which they imposed on countries whose economies were reeling under the shocks of economic recession and all the political problems which flow from the collapse of the economy. Against that background it might be useful to examine the position of Trinidad and Tobago and how the leadership of the country treated with the problem. 

In1980 the then PNM government set up two task forces. The first one was headed by Dr. Euric Bobb a former Governor of the Central Bank. The second task force was headed by Dr. William Demas. The Euric Bobb task force recommended a reduction/removal of the subsidies which the government was providing at the time as part of its welfare programme. 
The Demas task force recommended that more drastic measures should be taken as a result of the drastic decline in the price of oil and oil revenues. By that time Dr. Eric Williams had already died and Mr. George Chambers, who became Prime Minister, chose not to follow the recommendations of the Demas task force choosing instead to implement the recommendations of the Euric Bobb task force. 
The recommendations of the Demas task force – as it was discovered later on through the revelations of a Grenadian born Economist, Mr. Davison Budhoo - came straight out of the IMF bible on structural adjustment which is one of the many tools used in the implementation of the liberalized economic policies; especially where the state is a major player in the economic activities of a country. 

Mr. Arthur Napoleon Raymond Robinson, who was a member of the Demas task force, became the political leader of the right wing National Alliance for Reconstruction party which launched a successful election campaign against the PNM and was able to form the government with a majority of seats in the parliament; thirty three to three. 
On assuming office he set in train the necessary process for the privatization of state enterprises in a letter to the head of the International Monetary Fund. But what must be clearly understood by the action of the NAR in this regard, is the fact that the government was also telegraphing to the high priest of neoliberalism that the government was now a full member of the church of neoliberalism and that the state of Trinidad and Tobago was ready and willing to drastically reduce the government’s involvement in the economic activities of the country by the privatization of as many state enterprises and utilities if and when it was necessary to do so. 

What we must never forget is that NAR’s action represented a betrayal of the 1970 uprising which was the vehicle through which the broad masses of working people and farmers, Africans and East Indians, demanded that the state intervene to end the discrimination in employment and to ensure that we own the economic resources of the country. As a consequence, the PNM government led by Dr. Eric Williams was forced to embark on a campaign of nationalization which he launched under the title “The Chaguaramas Declaration.” 
The significance of the Chaguaramas declaration was the fact that it represented a major departure from the government's previous policy as it related to economic development because, the government was forced to submit to the demands of the working people. So that when the oil boom came as a result of the formation of OPEC the country experienced a drastic increase in oil revenues and the government appeased the population through its welfare programmes while some government ministers misappropriated millions of dollars. 

When the economy collapsed under the weight of falling oil prices and production due to a drop in demand, quite a few companies went into receivership and thousands of workers were thrown on the breadline and the country was in a state of shock: the ideal conditions for the implementation of liberalized economic policies. 

In order to understand the background against which these right wing economic policies were being implemented, we must recall the fact that one of the planks of the anti-imperialist struggle was the formation of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). The existence of that organization was the focal point of contention between oil producers and consumers. Trinidad and Tobago fell into the category of producer. 
With the treasury overflowing with cash the government was in the driver’s seat where the creation of economic opportunities was concerned. In the eyes of big local and foreign capital, the PNM was moving too far left of centre, especially with Fidel Castro in Cuba and revolutionary organisations seeking to topple some governments in Latin America. As we all know, when the economy crashed the PNM went down with it, largely because of corruption and squandermania and in spite of all the welfare programmes it established for the people. 

The important lesson to be learnt from the 1970 uprising is the fact that the broad masses of working people was able to force the government to implement economic policies which placed the ordinary people high up on the list of priorities of the government of the day and as a result, a significant amount of financial resources was channelled into programmes from which they benefited. This is what the NAR attempted to change and what the new NAR which is hiding behind the PP fig leaf will change if it is allowed to succeed. 

A well organized and united trade union movement is the only potential obstacle to the implementation of the plans of the disguised NAR. That is why all the conscious and committed trade union leaders must begin the task of holding work site meetings to educate their members about those critical issues, which include, in addition to the struggle against the government’s wage suppression policy, the question of privatization and contract labour and the outstanding issues which formed part of the Workers Agenda which was approved by the COSSABO held on April 18, 2010 in San Fernando. 
Those are the issues which we must continue to fight for. We must not allow those elements who pretend to be the fighters for labour but are really the agents of this new reincarnation of the NAR to de-rail the struggle. They are very cleaver; they know how to say the right things when speaking to workers, but their actions are never reflective of the words they speak. Where workers benefited from their actions it was the result of the preparedness of the workers to struggle and also because of the area of the economy in which they are employed. 

In order for the new NAR to complete the implementation of its liberalized policy of privatization it must be able to neutralize the labour movement and the best way to achieve this is to launch the campaign from within the movement. Use some sweeteners: ensure that the leaders who are part of the new disguised NAR lead the charge by making all kinds of wild statements pretending that they want a fight while they look over their shoulders to ensure that their father is there to hold them back. 
Unfortunately, some workers for whose benefit they are performing may be unaware that it is another performance with the use of smoke and mirrors. This is what we must guard against. One of the sure ways to counter the subtle strategies of these elements is through unity in struggle. We must engage in concrete solidarity action with those unions who are currently locked in struggle seeking to improve the wages and other terms and conditions of employment of their members. We must engage open and honest discussions about the issues which threaten to divide the movement. 
Leaders must not be reluctant to speak about issues as they see them because at the end of the day when we move we must move as one body; all of us reading from the same book and in unity and solidarity; prepared to pull the mask from the faces of the disguised NAR and its agents in the labour movement.