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TALKING DEMOCRACY? TALKING IN TONGUES! by Ken Howell

posted 14 Aug 2014, 22:03 by Gerry Kangalee
It is 52 years since we were “granted our independence” and 44 years since the 1970 revolution occurred. What is significant about these two events is that they were both about the quest for democracy. 

In the case of the former, it was about political independence which was granted to us on the terms which the colonial masters set out, but in the latter case, it was the people who set out the terms. In 1962, the colonial masters dictated the nature of the democratic system and its political and economic structure; the very thing which has brought us to this very sad state in which we have found ourselves today. 
 
It was in 1970, that the people began the first leg of the struggle to break the stranglehold of the colonial masters on the political and economic affairs of the country, when they demanded the nationalization of the commanding heights of the economy and called for an end to the practice of discrimination in the employment practices of the employer class who discriminated against people of African and Indian origin at that time. 
 
The struggle for working class democracy is an essential feature of the class struggle. Here in this country it has assumed different forms and continues to do so even today. It is taking place before our very eyes in the communities: in the struggle for water, efficient health services, for better roads in communities, to save agricultural lands from being destroyed so that housing estates can replace food crops, to protect the livelihood of the fisherfolk, by protesting against the destruction of the fishing grounds and against the oil spills and so on. 
 
We have been waging this struggle with forces at our disposal that have little or no schooling in the business of political warfare, neither at the leadership nor the secondary level and on a terrain of the enemy's choosing. As a consequence, the enemy was always able to determine the outcome of the battle. 

In the past they have always been successful in causing us to divide our forces at the political level along ethnic lines and also along lines of trade union rivalry between leaders of the movement who place their personal interest above those of the movement when the political snake oil salesmen are jostling each other to be first in line to be chosen to manage this corrupt capitalist system. Another major obstacle which is placed in the path of the workers’ struggle is the destruction of the youths via the drug trade. 

What we are witnessing today in the debate which is currently raging - whether it is about email gate, prison gate, the constitution amendment bills, or the bill to amend the pension act in favour of Judges and Parliamentarians - is the usual strategy to draw the working class into a debate which has absolutely nothing to do with its class interest. 


The view is widely held by leaders in some sections of the working class that the two main political parties, as well as those on the fringe of the political landscape, may be persuaded to represent the workers’ interest if it is possible to influence them to do so. But that is a fallacy.

You hear the leaders of both the PNM and the PP proclaim that their actions for or against the enactment of this or that piece of legislation is in defence of our democracy: a democracy for which the working class, from 1937 to the present time, had to fight tooth and nail for every benefit they have gained in this country.

It must be remembered at all times, that the society in which we live, is fashioned to meet the needs of the capitalist ruling class, and therefore the laws are not amended or repealed to advance or protect the interest of the workers, unless the workers by brute force demand that such changes are made.                                           
 
The capitalist class only makes concessions when it believes that the balance of forces is weighted heavily in favour of the working class. But in our case, with the quality of the leadership of the trade union movement and that of the entity which presents itself as the executor of the political estate of the working class, the prospects are very dim. 

It takes a lot of hard work to build forces that are well schooled in working class ideas and the ability to fight and win struggles at the economic level; in the branches of the Unions firstly, and then in the political arena. This can only be achieved, when all the Unions can successfully build the democracy within the ranks of their respective memberships. 

It is the strength of the democracy within the ranks of the unions and the political movement of the class which will determine the strength of the democracy we are seeking to build in the communities. At the same time we are waging the struggle against capitalist democracy, it is extremely important to ensure that the democracy we are striving to build is the brand of democracy which the working people want.                                   

It is dangerous to assume that we can build democracy, without the active participation of the workers, farmers, the self-employed etc. We have to begin to learn that leaders cannot by themselves fight for the workers. Leaders of the working class must begin to understand that their role is to teach the workers how to fight, by ensuring that they are provided with the tools, with which to fight. The major tool is working class education: about the rich history of the class and about their rights as workers. 
  
Some trade union leaders don't seem to understand that their failure to mount an aggressive campaign to organize that 81% of the labour force which is not organized amounts to collaboration with the capitalists to deny these workers their right to join a trade union. It amounts to aiding and abetting the capitalist class in the under-pricing of the workers’ labour power through the imposition of contract labour and all the ills of the liberalized policies which are designed to give the capitalists a strangle hold on the labour market. 
 
In order to correct this grave injustice to that section of the labour force, the leadership of the trade union movement must set aside their differences and give priority to joint discussions to devise a strategy for the urgent task of recruiting and organizing that section of the labour force. It is the legal right of these workers to join trade unions and participate in trade union activities. 

One of the rights which is enshrined in the Constitution of this country is the right to freedom of association. This, along with the right to form trade unions are to be found in Conventions of the I.LO, and are well known to Trade Unionists. So that when trade union leaders embark on excursions of opportunism for the purpose of ingratiating themselves with the capitalists they are damaging the confidence of working people in the integrity of the movement.  

I am not commenting on these aspects of the behaviour of some leaders out of a desire to deny individuals the right to belong to political parties of their choice. On the contrary, it because I have a sense that the working class is of the unspoken view that their leaders must hold themselves to a higher standard while in the active leadership of the movement. 

It is not sufficient to talk working class democracy without matching talk with action. What these leaders must understand, is that the struggle to increase the gains that we have made within the parameters of the capitalist democracy, is not the be all and end all of the class struggle. These gains that we have made, represent stages in a long struggle from the days of slavery 
 
Since it would appear that the people seem to have perfected the art of voting governments out of office, my confidence in their wisdom in treating with such matters have grown. All we have to ensure is that we are ready when they are. 

What is very dangerous is the participation of persons in the debate who purport to be representative of the interest of workers and who, in so doing, are sending a false signal to the members of the trade union movement and the working class as a whole that what capitalism needs is straightening and painting, along with the replacement of a few pistons and rings and everything will be all right. That is what the campaign for transparency, good governance and proper procurement is all about that is what the so-called campaign for democracy is all about. 

 That is not to say that these are not requirements necessary for the proper management of any political and economic system. What we have to understand, when we hear these utterances from certain quarters, is that these noises are made not in the class interest of the working people, but to give assurances to the international financial institutions and the World Trade Organization that the required safeguards are in place in accordance with the many trade agreements signed by the government; to ensure that our citizens meet obligations accrued on their behalf without their knowledge, by institutions of the state.
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