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posted 19 Apr 2012, 19:26 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 19 Apr 2012, 19:41 ]
Comrade Sylvestre McLaren, a well-known stalwart of th
e trade union movement since the 1960’s is the Treasurer of the National Workers’ Union. He joined the movement as a result of being involved in left politics.

In 1961 he joined the Union of Foods Hotels Beverages and Allied Workers, which later changed its name to the Union of Foods Hotels and Industrial Workers.
Subsequent to the Bus STRIKE OF 1969, in which he was involved, he became a member of the Transport and Industrial Workers Union (TIWU) and was instrumental in causing employees of Trinidad Paper Products Ltd to join TIWU.

He became an Officer in TIWU in October 1978 being elected to the position of Chief Organiser with responsibility for recruiting and organising branches into the Union.

He held the position of Education and Research Officer and was an Executive Officer until 1997.
In that same year he became an employee of the National Union of Government and Federated Workers and served that Union for 7 years.
In his article entitled
Errors of Commission (s) which appeared in the Daily Express of Tuesday 20th March 2012 Dr. Rolph Balgobin frowned on the various Commissions of Enquiry now hearing evidence into the HCU/CLICO, 1990 coup attempt and the Police Service Commission appraisal of the Commissioner of Police.
In his view, the information which was made public as a result of these enquiries and the manner in which one such Commission made certain disclosures clearlypointed to a leadership deficit which is at the root of the problems of our society.

Dr. Balgobin, an Independent Senator, is presumably in a favourable position to speak on matters of leadership and the absence thereof. His main concern was about the absence of integrity in those persons who were highly trained and who held leadership positions in important organisations and institutions in the society.

He was also disappointed in the fact that in the case of the CLICO/HCU Commission of Enquiry greed was the driving force behind the action of those who caused the collapse of these entities.

Those issues to which Dr, Balgobin pointed speak to one aspect of a much larger problem. There is a leadership vacuum in almost every aspect of the political and economic life of our society. But who is to be held responsible for this problem? No one? Perhaps all of us!


Contrary to the conviction of Dr. Morgan Job, it is because of capitalism and the ideology of individualism which it teaches; we are in the mess we are in today. So we do not need more capitalismas he is advocating- we need less.


The political and economic crisis currently affecting the whole of the Euro zone and the USA clearly demonstrates how greed and the absence of integrity work together to produce individuals who, notwithstanding their wealth of experience and training in their particular field, are not qualified to lead because they lack integrity and honesty as their watch words.


But it is even more than that. Western society is educated in a particular world outlook. That world outlook holds the view that society can only prosper on the basis of the freedom of the individual. That way of thinking is sometimes enforced by taking the concept of individual freedom to the extent that it is widely believed that at the economic level, the absence of rules and regulations will provide the environment that is conducive for individual initiative and acumen to flourish; that a messiah is what is needed to fill the vacuum.


The truth is, however, it is the people who produce the leaders. Those who emerge as leaders in a society are those who at the particular point in the history of the people, represent the embodiment of the issues affecting them and the struggles they are waging  to change the society for the benefit of the majority at that point in time.


Such leaders are the product of the class struggle and of the dynamics of the dialectical process of development of the social, economic and political life of that society.


This process is always at work, and it can produce progressive as well as reactionary leaders, depending on the revolutionary awareness and strength of the working class. If the forces of the working class are to produce leaders with strong working class convictions, then the organisations of the class must do the necessary work to achieve that objective.


We cannot expect the ruling class to produce leaders for the class to which it is diametrically opposed. Working people comprise the majority in the society but in the politics, we divide our strengths between parties which do not represent our class interests.


It is true we have the freedom to belong to any political party of our choice but if we are conscious of the class to which we belong then I believe that we have a moral duty to recognize where our class interests lie.


This situation must change and we are capable of making the change. However, we must also be careful about how we make the change because the change that is required must come from political structures built from within the communities, the trade unions and other workers’ organisations. For too long we have allowed ourselves to be led by parties which do not represent our class interest. We must become more aware of our political environment and scrutinize the various political parties.


In some countries the ruling classes produce political parties of various shades. One can find parties that are left of centre, right of centre, far right, far left, middle of the road and so on. And you will find that the leaders of these different types also wear the label. I am sure if you should listen carefully to the political scientists you will hear them describe some of these parties in that vein.


We have produced political parties and leaders some of whom can be described as progressive and others as reactionary. They emerged in political parties and in the trade unions. They influenced the type of politics we practice and the ideological outlook of some of the trade unions.


As a consequence, today, the forces of the organized labour movement are lacking in the quality of the leaders required of the movement at this time in our history. The working class needs strong and progressive leadership at this very moment. Not leaders who choose to talk progressive while their actions prove otherwise.


The history of the labour movement in this country is one of division caused by subterfuge and outright reactionary behaviour on the part of some of its leaders. Once again that seems to be our problem at both the political and trade union levels.


I do not have to recount the many struggles which brought us from slavery and indentureship to the right to vote, the right to form trade unions, to independence, the 1970 revolt, Bloody Tuesday 1975, 1990 attempted coup and the fact that today the working people are at a stage where all the gains achieved as a result of these struggles are likely to disappear if we are not prepared to defend them.

We are at a stage where the society is under threat. The threat which we face comes from the fact that Trinidad and Tobago society is in transition. There are forces at work that recognize that the forces of the working class are led by some elements whose aspirations are to be among those who exploit the labour of the workers. The broad masses of the working people have not thrown up leaders who are feeling the pain and suffering of the people. Many are the mocking pretenders.


Time and events have spoken and by the process of illumination through the ballot box, political leaders and parties have come and gone but the objective and subjective conditions are yet to conspire to bring to the fore leaders who are the embodiment of the aspirations of the broad masses of the working people.


We are at a place where at this point in time if Trinidad and Tobago, as the leader of the Islands of the Caribbean, succumbs to the policies of liberalism, the rest of the islands will fall victim as well. Economic liberalism is not the answer to the political and economic problems of the Caribbean. This is where the absence of political and economic leadership is so glaring.


An opportunity is now availing itself for the government to position itself to deviate from the path of liberalism. I speak of the initiative of the so-called BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) to begin discussions about the formation of an economic bloc.


It is true that all of these countries have different historical developments, however, if they can succeed, such an economic bloc will represent about quarter of the world's population and for its survival and its ability to influence the rest of the developing world it will have to change the rules of the geo- political/economic game.


The foreign policy of such a bloc must be based on mutual respect for countries regardless of size and economic standing. Trinidad and Tobago can examine whether there are opportunities for countries who wish to continue pursuing economic development that is along line which seeks to de- emphasize capitalism.


This might be wishful thinking on my part because our leaders are not independent thinkers. They rely very heavily on the views of external elements to decide what is good for us. They do not see our sphere as the centre of the universe and everything which happens in that universe happens because we caused it to be so. It is that kind of thinking which ignites the imagination of a people to go where no one has gone before.


Therefore we must begin the discussion about the nature of leadership at all levels and this must begin with discussions about the issues which affect the communities. In fact these discussions have already begun. This is evidenced by the many protest actions taking place across the country. The people are telling us about the problems which affect their daily lives.


We are also seeing that in many of these communities leaders are stepping forward to speak about the problems which their communities face. If the government fails to deal with these problems, one of these days we are going to see a coming together of the people on a scale which will be difficult to ignore.


We must remember that it took many years before the people got fed up with the PNM government and party, to the point where they decided to remove the party from power on three occasions.  So it should not be a surprise to anyone to find that the people's patience is already running thin with the Peoples Partnership government. This is because, the people are wiser politically notwithstanding the many obstacles placed in their path.


I speak here of the crime, corruption, the climate of fear which is now gripping the country and so on. In spite of all these obstacles, the people remain alert to the issues and aware of the machinations of the state and ruling class.


As they meet and discuss they are gradually coming to a conclusion about the quality and nature of the action which it will be necessary to take and at that moment all the forces at work in the dialectical process will conspire to produce leaders fit for the task of leadership and to realize the aspirations of the people.