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A WHEEL IN A WHEEL by Sylvestre McLaren

posted 22 Aug 2012, 08:59 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 22 Aug 2012, 21:21 by Dave Smith ]

There is a tradition within some of the trade unions, where they add to the title of the President the handle “General,” since that is the highest office in the Union. 


The President has a heavy responsibility as the leader. He is accountable to the General Council for the conduct of the Executive arm of the Union as well as those of its employees. He has to ensure that the Annual Conference of Delegates receives reports on the work of the Union between Conferences. In addition to the above, as President General, he is charged with the task of leading all the major struggles of the union. 

If he becomes the leader of a body of trade unionists whether ad-hoc or in a federation, he must be clear about his role as a general and must be conscious of the strengths and weaknesses of the movement, because the trade union movement is really an army of working people, amassed on the industrial front of the capitalist economy of the country, diametrically opposed to the owners of capital to whom they sell their labour power.  

And when the workers through the movement, makes demands for improvements in their wages and other terms and conditions of employment, and the capitalist state, itself an employer, chooses to respond to threats of planned national industrial action with the force of a state of emergency, the general must ensure that his forces are ready and capable of responding to the attacks. 

This response must entail not just religious rituals, grand charge and badjohn talk, but clear ideas and an understanding of the terrain, the line of march and the theatre in which the battle will be fought: if there is to be any battle at all. An army that is not trained and schooled in the various methods of fighting cannot come up against a superior force and win. 

Some Union leaders are followers of the business union line and are not interested in strengthening their Unions, but merely in strengthening themselves. All they are interested in is how they can use the assets of these unions for their own personal advancement. 

One only has to listen to what they do to discover that there is a contradiction between what they say and what they do. Because of this, I sometimes wonder whether they belong to some of the same circles as the leaders of big business. The Baptist religion sometimes talks about a “wheel in a wheel”. Well, stranger things are known to have occurred. 

It would be harmful to the movement if we are seeing it going downhill and we sit idly by with our arms folded choosing to do nothing about it. My reason for putting pen to paper is not because I have something personal against any trade union leader. Not at all! It is because the movement needs to renew itself. 

From its early beginnings to the present the working class has undergone many changes. There are many more young people joining the ranks of the working class who must be told of the gallant history of the movement: its successes and its failures, its progressive role in advancing the interests of the working class and by extension, the interests of humanity. I am afraid that some of this current crop of leaders do not have the moral authority to tell that story. 

The central tasks facing the JTUM leaders now is to mobilise the membership of their respective trade unions against the plans of the government to privatize state companies; conduct education programmes for their members; improve the quality of the representation at the shop floor level and prepare for the next rounds of negotiations. 

We have to build a stronger union movement. The strength of the movement is not only in numbers. It exists in the fact that the membership must be well informed about their rights and obligations as members and can identify the enemy. A well informed membership is the best defence against the exploitation of the working class. But some of the leaders are afraid to educate their members. What they want is an uninformed membership from which they can command blind loyalty. 

So ignorant are some of these leaders, that they are not even aware, that a well informed membership, with quality representation at the shop floor level makes the work of the leader much easier. In our current political and economic climate, the trade union movement represents the last line of defence for the ordinary working people, that is why we must do everything in our power to make it strong; that is why we must take a stand against any and all forces whether internal or external whose objective whether perceived or real is aimed at destroying it. 

But there is a reason why a few trade union leaders prefer to keep their member uninformed. And that is because their aim is to use the assets of their union for their own personal enrichment. In fact some of them have done quite well for themselves through the use of their unions’ assets. 

The time has come for the membership to put a stop to the abuse being perpetrated by these leaders. Such abuse will continue as long as the membership chooses not to take an active part in the affairs of their respective unions. It is time that the class conscious leaders within the ranks of the unions step forward and take the lead in the fight to get rid of the baggage and get the movement fighting fit for the decisive battles that lie ahead.
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