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THE WEAKENING OF THE WORKING CLASS by Robin Ramkissoon

posted 24 Feb 2014, 10:33 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 24 Feb 2014, 10:39 ]
Nelson Mandela was branded a terrorist by the white racist regime of South Africa and by extension capitalist word leaders. After the long struggles and the dismantling of apartheid he was anointed by the same hypocrites as the famous hero for mankind. History and Politics are very fluid!

    


George Weekes
Did Nelson Mandela radically change his ideological position from Nelson Mandela the freedom fighter and Nelson Mandela the President of South Africa? Can the same be said about working class leaders in positions of state power today defending /uplifting the condition of the working class? Where are the likes of George Weekes, Joe Young, Cola Rienzi, Uriah Butler; skilful negotiators like Nuevo Diaz .

 

The Labour Movement and WI Cricket of the post-Vivian Richards era are suffering a similar fate with respect to the patriotism, the will, the history, the identity. Few present day West Indies cricketers can tell three or four things about the Three W's, Ramadhin, Gary Sobers.


Sonny Ramadhin
Few present young trade unionists can write two paragraphs on Weekes, Butler, Rienzi, Cipriani. The trade union movement weakened in the post-George Weekes era. WI cricket weakened after Sobers, Kanhai, Lloyd and Richards. In the absence of knowing where you came from, difficulty follows the path forward.

 

The way we are conditioned to think causes us to step out of our class boundaries to seek answers and philosophize why we are where we are. Frankly: the answers are right in the back pockets of our old trousers. 

 

Up to 1990 (I think) we had two labour organisations, the Council of Progressive Trade Unions (CPTU) and the Trinidad and Tobago Labour Congress (TTLC). I don’t have the figures of the total membership, but it may have been in the vicinity of 120,000 members. The TTLC was largely northern-based and the CPTU was heavily influenced by the largely southern-based Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union. The business class and Eric Williams’ PNM had great influence in the TTLC whereas the CPTU was branded as rebels.

 

Major conflicts would often rear their ugly heads for Labour Day Celebrations between the two labour groups. CPTU would always celebrate in Fyzabad and TTLC would often celebrate in Port of Spain. So right there we have working class conflict among the labour leaders and it, of course, affected the workers.

 

Working class consciousness and education were evident and alive in the CPTU. There were teach-ins, lectures, study groups, education council, branch bulletins. There were demonstrations, letters to the editors, popular slogans, local and international labour news published in the Vanguard and Socialist Worker newspapers and distributed to all branches. There was involvement in the art form, support for international working class struggles etc.

 

The TTLC was led by so-called leaders that were influenced and rewarded by the Eric Williams PNM. So, in essence, the TTLC lacked the elements of true working class struggles and identity. So right here we had working class conflict.

 

Around 1974/75 came the new "political working class" vehicle from oil, sugar, transport etc. into a political United "Labour" Front (ULF). Excitement, hope, unity among the members! Although the 1970 Black Power Movement brought about a semblance of unity among Afro and Indo Trinis, for the first time Africans (oil) and Indians (sugar) united as a political force. Oil and Sugar embraced.  This, of course, raised a red flag for the Eric Williams PNM and the business class. In 1965, when the Industrial Stabilisation Act was enacted Eric Williams felt his greatest achievement was keeping Oil and Sugar apart.

 

Although branded as communist by certain elements in the society the ULF won ten seats in the 1976 general election. Those ten seats were the result of the power of the working class. Workers felt their power, the power of labour operated in the scheme of things. So right there it seemed to have working class unity.

 

While all this was happening on the political front, the education and training intensified, mostly among young comrades of the working class at Paramount Building: seminars on industrial relations, the role and responsibility of the shop stewards and branch officers. Members from various unions and workers’ organisations were invited to participate. The identity and values of the working class took on a new dimension. So right there the working class was making some progress.

 


Frank Sears

As contradictions among the leaders in the ULF intensified within two short years, the effects of which filtered down within the unions, the setback of the working class started to become evident. Some labour leaders on tasting parliamentary office, consciously or unconsciously redirected their energies into bourgeois politics while spouting working class slogans to enhance their positions of leadership within the labour movement. They became false prophets and betrayed the cause. 

 

Although George Weekes continued the drive for working class education and identity and the OWTU was the nucleus for those activities that spread throughout, from within the ranks insecure leaders who felt threatened by this education and training of the grass root members started to undermine the thrust. Certain progressive comrades who were at the forefront of the training and education were marginalized and therein the centre started to collapse. The working class identity further faded, not only due to the external capitalist forces, but due to the leadership from within the labour movement. 

 

So Ken Howell's armchair view: “the best among us to take power" is in a difficult positionIt must rise up from a new breed of secondary leaders whose first mission is to seize power within the labour movement and then work towards working class political power.

 

And quite frankly, Comrade Frank Sears, having been in the bowels of the OWTU from the 1970's, is in a sound position to rouse, stimulate, create change and show cause as to why the working class movement with its present bourgeois conscious leaders are not “the best among us.”

To comment on this article email kangaz@workersunion.org.tt. Please state your name and whether your comment is for publication

 

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