June 19, 2012 will mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of trade unionism in Trinidad and Tobago. During this period, the country witnessed the formation of powerful trade unions such as the Oilfields Workers Trade Union, the Seaman and Waterfront Workers’ Trade Union, the National Union of Government and Federated Workers’ Union, All Trinidad Sugar Estates and Factory Workers Union, Communications Workers’ Union, Transport and Industrial Workers’ Union, the Banking Insurance and General Workers’ Trade Union, National Union of Domestic Employees, Contractors and General Workers’ Trade Union and the Union of Commercial and Industrial Workers’ Union.
These institutions were created by working-class men and women many of whose names have not been recorded.
Additionally, in those seventy-five years, the working class has given birth to the steelband movement, and the calypso movement. Furthermore, it saw the formation and sometimes supported the work of the Trinidad Labour Party, the Butler Party, the Negro Welfare Social and Cultural Association, Workers and Farmers Party, the National Joint Action Committee, the United Labour Front, and the Committee for Labour Solidarity.
However, in the main, the working class has been held captive by middle class political parties like the PNM, UNC, ONR and presently the Peoples Partnership government.
The trade union movement has been weakened by internal divisions within the individual unions and within the Trade Union Federations due to political opportunism and deception of some of the leaders.
Moreover, the movement has been under attack from various governments in collusion with international capitalist organizations and their agents from 1965 to the present.
These policies have caused a decline in union membership and have weakened the movement’s political influence, especially during the late 1980s to the present. Today the movement is fragmented, lacks progressive leadership and is prone to political manipulation.
The movement is celebrating its 75th anniversary at a time when elites all over the globe are waging a war of “shock and awe” against the working class. Using austerity measures in Europe, right to work legislation in the US, contract labor in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, they are bent on the working class and imposing privatization and tax cuts and bailouts for the rich.
Moreover, they are no longer willing to make any social compact with labor to maintain peace. Their goal is total domination and pauperisation. Therefore, mere resolutions by the movement for better working conditions, legislation etc. will not frighten them one bit.
Our history has shown that the working class has the capacity to build autonomous working class organizations; we have created credit unions, soccer clubs, netball clubs, cricket clubs, pan yards and places of worship, festivals, theatre, dance and other forms of popular culture. On the other hand, we have failed miserably in the political arena. We abandoned our politics in the late 1950s and 1960s to worship at the altar of the PNM.
In the 1970s, our leaders betrayed us by destroying NJAC and the ULF. In the 1980s, we once again abandoned our politics and worshipped at the NAR altar. In 2010, we desecrated Fyzabad by allowing Abdulah, Daaga and McLeod to “pimp” us in supporting the PP alliance, a right wing, anti-working class party.
Despite these failures, we can learn from the past and examine the reasons why all past attempts at creating a working-class party has eluded the working class. One thing for sure is that ten people sitting in a room can’t build a working class party. This is why the MSJ is not a working class party. Don’t be deceived.
A working class party can’t be built in a year. We have to begin the discussion at Fyzabad 2012 and continue it in the workplace, community, places of worship, on the block and wherever we congregate. The trade union movement must leave Fyzabad with one resolution - the building of a working class party by the people and for the people.
It must not be imposed from above but must be built from the ground up. We have to do like Walter Rodney and “ground” with our brothers and sisters in every workplace, community centre, place of worship, pan yard and other arenas. Let us leave Fyzabad resolute, committed, excited and dedicated towards building a genuine working class party that will commit each of us towards working for the transformation of Trinidad and Tobago.