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TIWU PRESIDENT’S INSTALLATION ADDRESS

posted 19 Jul 2010, 12:24 by Gerry Kangalee

TRANSPORT AND INDUSTRIAL WORKERS’ UNION

PRESIDENT’S INSTALLATION ADDRESS

Friday 9th July 2010

Four years ago, at the last installation ceremony of the Transport and Industrial Workers’ Union, I, on behalf of the then executive, vowed to restore the dignity and respect of our glorious union and to place it in the vanguard of the labour movement in Trinidad and Tobago, and, indeed, the Caribbean.

In attempting to achieve that strategic goal, we embarked on an extensive and intensive programme of training and education of our officers, shop stewards and activists aimed at lifting, through them, the consciousness of our members and their ability to protect, defend and advance their interests as a class – the working class. This task, I dare say, we have achieved.

In addition, we aimed at upgrading the competence and skill levels of those who represent our members to make that representation as effective and efficient as it can become, given the hostile and debilitating industrial relations and political environment within which unions have had to operate, particularly over the last twenty years.

Eight of the executive officers being installed this evening are products of these programmes. I feel quite confident that they possess the ability and commitment to move our great union forward as they grow accustomed to holding the mantle of leadership.

We fully intend to continue to pursue further training for shop stewards and officers in the expectation that the term ahead will be crucial in determining the leadership succession that must be prepared if TIWU is to meet the challenges of the twenty first century.

During the past period, our union and the labour movement as a whole faced tremendous challenges. There was a vicious attempt to decertify both the Communications Workers’ Union and TIWU at the Telecommunications Service and the Public Transport Service Corporation respectively.

This assault backfired decisively in that trade unions from both federations rallied to the defence of the two unions and forced the state corporations and the government to retract their positions.

Let me hasten to add that during that period an injunction was taken out against PTSC workers. This injunction was obtained during the wee hours of foreday morning on September 14th 2009. PTSC workers were instructed to cease protest action and return to work in the wake of a work stoppage which took place in conformity with the provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Industrial Relations Act and ILO convention 155 of 1981 article 19 f which states: “a worker reports forthwith to his immediate supervisor any situation which he has reasonable justification to believe presents an imminent and serious danger to his life or health; until the employer has taken remedial action, if necessary, the employer cannot require workers to return to a work situation where there is continuing imminent and serious danger to life or health”.

It is a legal absurdity that the Minister of Labour has the right in the so-called interest of the state to override the right of the worker to protect his life and limb. What use is a legal right if it cannot be exercised?

We, therefore, call upon the new Minister of Labour to withdraw the injunction which hangs like an albatross around the necks of public transport workers and is designed to inhibit them from taking so-called “protest action” over negotiations and other disputes.

This call is made in the light of the fact that former Minister Against Labour Rennie Dumas, in response to a journalist who asked why the injunction was not removed, said that there was no reason to remove it because once workers continued to do their work they had nothing to fear. We are confident that Minister McLeod will not endorse such arrant abuse and disrespect of workers’ rights.

The Transport and Industrial Workers Union is a member of NATUC. Although I am on the executive of that labour federation it would be naive of me to turn a blind eye to NATUC’s lack of proactivity. It always seems to be in reactive mode, while other organisations seize the time and seem more on the ball when it comes to pursuing issues affecting the working class forcefully and urgently.

This laissez faire attitude on the part of NATUC elicits sentiments and statements from the leaders of NATUC units that do not reflect positively on the organisation. Some tome ago NATUC met in retreat and developed a programme which up to now has not been implemented. NATUC IS IN URGENT NEED OF REFORM! If not, then NATUC will not be able to step up its activity in defence of workers which is the very reason for its existence.

Given all that I have said, I must comment on the calls that we have heard for one trade union centre. While TIWU welcomes the call, we are a bit perplexed as to what process will be used to achieve that objective. I am not aware of any invitation being extended to NATUC to be a part of any discussion aimed at constructing one federation.

All unions need to raise the level of their vigilance as we go into negotiation battles with the employers. Their new mantra is “the global economic decline” as they strengthen their long standing modus operandi of offering us the crumbs from their banquet tables.

We in TIWU are faced with wage offers of 0-0-1/4%; of 0-1-2% and in some instances no wage offer. Our position is that if that is the direction in which negotiations are heading, then it is our duty, our sacred responsibility, to do all in our power to prepare our troops for “WAR” to ensure that workers are able to defend their standard of living as the capitalists utilise their considerable power to make the working class of the world pay for the crisis that they, the capitalists, have created in their mad rush to accumulate capital.

What else is the role of the trade union if not to struggle against exploitation and to advance, protect and defend the standard of living of the working class? No union leader should divert from that commitment even if it leads to incarceration. Indeed, in some countries to be a trade unionist is to court assassination.

Let me take the opportunity to congratulate the People’s Partnership on their comprehensive election victory and to assure them of our support for policies and decisions that advance the interest of the working class.

Let me also assure the members of TIWU and you who have gathered here this evening that we will fight with every fibre of our being against policies and decisions that retard and hamper the forward march of the working class.

In closing, let me place on record our profound thanks to all those unions and workers who supported TIWU and CWU in our battle against decertification.

We, in TIWU, will support all unions engaged in struggle to defend workers against exploitation and to safeguard the standard of living of their members, regardless of what labour federation they belong to or if they belong to no federation at all. It is our sacred duty.
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