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TRADE UNION LEADERS OBSTACLES TO SOCIAL CHANGE? By Gerry Kangalee

posted 29 Jun 2018, 08:06 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 29 Jun 2018, 08:18 ]

I have to extend deepest apologies to the unionised working class. I was convinced that June 19th Labour Day would be a bust; that workers would be so turned off by the stupidness that passes for leadership in much of the trade union movement, they would have stayed away. But I was wrong and am glad I was.

I underestimated the resilience and perceptiveness of the working class who, while seeing through the tomfoolery of the leaders, have made it clear that Fyzabad does not belong to the leaders, it belongs to the workers. June 19th has become an ineradicable part of the cultural topography of the country.

You can’t fool all of the people all of the time. In fact, you are fooling less and less people as time passes. Gimmicks, photo ops and sound bites do not constitute leadership. Militant rhetoric does not make up for incompetence, political opportunism, playing footsie with the employers, refusing to train and educate members in the basics of trade unionism and putting personal interests above the interests of union members and the wider working class.

What we must remember is that the unionised workforce of this country is a shrinking percentage of the entire workforce. Because of the demonstrated lack of concern for non-unionised workers by trade union leaders, the perception among them is that trade unionists are a bunch of privileged confidence tricksters, political hustlers and hypocrites who treat their staff, in some cases, worse than the one percent employers. And that is not easy to do given the brutal and barbarous nature of industrial relations in non-unionised workplaces.

Yet trade union leaders are preparing to shut down the country by going on platforms and calling for the very non-unionised workers who they ignore and push away to jump up and say yeah we going to rest and reflect!

Most of the “big” unions no longer extend representation to what are called off the street workers, although they know full well that all aggrieved workers, whether members of a recognised majority union’s bargaining unit or not, can only access legal remedy if they are represented by a union.

This attitude strengthens the hands of the employers who are spouting a lot of nonsense about employee rights versus workers rights meaning that workers should not have to turn to a union if they want to have access to the court. This, of course, would apply to the hundreds of thousands of non-unionised workers who are grievously exploited by their employers.

Yet these workers who are turned away by the “big” unions when they are arbitrarily dismissed or have their rights violated are expected to jump and follow suit when the leaders of these same unions play their hands.

Maybe when trade union leaders talk about the working class, they mean only unionised workers. Without support from non-unionised workers September 7th is not going to have the impact it is supposed to have. Indeed to have an effective shut down, support must come from the mass of non-unionised, workers, taxi and maxi drivers, PH drivers, roadside vendors, parlour keepers, farmers, marker vendors, fisher folk, small business people etc.

To get that support involves hard work on the part of the leaders of the trade unions: community meetings, discussions with associations representing non-wage and salary earners, associations representing maxi and taxi drivers and such like even among the unionised workers the work of education and mobilisation is not yet at a high pitch.

We have no moral authority to call on the employers and the state to be more “transparent” and “accountable” if we do not hold our leaders to the same benchmarks. How can we berate the employers for their ignoring the procedures involved in disciplining workers when we stay silent about trade union leaders doing the same?


How can the President of the National Trade Union Centre fire workers for engaging in union activities and still remain President of the largest labour federation in the country? Not only has he remained president, but other trade union leaders have helped him polish his political image by their show of support in Tobago knowing full well that it is all part of his personal political ambition and has nothing to do with advancing, protecting and defending the interest of workers. Ask the PSA staff members!

How can we rationalise trade union leaders, despite the more than fifty years of experiences with tripartite committees over the decades, rushing to be part of that dead-end; having signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the PNM, a party which historically has done more than any other institution to hamstring, obstruct and beat back the advance of the working class since independence? The truth is that tripartite committees over the decades have laboured long and hard and have produced a big fat zero.

How can we rationalise that after leaving the tripartite committee over the brutal treatment meted out to Tourism Development Company workers, they sneak back in on some spurious grounds? The ironic thing is that at the infamous meeting of the Joint Chambers in March the business owners poured scorn on the Tripartite Committee and deemed it a waste of time.

Our country is at the brink of a social explosion which promises to be directionless, anarchic and extremely violent, unlike those that have occurred in the past. Let us not fool ourselves: anger, despair and hopelessness are spreading throughout the country.

This time around the trade union movement, which in the past has always been central to these movements for social change, will most likely be treated by the masses as an obstacle to their forward march. We do not have much time. Members of the unions must take control of these vitally important institutions or crapaud smoke we pipe!
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