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posted 22 Mar 2016, 19:38 by Gerry Kangalee

In 1987, during the government of the National Alliance For Reconstruction (NAR), the economy of Trinidad and Tobago was in deep recession and International Monetary Fund (IMF) policies were being introduced and imposed on workers. Among the most punitive were massive retrenchment, price increases on essential goods and services, withdrawal of social programmes, cut in wages and salaries and take back of Cost of Living Allowances. Of course these policies were never imposed on the ruling elites and were directed solely towards working people and the poor.

The response of the leaders of organised labour, during the rule of the NAR, to these punitive measures was to withdraw participation from all joint bodies, report to the citizens throughout the country, unite the organizations of the people, make demands to protect the people, engage in demonstrations and shut down the country by a Day of Resistance on March 6th 1989.

Interestingly, the two labour federations at the time formed the first Joint Trade Union Group, sank their very real ideological differences and co-operated in developing a strategy going forward. Labour Congress leaders went to work places organised by CPTU unions and vice versa.

This shutdown was the first general strike since 1937 and was remarkably successful, in that taxi and maxi taxi drivers, PH drivers, roadside vendors, parlour keepers small shop owners etc. participated alongside wage and salary workers, both unionised and non-unionised.

The Day of Resistance succeeded not because trade union leaders made calls for a shutdown on the media. It was successful because they went to the workers, held scores of workplace meetings, asked the workers how they should proceed to beat back the IMF policies, held community consultations, held discussions with community groups, vendors associations, PH drivers, maxi associations etc. And the Day of Resistance was only decided on when it was clear that the country was ready.

That was the beginning of the end of the punitive measures and the demise of the NAR government. The non-productive talk shop tactic of the ruling elites was discarded for direct defence and protective action by working people.

In October 2000 a document called Social Compact 2000 and Beyond was signed by Basdeo Panday, then Prime Minister, and representatives of NATUC, the Employers Consultative Association, the Manufacturers Association and various chambers of commerce. There were undertakings to promote and implement all kinds of noble sounding mechanisms. It stated that the “general aim of all policies and programmes is a better quality of life for all and should reflect a basic people-centred philosophy.” There is no need to say that the whole project was still-born and made no difference to the working class. Interestingly, the only person who signed that document and is involved in the 2016 version of the Tripartite Council is Vincent Cabrera. (Editor's note: rotate the document in order to read).

We are now in 2016, some seventeen years later, with the rape and mismanagement of a previous corrupt regime and a drop in the price of our one crop economy. No economic diversification after fifty-four years managing our economy. Retrenchments are taking place in major industries, prices are increasing and there is the beginning of cut backs in social assistance to the poor, cheered on by the IMF.

Again the working people are called on to bear the burden of the sacrifices. During the reign of the NAR, the institutions used to facilitate the cutbacks and to pacify working people were the Joint Consultative Council, the National Economic Council and the Tripartite Council.

In 2016 the bodies that have been set up to prevent workers’ opposition to economic injustices and pauperization is the National Economic Advisory Council and the National Tripartite Advisory Council Our ruling politicians may have different names for their parties but they behave the same.

Same tactic! Same attempt to divert the working peoples’ leaders away from direct action and solution by the people and towards empty talk shop joint councils that achieve nothing for workers but are really used to protect the ruling politicians and their business financiers while boosting the egos of leaders who feel important to be part of joint consultations with business and government.

So that these two bodies which are not new are but merely incarnations of non-productive tripartite talk shops and a diversionary tactic to prevent mass working peoples’ struggles to defend their economic interests. As CLR James stated “Power Lies in The Streets”.

Since Independence fifty-four years ago, except for an all expense plus perks trip to the ILO conference in Geneva for Labour Leaders, tripartite talks have not given working people anything but instead compromised the necessary struggle for Peace, Bread and Justice in a neo-colonial society of corrupt politicians and greedy business people. Tripartism ties working people hands and feet, pacifies its leaders and allows unjust economic policies to be maintained and new ones introduced.

Since the advent of tripartite talks over the last fifty-four years, major problems still face Trade Unions despite two labour leaders as Ministers of Labour in two governments. Remember, when he was appointed, McLeod was the best thing for the labour movement since geera pork and we all know how that ended up. The very people who lionised and then demonised McLeod are now lionising Jennifer...history often repeats itself as farce!

 Major issues mentioned before include:

  • Union Recognition for workers takes as much as five years.
  • Thousands of Worker Organizers are dismissed during the recognition process.
  • If and When the Recognition is granted there are no workers to negotiate a Collective    Agreement.
  • There is no action against employers for victimization of workers (by dismissals) for violating their rights to freedom of association.
  • There is no Unemployment Insurance for retrenched workers despite a proposal made twenty-seven years ago. 
  • Employers have increased the incidence of contracting out jobs performed by permanent workers thus reducing pay and benefits and promoting gross exploitation of workers. 
  • The workplace still poses grave injury and death to many workers due to non- compliance with OSH laws and regulations. 
  • The workplace has become an arena of temporary contract workers with no collective bargaining rights and no access to grievance handling protection.
  • Multinational Corporations are still given generous conditions and come and go as they please, destroy workers economic life leaving the state to deal with their exploitative operating culture. (OAS, Mittal) 
  • Political appointees still destroy our State Enterprises and Utilities causing loss of national revenue, an unhealthy workplace and job losses for workers. 
  • Government Ministers still interfere and direct employers in the collective bargaining process. 
  • Unions are still denied recognition for workers in more than one essential industry. 
  • So-called essential service workers are still denied the right to strike 
  • So this is what tripartite talks have given workers over the years. Negatives and exploitative policies remain and have increased. 

Despite these historical records Trade Union leaders still see an advantage with Declarations a la Fyzabad and Memoranda of Understanding a la Hyatt and no Programme of Struggle to defend working people. One big mistake in 2010 and now another in 2016! When will it end? When will we learn the nature of our society? How can we change the world if we refuse to understand how it works?

What did they say about doing the same thing again and again and expecting another result? Or is it that they expect the same result?

Gerry Kangalee,
22 Mar 2016, 19:38