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UNION BUSTING TRINI STYLE By Dave Smith

posted 8 Oct 2018, 13:24 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 8 Oct 2018, 13:36 ]
We’ve been here before.

On 31st December 2006, BWIA pretended to close. In the six months prior to that, they had set up a new Company called Caribbean Airlines and recruited key workers, pilots, cabin crew, engineers, from existing employees.

The last BWIA flight left Piarco airport heading for London on 31st December 2006. Three days later this very same plane, with the same pilot and the same cabin crew returned to Piarco airport now calling themselves Caribbean Airlines.

Like Cinderella's glass slipper, BWIA apparently disappeared in a puff of smoke on the stroke of midnight, halfway across the Atlantic.

When BWIA shut up shop, everything was transferred to Caribbean Airlines. Assets, BWIA Miles, lease agreements. Everything, that is, except the workers, Union recognition and the collective agreement.

But BWIA wasn’t the first. The National Union of Government and Federated Workers (NUGFW) had a similar experience in 1997 when Cannings Foods sold their Coca Cola franchise Caribbean Bottlers. The workers were made redundant, most re-employed a few days later minus Union recognition.

A similar situation took place at the supermarket Tru Valu, which had eight stores and where Banking Insurance and General Workers Union (BIGWU) was the recognised Union.

Tru Valu transferred four stores to a newly established company called Eastern Commercial Lands. On 29th September 2003 they made all the staff in these four stores redundant, and two days later offered them jobs without their Union.

There was some resistance to these developments, but it took many years and took a legal path.

Initially, the NUGFW lost its matter in the Industrial Court. The Court took the view that, once the workers had received the severance payment, all obligations under the Collective Agreement had been fulfilled and the Union's recognition ended.

BIGWU had more success in challenging Eastern Commercial Lands. They won a successorship claim in the Industrial Court which, on Appeal, was upheld. This was important because Court of Appeal decisions are binding on the Industrial Court.

The criteria used by the Court of Appeal to determine that Eastern Commercial Lands was the successor to Tru Valu were called “the three substantials”. Essentially this was that the new company was carrying on substantially the same operation, in substantially the same way with substantially the same workers.

It was this Court of Appeal decision that enabled CATTU, one of the former BWIA Unions, to argue successfully that Caribbean Airlines was, in reality, BWIA in another name. It took ten years for the matter to wend its ways through the Industrial Court and, even now, is subject to Appeal.

It should come as no surprise to us, then, to find that the Board of Petrotrin has decided to make every single Petrotrin worker redundant. The pattern is well-established. It is well trodden ground.

We recognise Union busting when we see it. Keep a close eye on TSTT.

The plan to close Petrotrin has to be seen in the context of the closure of Caroni and Arcelor Mittal. As always, workers pay the penalty
Image result for UNION BUSTING for greed or mismanagement of the employers.

It's not only putting profits before people that is the problem. It's a complete failure to look at the bigger picture and plan ahead strategically that is inherent in a capitalist economy. Planning for profits for the few and not for the longer terms needs of the many

Union busting is one thing. Denying workers the right to organise in the first place is something else.

It has always been difficult or organise workers. The legislation in Trinidad and Tobago is designed to make it difficult. But when employers, with unlimited resources, use lawyers to challenge how unions organise this has to be seen as part of the bigger picture of the employers’ offensive.

The High Court decision to remove Union recognition from BIGWU at the Royal Bank is part of a growing tendency to legally challenge any successes that the Unions can achieve.

We are not alone.

Amazon, whose profits topped US$2 billion for the first time in 2018, discovered that some of their workers were trying to join a union. The response? A 45 minutes video to train the workers: “We do not believe unions are in the best interest of our customers, our shareholders, or most importantly, our associates.” says Amazon.

At least it's not as bad as Colombia where, over the past 20 years, about 3000 trade unionists have been murdered.

But there is resistance.

Workers in Britain working for McDonald's - now dubbed McStrikers - and TGI are currently launching a series of strikes to demand pay increases above minimum wages. Low paid workers in Wal-Mart in the US have fought back. It’s not easy. But then it never was.

The challenge for the trade union movement is to remember how to organise workers. In Trinbago well over 80% of workers are not unionised.

As Marx said, “what the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers.” The message is clear. The struggle will never end until the working class holds the reins of power.
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