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posted 16 Dec 2018, 17:58 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 16 Dec 2018, 18:18 ]
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There is a serious crisis facing the Trade Union Movement with a multitude of negatives seriously harming the economic welfare of workers. It is estimated that more than eighty five percent of the workforce are not organized into Unions. Many of these unorganized workers earn the minimum wage of less than $3,000 monthly. This payment in effect is starvation wages.

Most of these workers are women and mothers with no right to negotiate the price and conditions for their labour while their employers reap handsome profits. There is absolutely no attempt by the Government and the Trade Union leaders to address the issue of the plight of these workers and their right to representation. In fact the Recognition Board (RRCB) has been non - functional for more than a year.

The majority of organized workers are employed in the State Sector with comparatively decent wages and conditions due to Union representation. But with the closure of Mittal Steel, the closure and massive retrenchment at Petrotrin, the consistent retrenchment at TSTT, TCL, UTT and so many other areas and with rumors of employee reductions at WASA, T&TEC and other areas, the comparatively well paid workers of this country will not only be further reduced but the economic welfare of their dependents and the nation’s economy will be seriously affected.

Another negative development is the increased hiring of “temporary”, contract and casual labour which is no longer the exception for specific short term projects but is now the norm. These workers are subjected to inferior remuneration and are unable to obtain hire purchase and mortgage agreements and no security of employee tenure. While these anti-worker policies are good for the employers’ profit margin it is negative for the workers and the economy and leads to social instability.

The Employers are so emboldened by the weakness of the trade union leadership that they are questioning the relevance of the Industrial Court in the current environment so that they can do what they please, when they want, in their attempt to weaken and destroy the Trade Unions and create a minimum wage environment.

Both the organizations of the business class and their representatives in successive governments, which ironically include former labour leaders, have all displayed arrogance, contempt and an uncaring attitude towards the plight of working people who are responsible for their profits and in the latter case for electing them into office. This pain and suffering of workers and entire communities must be ended and only a democratic, progressive and respected Trade Union Movement with leaders who have earned the respect of workers, governments and employers can end the economic oppression of working people.

What is evident by these developments is that there currently exists among the ruling elites an attitude of total disrespect and contempt for the Trade Union Movement. This loss of respect was clearly demonstrated by the government’s offer of millions of dollars in grants to Trade Unions and two years later closing down the largest State Enterprise in the country with the loss of some seven thousand jobs and plunging the communities and businesses in which they operate into economic waste lands. Then the Trinidad Cement issue of foreign Cemex takeover, the Petrotrin closure, the TSTT retrenchment and the violent assault on the leader of the CWU, the legally recognized Union. Also the company’s refusals to have the legal representative enter the premises to address the members’ issues.

The question therefore is why this loss of respect for Trade Unions, the powerful OWTU, the mighty SWWTU, the militant CWU and the Labour Movement as a whole?

1. The decline and disrespect for Labour goes back to the early 1990’s with the breakup of NATUC into two separate Federations due to the violation of the rotating Presidents rule and the decision to hold elections for the Presidency with the losing faction forming FITUN, then another JTUM formed after its work of uniting Labour ended in 1989. As a result the issue was not to serve the workers through united strategies and struggle but to fight each other in a spiteful power struggle series of jointly-inflicted nonsensical wounds which seriously weakened the workers’ interests with NATUC being the Federation recognized by the government and the FITUN left out, so that governments of the day can apply the divide and rule strategy.

2. As a result Labour Leaders took different positions in conflict with each other. One leader called for retrenchment before any decision by the government, once with a good separation package while another federation opposes retrenchment.

3. The compromising of the independence of Labour from political parties. Some leaders hurriedly formed a party (MSJ) and aligned themselves with known corrupted and anti-labour politicians and gained for themselves governmental positions such as Ministerial posts, Senatorships, Chairmanship and Membership of politically appointed Boards of Directors and Committees; thereby creating a conflict of interest; pacifying workers with a false sense of hope and power to the detriment of their members and working people and becoming themselves part of the onslaught against working people they claim to represent.

4. Refusal of Union leaders to consult with second rank leadership via democratic participation of members on critical decisions affecting their jobs thus creating a dictatorship leading to a breakdown of the institutions of the Unions and an absence of ideas and fight back organizing strategies and tactics.

5. Most Trade Union leaders using their positions of leadership to promote their personal political ambitions and welfare to the detriment of their members and the economic welfare of their communities.

6. Signing Memorandum of Agreements (begging) with alternative political parties as an alternative to promoting and defending the economic welfare of members thus employing a lazy alternative to sound proposals and sensible struggles. This conflict of interest alienated the members from their leaders.

7. The absence or very little training of second rank leaders in Industrial Relations and leadership by most Unions for fear by trade union leaders of a threat to their positions by informed members. As a result there is a scarcity of competent and capable practitioners in the movement.

8. Manipulation of Union institutions to select their successors to gain a golden hand-shake of benefits on retirement.

9. Conducting unfair elections to secure their long stay in office.

9. Expelling or permanently suspending all opposition to their one person rule.

The Trade Union movement is in a mess and will continue to decline unless its rank and file members convene and address the issues mentioned here and many other issues plaguing Unions. Due to the grave crisis we face workers must demand proper leadership and stop the disrespect of this vital peoples’ institution. This atmosphere of disrespect must be stopped by direct action of the rank and file members. The dependency syndrome on politicians who manipulate the leaders must be ended by members’ involvement and participation and the election of progressive new leaders.

Trade Unions are about promoting the interests of worker members. Such interests include fair wages, terms and conditions of work, honest, fair and competent representation. Democratic practices are essential if workers are to protect and improve their living standards and that of their family. Trade union leaders are not the bosses of the workers but their servants and they too (leaders) must be paid well but they must not be allowed to own the Union and to undermine the principles of which so many of our forebears were jailed, persecuted and died.

A weakened and compromised Trade Union Movement leads to a weak and compromised society. Those working people who criticize the so called high wages of unionized workers are not only working against their own economic welfare but also that of their children and others still to join the work force. A weak Trade Union Movement is a society riddled with crime, and social instability and where the majority of its citizens live in relative poverty.