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posted 21 Apr 2016, 19:04 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 21 Apr 2016, 19:40 ]
“There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”
Warren Buffet

While leaders of organised labour whinge and cringe and pout and steups and fuss and bluster that the government ent taking them on and insist that they must be consulted and that the Tripartite Advisory Council must be convened to discuss the “sharing of the burden”, the employers, including the government, are ramping up the class struggle.

While trade union leaders were preening their feathers and strutting about the fowl run trying to make workers believe their ridiculous Memorandum of Understanding with the PNM was some magical breakthrough that would miraculously transform how our neo-colonial, capitalist system operates, the government raised the price of fuel twice; the merchants inflicted horrendous food and pharmaceutical price increases on working people, taking advantage of the government’s sleight of hand over the value added tax.

When people cried out for relief from the increase in prices, both the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister babbled on about there can be no price controls in a free market system, but the price of labour seems to be exempted from that principle. The government is illegally varying the terms and conditions of public officers and other employees of the state by attempting to bypass the collective bargaining process and imposing by decree how workers must access their arrears which go back to 2011.

The government fully well knows that, just as the NAR government’s 10% wage reduction and removal of COLA in the 1980’s was ruled illegal by the court, this latest imposition will also be deemed illegal; but the government is quite prepared to carry the unions for a run, knowing that the judicial system moves slower than a donkey cart, and the matter will drag on for years. It is called the deep pockets syndrome.

While trade union leaders were busy turning their Joint Trade Union Movement into a third labour federation (mysteriously made up of members of the other two federations) in an effort to access funding from the biggest employer in the country for “capacity building and institutional strengthening”, the very employer was freezing workers’ wages and organising to downsize the workforce, the latest being at the San Fernando City Council.

Selby Wilson
It boggles the mind that Selby Wilson, the man who cut public servants’ salaries by 10% and took away Cost of Living Allowances from public sector workers in the 1980s was an invited guest in the OWTU’s farewell function for David Abdulah as was Terrence Farrell, who once headed the local branch of a transnational corporation, is a leading proponent of privatisation and heads the Economic Advisory Board of which Abdulah is a member.

A few days later, Farrell was blasting the trade union movement and accusing it of seeking handouts. He certainly understands that there is a class struggle and knows which side he is on. Calling for an apology from Farrell makes no sense and will not change the price of doubles. We have to be as clear as they are. They advance and defend their interests as a matter of course. They are not going to share any burden. We hope that if we don’t talk about the class struggle, it will go away and they will throw some crumbs our way.

Trade union leaders are doing all in their power to avoid facing the truth that the capitalists have no intention of sharing any burden; that they are seizing the opportunity to transfer income from the pockets of working people into the pockets of those who already have; that they are retrenching workers by the thousands under the most brutal conditions imaginable, taking full advantage of laws like the Companies Act and the Retrenchment and Severance Benefits Act. The capitalists understand class struggle and they are in the process of intensifying it.

It is astonishing that some trade union leaders who aligned with the last government, failed to get any aspect of the Workers Agenda enacted, yet held on for two and a half years with that government even when it declared a state of emergency, have once more aligned themselves with this government and in the face of a clear anti–working class policy by the administration are holding on for dear life, not understanding that a hog in a palace still remains a pig!

It is quite clear that they have no intention of building an independent workers movement that would have the capacity to put the power of numbers and the power over production in motion to force these bandits, confidence tricksters and hustlers, these enforcers for the employers and the tenderpreneurs who infest the parliament to be very careful when dealing with the interests of working people and the poor. They prefer to attach themselves to the political parties that represent the interests of the employers and hope they get some of the shake off from the master’s table.

It is much easier to make grand, militant sounding statements on the TV as a substitute for the hard slog of facing the membership, explaining the implications of what is taking place and seeking from them the measures they are prepared to institute to protect, defend and advance their interests. Don’t they know the revolution will not be televised!

Meanwhile back at the ranch the business chambers have made it very clear that they are going after the workers under the rubric of flexibility, which simply means that they must have more freedom to discipline and dismiss workers as they see fit while presenting it as a mechanism to improve productivity- as if you can produce yourself out of a crisis of overproduction!

So what do the employers want? They claim in a joint statement from the Energy Chamber of Trinidad and Tobago, Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce (TTCIC), American Chamber of Commerce T&T, Trinidad and Tobago Coalition of Services Industries (TTCSI) and the Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers Association (TTMA) that they want to ensure that “every employee must have unfettered access to the law and the freedom to associate as they see fit, including the right to represent themselves.”

Sounds good doesn’t it? We too want workers to have freedom to associate and are demanding that the provisions dealing with essential industries be excised from the Industrial Relations Act, so that workers could join a union of their choice and that the recognition process be based on expedition. But that is not what these organisations are talking about. They want to undermine the collective bargaining process by claiming that workers do not have unfettered access to the law. This is absolute rubbish!

A non-unionised worker has all the rights of a unionised worker when it comes to rights disputes. All she has to do is join a union and avail herself of the industrial relations expertise that unions have built up over the years. The employers talk about the right of individual access to the industrial court. Ken Howell dealt with this in his article INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS IS CLASS STRUGGLE, when he said: “What was also attempted was the introduction of legislation, which would open the industrial relations arena, as well as the labour market, to the active participation of lawyers in the representation of individual workers...”

The only people who can afford lawyers to take up their matters are those at management level. Working people are already at a gross disadvantage in affording lawyer fees in the civil and criminal courts. The employers want to debar workers in a non-unionised environment from having access to remedy. Let us be clear. Less than twenty percent of the workforce is unionised and they want to keep it that way, so that their non-unionised workforce must have no dealings with unions.

The employers claim employees lack “the right to determine their own individual terms and conditions of employment.”

Collective bargaining arose as a result of the imbalance (asymmetry) of power between employer and worker. An individual worker is at the mercy of an employer who determines the shape of the conditions under which the worker labours. The ultimate weapon in the hand of the employer is his control over whether a worker eats or starves.

Workers countered this by combining themselves into unions with their ultimate weapon as the withdrawal of labour. In the twenty first century, these backward descendants of the colonial planters and merchants want to go back to master and servant relationships. If they didn’t have to provide food, shelter and clothing, they might have wanted to go back to the days of master and slave!

The employers’ document states: “Amendments to the Industrial Relations Act must take cognizance of the fact that many non-unionized businesses already provide a fair and equitable work environment for employees.” If this statement wasn’t so disrespectful, it might be considered good for a laugh. It gives away the game when it goes on to say: “Employees in such businesses should have the ability to access employment rights and remedies without having to join a trade union.”

The employers are cold-eyed about their objective – seize the moment of the economic crisis to eliminate or seriously debilitate the trade unions which are considered distortions in the labour market. They have no qualms about intensifying the class struggle against the working class, just as the Employers Consultative Association had none in the 1980’s during the last great foreign exchange meltdown when their spokesman Emile De La Grenade stated that there was no safe haven for workers...the battlefield is everywhere!

That great class struggle which was fought through the decade of the 1980’s culminated in the general strike of March 6th 1989, the Day of Resistance. Any bets on how this one is going to end up?
Gerry Kangalee,
21 Apr 2016, 19:25
Gerry Kangalee,
21 Apr 2016, 19:04