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WHEN THE MASSES ARISE by Gerry Kangalee

posted 17 Nov 2017, 05:37 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 17 Nov 2017, 10:15 ]
Job insecurity is the cry across the land. Workers are under pressure. Employers are moving to eliminate jobs, safe in the knowledge that the government, itself, being the biggest employer in the country, is quite prepared to force the working people to eat fig and salt. Of course the poor have been eating dhal and rice for as long as one can remember.

The Rowley administration cries that it is trying to preserve jobs, while bit by bit, so-called contract workers in the public service are disappearing, state enterprises are being shut down. Public servants are being threatened with dismissal, egged on by the conglomerate-controlled media.

The joint select committee of parliament (made up of PNM and UNC parliamentarians along with the President’s men) has now plunged into the fray. They are calling for a wage freeze at Caribbean Airlines and for job cuts at VMCOTT.

Throughout the East West Corridor, the manufacturing sector is crying hard times and setting up a retrenchment scenario in their dealings with unions. Labour relations officers in the area are convinced that industrial relations is going to shift from around the table to outside the gate. Manufacturing firms are seeking to offer early retirement and time off without pay.

The Public Service Association (PSA) ever since the 1990’s when the Regional Health Authorities were set up, has taken a lot of blows as its membership dwindles and as the public service has been riddled with thousands and thousands of so-called contract jobs. This situation has not been helped by the poor leadership of the PSA since Jennifer Baptiste-Primus put the interests of the People’s National Movement before those of the public servants.

Now that the PSA has been weakened and reduced almost to a backdrop for the stage where one man plays his parts – now trade unionist; now politician, now buffoon; the spotlight has shifted to the Oilfields Workers Trade Union (OWTU), now a mere shadow of itself. Errol McLeod did a magnificent job of gutting and pulling the teeth of what was once the most powerful social institution in the Caribbean.

Trinidad Cement Ltd. (TCL) is seeking to eliminate hundreds of jobs through the VSEP. The oldest multinational corporation in the world, Unilever, is attempting to eliminate dozens of workers and the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) seems hell bent on downsizing, shutting down campuses and cutting staff. The OWTU represents the workers at these three corporations.

As the Rowley Administration implements a vicious austerity programme designed to raff the last few cents from the pockets of working people and the poor and hand them over to the big business elite, the multinational corporations and the host of parasites clinging on to the coattails of the State, the trade union leaderships are under the microscope.

The test is whether rhetoric can be transformed into direct action to defend the interests of organised and unorganised labour because it is clear that deals with politicians, seats in parliament, memoranda of understanding, Fyzabad accords – none of these has resulted in defending the interests of working people. In fact, they have disarmed the workers and reduced them to spectators as many trade
union leaderships have substituted their personal interests for the interests of their members.

The OWTU ever since the 1960’s has been viewed by the rest of the labour movement and by working people as the strongest section of the trade union movement; dedicated to the defence of class and national interests.

Today, the president general of the union is crying foul on the government for not keeping its promise of no retrenchment for the rest of the year. Think about it! Every child knows a promise is a comfort to a fool...everybody, it seems, except the leader of the group of workers that are, still, the most strategically placed to lead the defence of the working class. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

Sooner, rather than later, Petrotrin workers, the heart of the Oilfields Workers Trade Union, are going to be faced with the elimination of thousands of jobs, particularly in the refinery. When the retrenchment cutlass begins to swing at Pointe-A-Pierre, the economy of the South is going to be devastated. Small and medium businesses, engineering firms, suppliers, contractors, retail businesses, transport etc. will be caught up in the whirlwind. The future, the very survival of the OWTU, itself, is going to come under scrutiny. If you think things are hard now...

As the country stumbles toward an inescapable social explosion, the working class and the organised labour movement is going to have to deal with the steady elimination of jobs. All the bluster about boycotting the one percent, support for the MSJ and general strikes will count for nothing, if most trade union leaders continue to believe that photo opportunities and sound bites are sufficient to mobilise their members. It clearly is not!

We have allowed the government and their corporate financiers to have free rein in building a narrative that says there is no money for wages and salaries but, of course, there is for highways to nowhere, for renting and leasing unoccupied buildings and for leaving as much as $15 billion dollars per year of uncollected taxes in the hands of the ruling elites.

We have swallowed their nansi story about sacrificing in the interest of the “economy” as if “the economy” is some vengeful pagan God; some disembodied entity that feeds on human labour and when that proves not to be enough feeds on human blood. Economics is not some objective scientific discipline to which we must pay homage. Economics is the study, as one historian said, of how some people push others around.

Unionised workers must insist that their leaders stop dealing in bravay danjay ole talk and buckle down to doing the serious work of informing and educating their members and involving them in the search for a strategy that can push back against the massive assault being waged by the government and the employers on the standard of living and the quality of life of the hundreds of thousands of working people who are the lifeblood of this country.

Whether I like it or not, whether, the labour movement is prepared for it or not, social upheaval like the poet’s “rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born…” Should we, then, not prepare ourselves for what we know is to come? Should we not organise ourselves, in such a way, that we can protect and defend our interests and that of our families?

The leaderships of the trade union movement must face the realisation that if they duck from reality and pretend that National Tripartite Advisory Councils and promises from venal politicians are going to save jobs and stave off austerity, when the masses arise, they will be viewed in the same light as the confidence tricksters, political hustlers and parasitic professionals who feed off the misery of the poor. The cry would be: Fire bun dem!
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