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WOMEN AND THE LABOUR MOVEMENT by Cecil Paul & Gerry Kangalee

posted 3 Apr 2019, 15:31 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 4 Apr 2019, 15:26 ]
Using the power of their cash and position 
Waiting to abuse and exploit any woman
Singing Sandra

The Sunday Guardian published an article on March 31st titled United But Unequal written by someone who styles herself/himself Industrial Relations (go figure!). 

This article which deals with the major issue of women’s lack of equality glosses over the oppression and exploitation of females in all areas of society in all countries; but targets the Trade Union movement, as if the issue of women’s rights and gender discrimination has been largely resolved except when it comes to the trade union movement.

What the writer tried to do was to separate the question of women’s liberation from the question of class oppression. The writer states “…it is no shock to anyone seeing women in senior roles in politics, government, the judiciary and business.” That is the nub of the question. All those sectors mentioned are not the turf upon which working c
lass women operate. In the Caribbean, class, gender, race, complexion and ethnicity have always been intertwined. 

The writer goes on to say “the trade union movement seems to be operating almost as if still in its infancy…when most women had either domestic roles or were excluded from positions of power when in employment (and for a long time, without the right to vote).”

What the writer implies is that most women, today, no longer have domestic roles and are not excluded from positions of power when in employment. The fact is that in addition to selling their labour power for a wage, women in employment are, generally, still saddled with “domestic roles” where they engage in the unwaged labour that subsidises the capitalists and without which their profits would be down

“Positions of power when in employment” this anonymous cowardly writer says! Positions of power? Hundreds of thousands of working
Image result for ANONYMOUS WRITER
Anonymous writer promoting the interests of the one percent
class women are at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to employment, particularly in the service industries, where there are no unions, where minimum wage and below is the norm; where workers are routinely sexually harassed by the one percent owners.

In an article called The Productivity Scam, Gerry Kangalee states “the vast majority of the labour force operates in a master-servant relationship with their employers. Yet these workers are expected to display a high work ethic, to bow
, scrape, grin and say: yes Massa, we will not take sick leave; we will work overtime and public holidays at straight time; you can feel me up anytime you want, after all you are the boss; we don’t mind having to hustle transport after leaving your fast food job after ten in the night, we does pray and the Lord will protect us against bandits and raper men.”

What the anonymous writer who calls herself/himself Industrial Relations does not say is that men also were for a long time excluded from the right to vote. When that exclusion, for men, came to an end in 1925 (the first general elections in this then English colony), there were specific qualifications that candidates and voters had to meet.

Women, of course, were excluded from standing as candidates and from voting. Candidates had to be property owners with property of a value of $12,000 (remember that was 1925) or income of $2,000. Voters were also subject to property and income qualifications. This ruled out more than 90% of the population. Interestingly, universal adult franchise was only introduced after the great anti-colonial uprising of 1937, led by the maturing labour movement. 

The great Elma Francois
Since the founding of the movement in the early 1900’s women such as Elma Francois, who was charged for sedition by the colonial authorities and Christina King, both leaders of the Negro Welfare Association, played leading roles and were in the forefront of workers struggles for equality of all genders and for peace, justice, economic improvement and against British colonialism.

These were women leaders of working people forming Trade Unions and leading workers struggles. Their contributions together with other women leaders were well documented by Dr. Rhoda Reddock the well known academic and Bukka Rennie a renowned historian of our country and by other historians. 

So that the myth that women are subservient in Trade Unions exposes a gross ignorance of the leading roles of women in the struggle for Peace, Bread and Justice for working people. Women were the foundation of the Butlerite movement. The women of the oilfields were in the forefront leading and beating back the military and police in their attempt to put down the 1937 uprising in colonial Trinidad and many of them were not even employed by the oil companies.

The labour movement in those days was not restricted to employees who sold their labour power for a wage, but also included those unwaged women whose contribution to the struggle was part and parcel of the development of the trade union movement.

In the early days women were very sparse in the workplace which was dominated by manual labour and were consigned to domestic duties. and were not formally part of trade unions until the OWTU formed women auxiliary organizations linked to Trade Unions. The writer clearly betrays a gross lack of knowledge of the workers struggle in Trinidad and Tobago and is an insult to the workers movement and the history of the role of women in the advancement of the economic conditions of the working classes in Trinbago.

A little research by the writer of the article would reveal the leading role of women in Trade Unions; women like Daisy Crick, Thelma Williams, Elvira Roberts, Carolyn Sampson, Monica de Matas and many other leaders of the OWTU over the years. In the 1970’s and 1980’s many of the leading branch officers of the manufacturing sector in the East West corridor were led by women at Lever Bros., Metal Box, T&T Printing and Packaging. Caribbean Packaging Industries, Nestles Trinidad, Holiday Foods and several industries represented 
by other Unions. 

During the late 1970’s the OWTU Northern Area launched a struggle named “Equal Pay for Equal Work” led by mostly women in the manufacturing sector. This struggle resulted from the discriminatory practice of employees’ job titles being named “male clerk and female clerk,
 male quality control checker and female control checker” with female workers receiving some 15% less than their male counterparts. This was a practice instituted by employers which exploited and discriminated against female workers.

After an intense struggle the employers were forced to equalize the pay and conditions for all workers. The Trade Unions forced employers to grant maternity pay to female workers before the introduction of the NIS. This is in addition to many other benefits applicable to female workers today.

The trade union movement, like other institutions in the society, suffers from a culture of discrimination and prejudice, which is often
reflected in the lack of female bureaucratic leadership in the unions. This is not restricted to trade unions, but plagues all institutions in the country: ask AMCHAM and the Powerful Ladies of T&T. What distinguishes the labour movement is that it has a history of struggling to improve the conditions of working class women, the vast majority of women in the society.

Employers had to be pressured through militant struggle to end discriminatory practices against female workers while the Trade Unions waged constant battles and won equal pay and equal benefits for women workers after long and fearless battles led by heroic women of the Labour Movement. Today that battle is still being waged in all areas of our society.

If Ms. /Mr. Industrial Relations is so concerned about the status of women, she/he would realise that the trade union movement represents a small and shrinking minority of working people and would call for the repeal of laws which make it difficult for all workers, including women, to organise themselves into a recognised majority union.

Image result for trinidad women at work and at home
She/he would also join the chorus, led by the National Union of Domestic Employees, founded by the indefatigable Clotil Walcott, which for years has been calling on the government to enact legislation to ratify ILO convention 189, which would remove the legal ban on domesti
of the one percent.c workers being considered as workers under the law. This largely female sector cannot access the normal remedies those considered workers under the law have access to.

But, why bother! The writer expresses the view of the economic elites who are on a roll with their attacks on the trade union movement, the source of all evil. The Guardian newspaper seems well pleased with this anonymously skulking columnist – after all it is the voice 
Gerry Kangalee,
3 Apr 2019, 15:31