“I can’t believe I’m doing this!” The words burst unbidden from my mouth when I spotted my mode of transport to Anguilla from St Maarten on September 23.
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Everyone should temper their expectations
When labour leaders gather at Charlie King Junction in Fyzabad on Monday, it will be the first time in more than a decade that they will join hands in a united show of force.
Umbrella organisations—the Federation of Independent Trade Unions (FITUN), the National Trade Union Centre (NATUC) and the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM)—say current circumstances dictate that they unite in the interest of workers, the country and good governance.
JTUM President Ancil Roget who this year was accused of upsetting BP’s applecart with his “take your rig and go” statement said the country is “not being run properly and the way forward is for the United Front of Labour to take action in defence of not just workers issues but in defence of good governance.”
The labour movement’s disquiet with the Government may have to do with its expectations created by a Memorandum of Understanding which it signed with the People’s National Movement just before the September 2015 general election.
Labour feels it was deceived by the political directorate. Nothing new. They felt that way soon after the 2010 general election when the Movement for Social Justice led by David Abdullah entered into an arrangement with the UNC and became a partner in government.
That marriage would soon dissolve, but Errol McLeod who once stood at the helm of the OWTU, held on to his post as Minister of Labour.
Fast track to 2017 and the incumbent Labour Minister is also from the bowels of the trade union movement having served as President of the Public Services Association for many years.
The paths of labour and politics have not just crossed at the negotiating table, but have merged at the political level from a labour Prime Minister to former labour leaders sitting in various cabinets at different times, infiltrating the corridors of power.
Yet labour and the political directorate, whoever it may be, never seem to see eye to eye.
In the past year, the economic reality caused by falling oil and gas prices has set in, with thousands of workers being retrenched or losing their jobs. No sector was immune. Not even the media.
In T&T’s fiscally-crucial energy sector, companies are sending home workers, more plant closures are feared in light of declining gas supplies, there are threats to jobs in the public service as several government agencies are closing down or workers are being sent home.
In this scenario, unions say workers must stand up against IMF/World Bank policies, retrenchment, privatisation, wage freeze, a failing OSH authority, lack of food security and sovereignty and a lack of good governance.
The Government’s hope of having a working relationship with labour all but fell down when the trade union movement walked out of the National Tripartite Council accusing the Tourism Minister of disrespecting the Communication Workers Union and workers of the Tourism Development Company.
The workers’ struggle is not new. But in the current economic scenario where things not only seem bleak, but are bleak, those who hold the reins of power would do well to temper their words with matching action. Don’t say one thing and practice something else.
Labour, too, needs to temper its own expectations. The cupboard is empty. It is a daily nightmare for the State to meet its bills. Overzealous demands have no place in the current economic climate.
With technology and falling revenue threatening the very livelihood of those it represents and its own survival, labour needs to change the conversation and perhaps ask its membership what can they do to ensure that workers have jobs and help steer the ship on course, rather than demand their pound of flesh. At the state level, those in power must reduce the levels of antagonism and arrogance, and treat the working class as equal partners.
The state works for the people, and the people work for the state.
It’s not a case of “we in charge now,” to quote a government Minister. The reality is that is really that we are in this together and we either sail together or sink together.
The choice is ours.