The Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) condemns the threats and bullying tactics being employed by the PNM Government against the workers and trade union movement with respect to the labour movements call for Friday September 7 to be a “Day of Rest and Reflection”. It is to be noted that this decision was first announced by the Joint Trade Union Movement at its June 19th Rally in Fyzabad. So the call has been out there for more than two months and the JTUM has been engaged in very open public mobilization in many town centres across the country since June 19th.
The issues around which this mobilization was taking place were the PNM Government’s failure to properly manage the country’s affairs, particularly with respect to: crime; the economy; labour issues; health care and the education system. There was no response from the Government attacking this decision until a few days ago. What has sparked the threats of “workers being fined and/or jailed” and the bullying tactics of ‘no pay if you stay away and you will be breaking the law”?
Clearly, the decision to close the Petrotrin refinery and retrench all of Petrotrin’s 3,500 permanent workers together with its more than 1,500 temporary and casual workers has caused tremendous disquiet throughout Trinidad and Tobago and among workers, the labour movement and many businesses especially in south Trinidad. The momentum towards support for the “Day of Rest and Reflection” has increased and the PNM Government has responded with threats of draconian anti-worker action.
The law behind which the PNM is hiding is the Industrial Relations Act. We wish to remind Trinidad and Tobago that this law was passed by a PNM Government in 1972 during a State of Emergency and while George Weekes, then President General of the OWTU and other trade union and political activists were incarcerated. The IRA provides for draconian punishment of trade unions, their officers and workers but similar penalties are not prescribed for companies and employers. It is an unfair and unjust law.
Workers ought to be able to engage in solidarity action with their colleagues who are in struggle. That is the essence of trade unionism – solidarity. The PNM government in 1972 made solidarity illegal. Successive governments – NAR, UNC – have not lifted a finger to change this so they too agree that solidarity is illegal. In Barbados, for example, it is not illegal and Barbados’ industrial relations climate is far less antagonistic than Trinidad and Tobago’s precisely because there is greater respect for the role of labour in that country.
On March 6, 1989 all of Trinidad – workers, businesses – responded positively to the labour movement’s call for a “Day of Resistance” and to “Stay at Home” in a struggle to get the then NAR government to halt its IMF driven structural adjustment (austerity) policies. The PNM then in opposition had many persons who were in the active leadership of a number of trade unions. The PNM was quite happy then to see workers take what they are today describing as “illegal industrial action”. When thousands of workers left their jobs on working days to protest against Section 34 and on other occasions against corruption and the abuse of power by the UNC, Dr. Rowley and the PNM joined the march. For them it wasn’t illegal industrial action. The PNM’s position is therefore hypocritical, as is the UNC’s which declared a State of Emergency in August 2011 at the height of a national mobilization by trade unions.
The MSJ supports the Day of Rest and Reflection. All the cries about it “harming the economy” ring hollow in the face of massive mismanagement of the economy by the Government; corruption and waste; and the actions by some unpatriotic business-people who are intent on maximizing their profits at the expense of workers and engaging in massive capital flight by banking their money abroad thus weakening our forex situation. We are reminded of a famous saying by the late George Weekes “If you examine those who call for law and order when the people are crying out for justice, you will find the record of a common crook”. Words to the wise.
Movement for Social Justice