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In The Red

By Terry Joseph
May 12, 2006

My friend of long-standing and brother in spirit, David Abdulah, is usually never short of brilliant and well-honed ideas but his call for us all to wear red today, as a mark of protest against rising food prices, may be signalling a deficit of unique thought.

Mr Abdulah, who is perhaps most famous as president of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions and non-Governmental Organisations (Fitun), made the dramatic call during lunch-hour Wednesday during a news conference staged under blazing sun opposite Whitehall, presumably to catch the attention of Prime Minister Patrick Manning as he left office for a midday meal.

The experienced trade unionist, using as props two huge cooking-pots, such as would be handy at a well-attended curry-duck river lime, said super-sized empty utensils signified what many families were experiencing, as they sometimes had little or nothing to cook due to outrageous cost of food items, prices of which had increased by almost 50 per cent over the past two years. Cutting back on certain foodstuffs, he argued, could rob children of adequate and "decent'' dietary essentials.

From all reports, Mr Abdulah did not touch on the parent-supported kiddie penchant for fast-food with equally deleterious effects on nutrition, being laced with components long accused of insidious perils or the fact that contemporary motherhood is no longer defined by willingness to prepare hot, fresh meals for the family. In short, many mothers might have around the house more empty chicken and chips or pizza boxes than pots.

Also an industrial relations consultant to the West Indies Players' Association (WIPA), radio talk-show host and legendary education director of the Oilfields Workers Trade Union (OWTU), Mr Abdulah is a fearless agitator for social justice, who has delivered dissertations on his pet subject at several international fora, praised for his intelligence, passion and clarity at every sequence.

Just last month, he released a statement of solidarity with New York-based and jail-bound Transport Workers' Union Local 100 president Roger Toussaint, regarding the latter's struggle last December on behalf of transit workers, likening the Trinidad-born unionist to Martin Luther King Jr, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela in their native environments, Tubal Uriah "Buzz'' Butler and George Weekes back home and George Padmore, CLR James and Kwame Ture; who led movements for social justice outside their homeland.

Mr Abdulah's enduring affiliation with the OWTU, earns him the title of "member of the blue-shirt brigade'' so the call for wearing red today represents a major departure from the traditional colour of protest associated with that body, although it snugly fits Labour Day wardrobe choices in many countries and indeed, he first made mention of the red day on May 1.

However, sticking with blue would have been infinitely more suitable to another group currently staging a food-oriented protest, inmates at the country's major correctional institution already so outfitted as they defiantly proceed with a week-long hunger strike, complaining not about quantity or availability of meals but the quality of offerings at the Golden Grove Prison.

Now, none of this is intended to make light of Mr Abdulah's expressed anxieties, as food prices have historically been the cause of major social upheavals and in more developed countries, most memorably the 18 th Century French Revolution, when the price of bread rose by some 88 per cent in a single year (1789), triggering popular uprising among the peasantry.

But in all seriousness, calling on us to wear red makes no sense since we have been sporting that same colour all week long as a show of solidarity with the Soca Warriors and with today's road-show, Trinis from Penal to Port of Spain will maintain the red theme in continuing embrace of the team. In fact, Mr Abdulah's news conference was patently ill-timed, as some 24,000 Trinis were in the process of donning red shirts at the very moment he was suggesting they save them for today.

So red is already well-established as the colour of the week, rendering it impossible for Mr Abdulah to identify and tally adherents to his call, which makes a pappyshow of the project, given the challenges involved in auditing dedicated public response. No person already affected by the high price of food would pay $400 for a Soca Warriors replica shirt and not seek to make the investment cost-effective.

Mr Abdulah must therefore come up with a more revolutionary concept for his next public project, lest we begin to think that-as far as original ideas are concerned-he too is suddenly in the red.

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