Dr. Kwame Nantambu

Labour strife repeats itself

By Dr. Kwame Nantambu
October 29, 2006

Now that the anti-people, anti-labour PNM government has declared "open war" against the labour movement in T'n'T and its attendant workers, albeit the expendable lumpen proletariat, it is apropos to take a look "back in time" at the labour movement's anti-colonial struggle against the Euro-British colonial government circa 1937-38.

This is done so as to draw parallels with the current arrogant, dictatorial, neo-colonial PNM government.

The main progenitors of the anti-colonial labour strife/struggle were Corsican WW1 immigrant Captain Andrew Arthur Cipriani, "Champion of the barefoot man" and "Chief Servant of the Lord", Uriah "Buzz" Butler.

Cipriani campaigned for the presence of nationals in public service over expatriates; he opposed all forms of discrimination and was indefatigable in his demand for local control of the nation's economic resources.

He forced foreign-owned oil companies to accept heavier tax rates, supported all social reform programmes and championed the rights of teachers' salaries to be assessed on an equal basis vis-a-vis civil servants.

Cipriani not only fought against child labour, especially in the Indian areas on sugar estates, but also struggled tirelessly for workmen's compensation, minimum wage, eight-hour work days and compulsory education for all.

As mayor of Port-of-Spain, Cipriani pushed through legislation to purchase the absentee-owned electricity company.

As a self-confessed socialist, he led the masses in obdurate opposition to Euro-British colonialism.

Captain Andrew Arthur Cipriani formed the Trinidad Workingmen's Association which later became the Trinidad Labour Party. His motto was: "Agitate, Educate, Confederate."

On the other hand, labour's anti-colonial strife/struggle took on "militant leadership" under Uriah "Buzz" Butler.

Butler's basic achievements were (i) he "precipitated the rise of trade unions that proceeded to become independent forces of their own" and (ii) he "engineered the direct entry of the working class into colonial politics."

In response to the labour riots and strikes which had spread like wild fire throughout the English-speaking Caribbean, the Euro-British colonial government appointed the Moyne Commission of Enquiry to investigate the causes of this genre of labour resistance.

The Commission Report concluded, in part: "Social conditions were horrible and were justifiable causes for the resistance."

The Report recommended, inter alia, "social welfare assistance programmes, including public housing, and poor relief (welfare payments)."

In today's PNM's neo-colonial world, one finds that the conditions under which the labour movement has to endure are not only more dangerous to the health, welfare and well-being of its workers but also that the response of the PNM government to their needs/concerns is more vicious, callous and tyrannical compared to the sympathetic response of the then Euro-British colonial government.

Indeed, this comparison may lead the casual observer to conclude, rightly or wrongly, that the labour movement and its workers may have been better off under the Euro-British colonial government than under the present sovereign, independent, neo-colonial government of the PNM.

In this specific regard, political independence has neither benefited nor maximized the interests of the labour movement. The workers, masses, proletariat, "the least of these," We the People, are now worse off under the PNM government. Political independence has been a total, mammoth farce as far as the labour movement is concerned.

As of this writing, the PNM government has failed to bring into law the Occupation Safety and Health Act (OSHA) as the main, potent plank for the protection of life and limb of workers in T'n'T. The death and serious injury of untold numbers of workers on the job seem not to phase/affect this anti-people, anti-labour government.

About 25 workers have lost their lives on their jobs in T'n'T. How many more innocent workers must die, Mr. PNM government? Where is your love and concern for human beings, Mr. PNM government?

This PNM government has been very cold-blooded, belligerent, combative and antagonistic in its attitude towards the labour movement. It treats workers as if they are expendable bastards in their public policy formulation.

As a qualified geologist, Prime Minister Patrick Manning seems to have 100 per cent pure Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) running through his veins when his government deals with workers and their representatives in T'n'T.

This PNM government shows no modicum of sympathy for the working, struggling poor compared to the Euro-British colonial government of 1937-38. In this specific regard, the government needs to establish a Commission of Enquiry into the dire plight of workers in T'n'T a la the Commission of Enquiry into the health sector.

In its heartless, conscienceless modus operandi, the PNM government has opted to ask trade unions "to tone down their demands for higher wages" and "to show some restraint." This ridiculous request does not compute with the stark reality that the Prime Minister and other government officials received wage/salary increases ranging from 32 to 60 per cent.

This PNM government is giving equality, decency and fairness a very bad name.

It seems that restraint is only the lot/onus of the poor in society. Apparently, in the blind eyes of this neo-colonial PNM government, working people are not people too.

This PNM government has not only sought to terrorize workers at all levels but has also succumbed to the covert power of the "parasitic oligarchies" in not increasing the minimum wage of "the least of these" in the work place.

The fact of the matter is that this PNM government is determined to cement the dependency syndrome among workers by any and all means necessary.

Truth be told, the neo-colonial PNM government must understand very clearly that the working class in T'n'T brought it into office/power and they can and will take it out of office/power at the next elections.

The neo-colonial PNM government must understand very clearly that the working class is sick and tired of being sick and tired of being "hoodwinked, bamboozled and took" by its vindictive, unconscionable, contemptuous anti-labour policies. The "poor can't take no more", Mr. PNM government.

The neo-colonial PNM government should be fully aware of the 1857 apocalyptic warning of the famous Afrikan-American liberator, Frederick Douglass, who once admonished: "The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress." Your time will soon be up, Mr. PNM government.

This is the new genre of "badjohn" politics by Patrick Manning under the sobriquet of Mr. Executive President.

In the final analysis, the election of the PNM government is the tragedy of history, while its acerbic, venomous anti-labour policy is the ultimate, unmitigated, unadulterated farce in this country's labour history.

Shem Hotep ("I go in peace").

Dr. Kwame Nantambu is a part-time lecturer at Cipriani College of Labour and Co-operative Studies and University of the West Indies.

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