Thursday, June 20, 2013

Fyzabad Speech : Labour Day 2013


Brothers and sisters of the Labour movement, on this glorious day, as you gather in your thousands, standing together united as one, all colours of the rainbow, I bring you greetings on behalf of the all Trinidad General Workers Trade Union and the National Trade Union Centre of Trinidad and Tobago.

On this day, this most symbolic day, when we pay homage to the heroes of the past and those who would have struggled to lay the foundation upon which we stand, we must ask ourselves one fundamental question, how is it that for the past 12 years, a land filled with natural resources and human resources and wealth, has so quickly descended into the realm of rape, murder, kidnapping, corruption, nepotism, and a spending frenzy beyond imagination.

The answer to that question brothers and sisters is very simple; we the leaders of civil society are failing those who have gone before us. We have allowed individual and organisational interest to take precedent over welfare of the working class people of this nation.

We are failing because we have forgotten the lessons of the past and while we forget; our young men are dying in the killing fields of the northern hills, the central plains and the southern lands of this nation.

While we forget our people are weeping for the sons and daughters, kidnapped, robbed, raped, murdered and brutalized.

Indeed those who have gone before must wonder at the paradox of an energy rich nation, with persons living below the poverty line, with young men bullying and killing each other in schools, where in a country as wealthy as ours, people are still being treated like second class citizens in our hospitals, where beds are a luxury and not a necessity.

Our past labour heroes must bend their heads in dismay at a land where all unions are supposed to be equal but some are more equal than others. Where some unions with assistance from fairy god fathers are settling with the CPO and getting their four percent adjustment and while others are struggling to even get a date for negotiations and the 4 percent adjustment seem a like a distant star.

In this same vein brothers and sisters allow me to briefly mention two labour issues that are of vital importance to the people of this nation and which left unchecked could eventually undermine the working class of this nation and everything we have fought for.

The first issue is that we must be very careful of the total legalisation of the industrial court and the undermining of the essence of the Industrial Court as a court of social justice, social conscience and as a bastion of working class salvation. Some people seem to forget that the Industrial Court deals with justice, equity and fair play and is not bounded by legal technicalities of criminal and civil jurisprudence. We must not allow rules and regulations and technicalities geared towards the civil and criminal courts to be blindly imported into the Industrial court without analysing the burdens of cost and limits and restrictions that this will place on the working class, and the unfair advantage this will give to the employer class whose resources are a million times more that an ordinary working class man.

This is the beginning of a dangerous precedent that we will have to deal with, but more will have to be said on that at a later time.

The second issue brothers and sisters of vital importance to the working class of this nation is in my humble view, the alleged subjective, frustrating, time consuming, arbitrary, disorganised, confused and muddled institution called the Registration, Recognition and Certification and board. I say this without fear and I say this without favour, because the All Trinidad General Workers Trade Union and other Unions often face applications taking years to process, recognition being granted after companies have closed down.

And in the personal experience of the All Trinidad, where the Board on two occasions mandated that a certificate be issued for an institution where there are people working without a proper contract for over five years, where workers have been dismissed and others employed to take their place, a place where attempts were made to unilateral change the status of these workers, a place where workers were receiving compensation below the minimum wage and working without sick leave and casual leave. And it took months before the Certificate was eventually signed and delivered, the Certificate being held back through no fault of the Secretariat of the Board, but because of the deliberate or maybe inadvertent influence of certain individuals in authority. Again more will be said on this issue and the injustice perpetuated on these workers at the proper time

This my brothers and sisters is what I mean when I say we must not forget, because if you do, then you become complacent and the rights and privileges you now enjoy, that which your forefathers would have fought for and laid the foundation for, which you earned by your sweat and your toil, could be easily taken away from you through the disguise of legality and reform and nice promises.
You see Brothers and Sisters the greatest asset of any nation is the spirit of its people and the greatest danger to any nation is the breakdown of that spirit. Today we see many attempts being made to undermine and break the spirit of the labour movement, blatant attempts from patronage and handouts to outright divide and conquer.
An so I say to you and appeal to you and repeat for you as I did last November that YOU MUST NOT FORGET
You must not forget the struggle, for the struggle is not over, the struggle will always exist, as long as our society is a society based on rigid class stratification and as long as those who controlled the factors of production before 1838 still control them today, you the working class of this nation will always have to fight, and beg, and protest and demonstrate, for the rights that are due to you.

You must not forget that you have to fight for better wages, you have to fight for a better working environment, you have to fight against technocrats implementing economic policies without taking into consideration the adverse social and economic consequences on you.

You must not forget that you have to fight for labour reform, even though there are so called representatives of the labour movement in Government. Every single tangible benefit the working class has ever gained in this nation, You have had to fight for it. Worst than this, is that you have to fight against those who are supposed to be representing your interest.

It has become so ridiculous, that while workers suffer, Members of Parliament, expect to be praised and thanked for paving a road, building a box drain or providing water to a community. They expect you to go down on your knees and thank them for doing their job, for doing what they are paid to do in the first place.

My Brothers and Sisters there is no doubt that Labour has again been betrayed by those who profess to have labour at heart. And in order for labour to deal with this betrayal, there must be unity on the labour front. Trade Unions must unite together; we must become a band of brothers united together in a common cause. We cannot and will never succeed if we continue to allow petty differences to take precedent over the good of the working class of this nation.

Labour will always fail if we continue to sacrifice the interest of the working class on the altar of pettiness and political expediency. Labour must never have to depend on gifts or handouts from any politician or political party.

We must honour those who have gone before us, and we must walk in their footsteps and demand our rights, we must be united in battle and when we speak we must speak with the legitimacy of thousands of workers whom we represent.

Today I again make a plea, I appeal to the leaders of the Trade Union Movement, I appeal to Natuc, I appeal to Fitun, I appeal to the joint trade union movement, l appeal to the Independent trade unions, let us meet together at the table of brotherhood, let us forge a new direction, let us begin afresh to chart a pathway of labour unity never before seen in this nation.

Let us create a labour lobby as powerful as any political party. Let us unite for if we don’t we shall perish.

I will even go so far as to say, perhaps the time has come for the Trade union movement, to embark upon a struggle to change the psych of our people, to change the consciousness of our people, to change from a culture of nepotism, to a culture based of fairness, equality and justice. Our struggles must never be selective, what is good for one must be good for all.

The time has come for the trade union movement to begin the process of educating our people, of teaching them, that Members of Parliament are nothing more than persons holding on to a job.

That they are public servants, and their duty and responsibility is to serve you the people, not you the people serving them. You must be aware that there are some of them who behave as though they are without an original idea, without, independent thought, without logic or rational, some who can’t even string a proper sentence together or write a proper essay, some who do not even have the decency to respond to their constituents, but yet they expect you the people to honour them. If fact the only real character qualification some of them have is the ability to tow the line and say how high.

Truly the time has come for the Trade Union Movement to begin the process of breaking the shackles of mental bondage that makes us believe that elections and parliament are only about Party politics.

Maybe just maybe, the time has come, for us to recreate the age of the Independent candidate as an option to the mockery that passes as candidate selection for constituencies.

As Trade Union leaders we cannot continue to sit on the sideline and allow party politicians to take this nation, our nation, into a dark abyss of no return.

This is our nation and we must decide if we are going to be part of the problem or part of the solution. I say to you this very day that the trade union movement must charge itself with the responsibility of creating a new ideological perspective for the people of our beloved nation

We the leaders of civil society must never again allow ourselves to sustain a system based on exploitation, favouritism, racism, discrimination and nepotism. We must challenge both sides of the divide and demand change. If we don’t then history will never forgive us.

It is for this reason that I again say to the leaders of the Trade Union Movement let us unite, we do not have to go to war or fight to express our discontent, we do not have to shed blood to stand up for our rights, we simply have to unite as a people, as leaders of civil society and send a message.

When I look at the issues facing this nation and at the issues facing the All Trinidad Union, such as the fact that 10 years after the shut down of the sugar industry, thousands of ex-Caroni workers are still fighting, and begging and pleading to get leases for their two acre plots and residential lots, that are legally due to them, in addition to numerous other problems such as lack of roads and irrigation and drainage facing these workers, when I think of the disdain and contempt with which they have been treated while Private Companies and Private individuals are having access to Caroni Lands, while the State is still breaching a Court Order with regard to the Caroni VESEP package, I feel a sense of bitterness at what is being done to these workers. But more will be said at this in due time.

When I think of the fact that the All Trinidad still has outstanding negotiations with the CPO, and is still to get the 4% salary adjustment that other Unions have gotten, that we had to fight to get a certificate from the recognition board even after we have been identified as the legitimate bargaining unit.

I have no choice but to reveal to the National Community that from July the All Trinidad General Workers Trade Union will be establishing its Wednesday Night Forum to be held at the Rienzi Complex on a forth nightly basis in the first instance. In order to meet with individuals and organisations to discuss the National Issues of the day, suggest solutions and assist in charting a new direction for the people of Trinidad and Tobago. All are invited, not to be spoken to, but to be spoken with.

You see Brothers and Sisters there are times when lines of demarcation must be removed and political, racial, ethnic, and class differences must give way to the good of the country. We must remember those who struggled in the Camboulay Riots, who faced the wrath of the colonial authorities in the Jahagee Massacre, who took part in the Water Riots, those who protested and demonstrated in the 1934 and 1937 Riots, those who were willing to face death in 1970 and those who faced tear gas, bullets and batons in 1975, in the March for bread, peace and justice.

We are their descendants and we must not let them down, we must take a stand for the future of our nation.

The time has come for the Trade Union Movement reclaim the legacy that was left to it and redefine itself as a pillar of working class struggle and as a check and balance on politicians gone mad.

Let us do our duty and conduct ourselves in such a manner that today this new journey based on unity, will be the dawn of a new age in the labour movement of Trinidad and Tobago. And to paraphrase the words of Winston Churchill, “If the labour movement should last for a thousand years, men will always say that this day, was it’s finest hour”

Let unite together, let us work together to safeguard the future of our nation and our children for generations to come.

Long live the All Trinidad General Workers Trade Union,

Long live the struggle for, peace, for justice and for equality,

Long live the Trade Union Movement

I thank you, may god bless

Nirvan Maharaj, President General, All Trinidad General Worker's Trade Union .

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