Battle Front

March 2002

The Leadership of the All Trinidad Sugar and General Workers Trade Union has steadfastly denied reports that it was responsible for the chaos that erupted at a Team Unity Meeting in Balmain a few weeks ago. Following the cottage meeting, convened by Mr. Ramesh Maharaj, to discuss the future of Caroni (1975) Ltd., the Port-of-Spain centric' Media Houses in Trinidad and Tobago launched an unprecendented attack on the ATS&GWTU. The unapologetic journalists of the North West attempted to rip into the integrity of the Union by using the most insensitive language, with one Newspaper (a known supporter of the P.N.M.) referring to the Union's membership as a "mob". Bro. Rudranath Indarsingh, President General of the ATS&GWTU was not left unscathed. The daily Press fingered Bro. Indarsingh as the one who orchestrated the mass confusion at the Balmain meeting. In an exclusive interview with Battlefront however, Bro. Indarsingh insisted that there was never any plan to disrupt any meeting. Indarsingh said that one of the watchwords of the Union was Discipline and that the Union always respected theconstitutionally recognized right and freedom of assembly and speech.

"This Union respects the right of another to express his views and we would never be part of the stifling of one's opinion. We never intimidated anyone at the meeting. In fact it was our supporters who were subjected to taunts and physical abuse." Bro. Indarsingh said that the Union's membership was invited to the meeting as it was open to the public and they attended because the issue of Caroni Ltd. was important to their daily existence. "The meeting was advertised for 2p.m but when members of the Union arrived at 1:30, they found no available seats. There were only about 25 chairs in the Centre and when the membership arrived they were forced to stand. Perhaps Mr. Maharaj had prepared for his regular crowd of about 20-25 people." He said that many Union members had placards with then, outlining the issues they hoped Mr. Maharaj would address, but as they were forced to stand some persons at the back complained of not being able to see the stage. "It was at this point that the Police started to intimidate people and to literally force them outside. The handful of Team Unity supporters began to throw plastic bottles at us in the full galre of the Police. The door was slammed and no one wearing a red shirt was allowed in." Bro. Indarsingh said that the Police did not come to the Union's assistance. "They turned a blind eye on us. All this time Ramesh had the largest security detail close to him. Why is he still being afforded security? What is the link between Ramesh and the P.N.M.?" The President Generalended by saying it was the worst case of political intimidation he had ever witnessed.

April 2002

Bro. Rudranath Indarsingh has made a stirring appeal to the members of the General Council of the ATS&GWTU to rediscover the militancy that was once synonymous with Union activity. Speaking to Union members at a recent General Council meeting, the President General stated that he was seeing a very relaxed crowd. "Where has the fighting spirit gone? These are testing times for our Union and we cannot afford to fall asleep. If we do so we are going to suffer an embarassing defeat in this all important battle. The enemies have clearly identified themselves and they begun to advance upon our teritory. The enemies range from an illegitimate government to the media, from a dead political party to the candidates who lost their deposits in the last election. This is your time to discover your will to struggle." He thundered, "in these testing times we must be more viligant and more militant. This Union has always been very watchful and it is my responsibility as your leader to ensure that it continues to be so."

Bro. Indarsingh also made strong appeal for discipline amongst the rank and file of the Union's membership. He stated that some Officers were reluctant to confront their branch managers and were failing in their obligation to address the grievances of their colleagues. He said, "some of you may have to rethink your role as Branch Officers and if you conclude that you are incapable of functioning in your position, then you must do the honourable thing. There must be Discipline and Sacrifice."

Bro. Indarsingh urged the members to view the present battles as the beginning of a new dimension in the struggle. He ended by reminding his audience that they must now move quickly to re-engineer the fight and militancy that was once at the very foundation of the great Trade Union.

Several weeks after announcing that the Cabinet had appointed a Committee to prepare a policy position for Caroni Ltd., the Minister appointed to be in charge of Agriculture, John Rahael, has once again chosen to shun the questions put to him by the ATS&GWTU. The Union had called on Rahael to provide a list of the members of the Committee, their educational background and their expertise in the field of agriculture or previous experience in Caroni related matters. Today, the Union is still awaiting the response. The Minister's failure to provide such answers, puts into question the integrity of the Committee and it casts doubt upon the intellectual soundness of any recommendations that it may submit. The Union had also called for a meeting to advance its ideas on the restructuring of the company, but the same silence has prevailed. Although a May deadline has been given, no one has approached the Union to solicit its views on the all important state enterprise. It goes beyond logic to propose a policy paper on Caroni Ltd., without seeking the input of the majority Union which represents the workers of the industry. Then to add to the confusion, Trade Minister Ken Valley, who keeps usurping the functions of his colleague, has begun to make contradictory comments about the future of the company. Valley, who only recently threatened force retrenchment has now gone on record as saying that the 'future looks bright' for the ailing state enterprise. Valley too, seems reluctant to entertain the views of the Union and has also gone silent on the membership of the Cabinet appointed Committee. Both gentlemen are incapable of dealing with the issue and have resorted to making "off the cuff" statements that lack credibility and foresight