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PROACTIVE GOVERNMENT CRITICAL

Published: 
Sunday, January 8, 2017

It is the failure of the Government to have a functioning and vigorous Tripartite forum discussing and formalizing an approach to an industrial entente, call it a peace accord, among the economic and social partners that is responsible for what is threatening to be the start of a season of industrial conflict.

With desperate economic circumstances facing the country, and with state corporations and the central government unable to make significant money offers to workers (at every level of the pay scale), there was and remains a desperate need to evolve a national consensus amongst the partners on how to cope in the short-to-medium term.

It was and remains the responsibility of the leader, Prime Minister Keith Rowley, to have facilitated, however difficult the process, such a consensus. That is how quality leadership shows itself worthy.

But, as we are wont to act after the fact, the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union is now being petitioned to “reasonableness”. Everyone understands, or should (Ancel Roget and the OWTU leadership more so than others) the negative consequences of a strike. Moreover, it is the Petrotrin workers who will have to forgo three months salary who will feel the most immediate consequences.

But it should have been predictable to all that with the OWTU members still owed a settlement for 2011-2014, and facing another zero, zero, zero offer for 2014-2017, that the union would have resorted to use what it considers its most powerful weapon; and that is even if in the end the strike benefits no one.

I interpret the strike action as an act of desperation by the union: how would the leadership of this most historically militant union crawl into a hole with no logical and acceptable frame of reference to offer to its membership for another zero, zero, zero offer?

A proactive government, with a willing and dynamic private sector and labour in tripartite dialogue, would have served the national interest of coping in the short run with the economic fallout, and providing a platform for discussion on moving towards establishing an economy more resilient to the external shocks of low gas and oil prices.

What is unfortunate about the conflict is the fact that Prime Minister Rowley and his government came into power with the support and goodwill of the OWTU and the more aggressive elements of the trade union movement.

Instead of utilising such political currency through the proposed Tripartite approach, the Government has allowed the opportunity to slide to the point where conflict seems the most predictable of outcomes.

Having failed to achieve a collaborative approach, what then is the strategy? Bulldoze through trade union protests; cry indigent, unable to pay; engage the population against the unions; bank on party political base to counter the unions and utilize the business community to damn the unions?

Surely a collaborative and far more strategic approach should have been adopted with the Government responsible for initiating continuous and productive dialogue.

Instead, we submit to that biological and social gene inherent in this society that initiates conflict amongst institutions, economic and social groups, and individuals. This gene is rooted in the politics of race and unthinking party fanaticism; in industrial conflict between labour and capital, employer and workers’ institutions; in the old days panmen and steel bands fought each other in bloody battles with no winners.

In addition to and because of the biological and sociological blocks to co-operating in the national interest, we have not been able to appreciate in a fundamental manner the sources of our problems, and so we have not been able to think our way strategically out of the dirt track of conflict and on to a highway for resolution.

One institutional barrier has been our inability to transform our institutions and attitudes that were constructed for a different society for the purposes of our colonial masters. We therefore remain locked away as slaves, indentureds, estate overseers, plantation owners, and merchants and as Lloyd Best used to say, post-colonial governors.

Instead of dialogue to save jobs, to protect the existence of corporations and companies and together seek to work our way through the economic difficulties, we remain frozen in zero-sum games in which one side will lose while the other achieves a pyrrhic victory but the country/economy are no better off, frankly worse off.

At the time of general election there is opportunistic coming together: Labour throws its weight behind the Opposition party, the Government having failed it; the business communities fund the different parties to peddle influence and gain government contracts; the tribal masses line up behind their parties with the expectation to gain material, social, cultural and psychological benefit after the election.

In office, the governing party chooses certain groups of supporters to reward with state contracts and ten-days’ employment, while the too clever among them enrich themselves. At the same time, the real problems of the country prove too much of a challenge to undertake.

Inevitably, the country is thrown into turmoil as stated development objectives are not even approached, far less achieved, and soon enough the electorate says it is ready to give the out-party another shot at the Treasury.

At the time of writing, Thursday, I heard the voices behind the robber talk of Prime Minister Rowley and President General Roget articulating cries for help. There can, however, be no quick fix.