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Sunday, January 8, 2017

The strike notice has been served, the battle lines have been drawn, and tomorrow we shall know whether the OWTU will go ahead with its strike action at Petrotrin if the Government fails to avert it.

What this matter has revealed is the possibility that the State may be held to ransom if it does not meaningfully address the wage demands of the OWTU on behalf of Petrotrin employees.

So far, the OWTU is playing the negotiations process by the book and the Government, as well as a variety of private sector umbrella organisations, are pleading with the union not to go through with the strike action. All of this must be understood in the deeper context of how we have arrived at this juncture in a broader philosophical sense.

In an address to a special convention of the PNM in November 1970 at which time the “Chaguaramas Declaration: Perspectives for the New Society” replaced the “People’s Charter” as the guiding philosophical document of the PNM, Dr Eric Williams had this to say in his address to the convention:

“The PNM Perspectives reject both liberal capitalism (with its concomitant of penetration and take-over of the economy by multi-national corporations) and the communist organization of the economy and the society. Instead, we follow the pattern that is being increasingly developed in developing countries of state participation in the economy, to the extent of up to 51 per cent in particular enterprises, to ensure that decision-making remains in local hands.”

That was the philosophical paradigm that Williams and the PNM adopted in 1970 in the aftermath of the Black Power uprising earlier that year. Indeed, that has been the philosophical guideline that has been adopted by successive governments and has led to boom-and-bust cycles in our economic development as a country.

That model brought great prosperity in the 1970s and early 1980s and then collapsed by the mid-1980s and the neo-conservative philosophy of IMF structural adjustment policies saved the country from economic peril by the early 1990s.

There was a resumption of that model in the first decade of this millennium with new state enterprises being added once more to the payroll of the State as the oil-gas boom took place. Once again, rising expectations were fuelled by rising revenues as well.

For the second time in our economic history, the country is facing economic peril because of declining oil and gas revenues and the inability of the State to meet its commitments to its employees. Are we on the doorstep of another neo-conservative structural adjustment programme to save the country again?

The reality is that the trade unions in this country have held firm to the Williams model and have upheld its ideological intent. The private sector-led umbrella organisations seem to have gone along with it and have not adopted an ideological position more closely aligned with capitalism and the free market. In many respects, they have been ideologically neutral seemingly almost afraid to articulate a more profound solution to the problem at hand.

The problem at hand is whether the Williams model of 1970 is still relevant today or is there the need for a change more than 46 years after it was advanced as a reform of the first plan of 1956.

The trade unions have held firmly to the Williams model and to its core values. The private sector has failed to clearly articulate a free market approach and an embrace of privatization as their ideological position. Instead, they have become reactionary by calling the unions reckless and irresponsible.

The Government is unable to uphold the values of the Chaguaramas Declaration by trying to say that they are not hostile to the union, on the one hand, and yet they are ready to take action to break the effect of the strike, on the other.

The reason why the OWTU is as strong as it is on this issue is because of their firm ideological belief and commitment to their cause, while the private sector is bereft of any philosophical conviction on the free market and privatization as the opposing argument. The Government is the middle-man here seeking to react to the situation, while being reluctant to dismantle the Williams model.

If it continues this way, the entry of neo-conservative structural adjustment policies administered by the IMF will be both the outcome of the crisis and also the saviour of the country once again at great pain.

Williams’ pursuit of state capitalism cannot work if the State is unable to generate enough revenue to keep the model going. The private sector is afraid of its own shadow on capitalism and the free market, the unions know exactly what they are doing and the Government, which has been in dialogue with the IMF, is caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.

If the private sector could offer an ideological alternative solution, the country might actually have something substantial to debate. Failure to do so leaves them crying wolf about recklessness and irresponsibility when a new paradigm is needed.


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