Angry strikers at Trinidad Cement Limited (TCL) turned on journalists yesterday, chasing them off the strike camp. They also vandalised a van belonging to a cameraman. The incident occurred around 8.15 am when journalists went to the strike camp to probe a report that armed police had cleared barricades at the front entrance of the TCL facility at Mayo.The barricades were placed across the entrance on February 26, days after the strike began. The officers, accompanied by quarry manager, Taradath Ramdhanie, went to the camp and removed a 25-foot pipe which was welded across a bridge. Only five strikers were at the camp at the time and they quickly called for reinforcement. A bus transporting more than a dozen police officers kept watch at the gate.
When the Guardian and CNC3 media crew arrived at the scene, the workers braced journalists saying they wanted no coverage of the incident.
“All you get buy out. We don’t want any media here. Get out! Get out!,” one striker shouted. Another added: “Media is dogs. They carrying only the company side. What you put about the union is wrong.” Questioned about what exactly he was talking about, the striker began using obscene language in front of the police. One striker, wearing a green T-shirt picked up a chair and moved towards CNC 3 cameraman Ivan Toolsie. The man then used the chair to block Toolsie and Guardian photographer Rishi Ragoonath from capturing footage. Police officers who stood nearby, did nothing to protect media workers even though an appeal for help was made. Realising that they had no protection, the media workers left. Toolsie subsequently found his right back tyre flat. It appeared that someone had used a sharp instrument to punch a hole in the tyre.
Ramdhanie said the attack on the media was “just a taste” of what strike breakers faced on a daily basis. He said vandalism of personal property occurred regularly. Ramdhanie also said he was happy that TCL had successfully managed to return power to the Mayo plant.
He said the slurry basins would have been damaged if the power was not restored to allow constant churning. Meanwhile, president general of the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) Ancel Roget promised to launch an investigation into yesterday’s incident. He said: “OWTU and its president general stand by my word that we are against any attack on media. The media has a job to do and they should be allowed to do their job uninhibited and free from any sort of attack.” Roget added: “I am going to intervene to determine the exact cause of that response and to ensure that it does not occur again. Regardless of how we feel about the report the media carries, they must be allowed to do their job.” Meanwhile, hardware outlets in south Trinidad continued to experience shortages of sack cement. TCL’s General Manager, Satnarine Bachew said 2,000 tonnes of cement will be offloaded from Jamaica tomorrow to alleviate shortages.