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Stick to labour issues, MSJ leaders
Once again, the labour movement seems to be out of touch with the reality of the political and economic times—a case of Ancel in Wonderland falling down a political rabbit hole and wandering around in a world of fantasy. First Ancel Roget, leader of the Oilfields Workers Trade Union, engaged in a strike against Trinidad Cement Ltd while the company battled with deep financial troubles. Now he seems to be deeply involved in the pullout of the Movement for Social Justice from the ruling People’s Partnership.
The latest ill-judged move is to hail David Abdulah, general secretary of the union, and a departing government senator, as the country’s next prime minister. Once again Mr Roget and his followers and peers are indulging in wishful thinking. Mr Abdulah is devoted to the labour cause and is a man of sincerity and principle—hence his decision to resign his Senate seat and withdraw from the Government, having measured that government and found it wanting.
But for all Mr Abdulah’s virtue, realistically, what are the chances of the MSJ being able to present itself as a viable political alternative to the PP and the majority opposition People’s National Movement? Even within the ruling PP coalition, from which it has now withdrawn, the party didn’t seem to have much political clout and its departure has not had a significant impact on the partnership. Its former leader Errol Mc Leod and his Pointe-a-Pierre seat remain firmly in the PP corner.
The fact is, too, that labour parties going back to the Trinidad Labour Party, the Butler Party, the Democratic Labour Party and the United Labour Front—parties with far larger percentages of political support than the MSJ—have failed to gain the critical mass they needed to have any realistic chance of success at the polls.
The labour leaders who have been persuaded by Mr Abdulah and Mr Roget to adopt the path of going it alone as a political party would do better to concentrate on bringing meaningful 21st-century representation to their members at the job site. That is what their members pay them to do—the core business of trade unions.
Even in that field, realising unity of purpose and action within the labour movement itself appears to be beyond the reach of the MSJ and its associates. Already the T&T Unified Teachers Association has made it clear that it will not be part of that unwise foray into party political activity in opposition to the ruling PP and the opposition PNM.
So too has the president general of the National Union of Government and Federated Workers, James Lambert, who has been scarce on the MSJ platform and is in fact often seen associating with political company from the United National Congress. The Public Services Association did not even take part in the traditional Labour Day gathering in Fyzabad.
If the labour movement can’t unite even on the most fundamental issues, why should its leaders imagine they can suddenly form a successful labour party when they have absolutely no experience and no reason to believe they have popular support? In 2012, does talk of voting “along class lines” really have mass appeal—if it ever did?
In the circumstances, the best advice that could be given to the labour leaders would be to focus on modern and sensible industrial-relations practices on behalf of their members. The possibilities of the MSJ gaining any serious political traction between now and 2015, when elections are constitutionally due, are remote at best.
Labour leaders need to look at themselves and their approaches to industrial relations. Getting embroiled in party politics now is not going to help them, and might even be a fatal distraction.
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