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Scepticism over PNM’s motive in labour march
President of the All Trinidad General Workers Trade Union Nirvan Maharaj, on Thursday, voiced his displeasure over the People’s National Movement’s (PNM) participation in the annual Labour Day march in Fyzabad. Maharaj, while describing the PNM’s presence as a “travesty,” acknowledged that the Labour Day march was open to any group wishing to participate. However, he viewed the PNM’s presence with suspicion as he suggested ulterior political motives on the part of the party.
“I have always felt that the PNM was the most anti-labour organisation this country has ever seen with the Industrial Stabilisation Act, with the shutdown of the sugar industry, with the Bloody Tuesday Riots of 1975, the bus workers’ strike of 1966. It is an open march, you cannot stop anyone but I think it is a travesty. I think they are using this opportunity because the elections are next year. It is as simple as that,” he said.
Close to 200 PNM supporters made the march from Avocat Junction to Charlie King Junction, Fyzabad. However, noticeably absent was political leader Dr Keith Rowley. The PNMites were instead led by party chairman Franklin Khan, La Brea MP Fitzgerald Jeffrey and Jennifer Baptiste-Primus. Former leadership contender Penelope Beckles-Robinson also joined in the march. Khan said Rowley could not attend the march as he was out of the country.
Maharaj, who was backed by his union members, said he believed the PNM intended to “piggy-back” on the labour movement to get back into power in 2015. He does not believe the party was genuine in its attempt to join hands with the labour movement. “I do not think the PNM being here (at the march) means that they have changed overnight. I have never seen an apology from the hierarchy of the PNM for the atrocities committed against workers since 1966 in this country. Never,” he said.
Khan, speaking with reporters at the start of the march, defended the party’s decision to join with the labour movement. He said the participation flowed from Rowley’s work at the roundtable meetings with the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) to build consensus “as to how to tackle the lack of proper governance in T&T.” “We see this as part of our continuing process of alignment with the views of the trade union movement and other areas of civil society,” Khan said.
He dismissed detractors, including Labour and Micro Enterprises Minister Errol Mc Leod, who questioned the PNM’s participation in the march. This is the first year the party has officially participated in the march. “Conceptually and philosophically the PNM has always been part of the working class and we have always seen ourselves as a working-class party. So it is not unusual to be associated with the Labour Day movement. In this case, this year we have been invited to take part,” he said.