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Tuesday 25 September 2018
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Commentary

Petrotrin – the bottom line

Diary of a mothering worker

Entry 300

GABRIELLE JAMELA HOSEIN

THE OWTU’s blustery style of bois hasn’t done itself any favours as many seem anti-union or are in jobs no longer represented by unions or are bosses who consider unions advantageous and difficult.

The union itself hasn’t been done any favours by media representations of them as protecting overpaid welders and carpenters, as if carpenters or welders shouldn’t make $50,000 a year while executive management raked in millions as corruption, nepotism and ineptitude reigned, and threw their hands up at the very political interference that we should have been protected from by those collecting such oversized pay cheques.

In speaking in fiery tones directly to its membership, the union is doing its job, but calmer explanations of the situation, in ways that show the reasonableness of its perspectives to a broadband of sceptics, would build more population empathy, and provide information considered trustworthy.

As it stands, the Government appears rational, though regretful, and the union appears unreasonable and opposed to the national interest. Political and economic elites have won the media war when the workers – not the managers from Ken Julien down who have slunk into the past and now seem obsolete to the blame game – appear to be the enemy of the national economy.

The current solution fundamentally misdiagnoses a problem that plagued Petrotrin, which is the ability to impose accountability on those in charge.

Note that not one package of strategies has been articulated by the Government to prevent any of the three – corruption, mismanagement and patronage – from further impoverishing the public.

Note, there’s no sense that the Petrotrin shutdown should have involved public consultations, or accessibly presented and truthful data and analysis so that every cook could contribute to such decision-making. There should have been clear projection of potential fallout, example across south-west Trinidad, so solutions for managing the social and economic costs could be anticipated together.

This top-down process repeats the top-down status quo that got us here. A board has to make the final decision, but this affects everyone, requiring an information package in everyday language which builds commitment and capacity to participatory governance – a crucial idea that ordinary people must have all the resources they need for an informed say in decisions which affect our nation.

Such decisions may appear to be about technical knowledge, but when the Petrotrin disaster can be traced back to failures of top-down decisions, working people must powerfully resist such business as usual.

Overwhelmed by unclear facts and spin, and disappointment at the PNM resort to rallying party faithful, points for demanding answers disappear amidst the noise.

David Abdulah pointed out that Petrotrin’s debt was $10 billion less than Clico’s, which we bailed out to avoid sector collapse, and yet it’s unlikely that the ordinary person can explain one decision in comparison to the other. Selling the refinery won’t erase the debts owed, so what happens to those? Which average radio listener knows?

Hamid Ghany pointed out the State is being used to break the unions, which is convenient for privatisation, and provides a right-wing political platform for the machismo of kicking down a national threat with the PM’s government boots.

Yet, it is particularly important for the population to support the union in holding the State and company accountable for how it treats retrenchment, retirement and pensions of employees.

Up to April this year, newspapers reported that over 4,000 ex-Caroni workers are still waiting on their severance package, 15 years after shutdown of the sugar industry. The president general of their union said 25 per cent of workers died without their package in hand. Which of us, while demonising the OWTU, will protect workers’ interests this time around?

Helen Drayton suggested that employees are increasingly shying away from engaging in industrial strategies to shut down the country, perhaps as the start of political and cultural change. It’s more likely that economic vulnerability has people desperately anxious about making ends meet, particularly when unions seem out of their league.

Insecure labour and unstable employment have changed the labour market and labour relations. New forms of collective organising are needed in an economy that’s shifted – precisely because the same accountability challenges remain. In Terrence Farrell’s words, “All roads lead back to the fact that these are state enterprises operating within a deeply flawed governance system which can produce only failure.”

The bottom line is, caught between floundering unions and an untrustworthy state, working people must insist on information, participation and power to protect every national dollar.

motheringworker@gmail.com

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