NEITHER rain nor retrenchment or threat of job loss, could have stopped thousands from marching in the annual Labour Day pilgrimage in Fyzabad on Wednesday.
Umbrellas came out and the music trucks, tassa groups, cadet corps, kept the music pumping as union members, alongside dancing moko jumbies, danced in the rain from Avocat Village to the Butler Hall of Revolution for the rally.
Union leaders including president of the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) and the Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU) Ancel Roget, Prison Association president Ceron Richards, David Forbes of the Postal Workers Union, Nirvan Maharaj of All Trinidad General Workers Trade Union, Idi Stewart representing the TT Registered Nursing Association, Lynsley Doodhai of the TT Unified Teachers Association, among others, led the march and the singing of union songs, vowing to keep up the struggle until they get a better day.
On the sacred labour platform outside the Butler Hall of Revolution and in the presence of the garland statute of labour’s founding father, Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler, leader after leader had a tongue-lashing for the Dr Keith Rowley led People’s National Movement (PNM) government.
Criticisms ranging from unemployment, the closure of Petrotrin and the silence of Labour Minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus – who Roget challenged to a showdown, high food prices, crime and insecurity, increase in pension for select officials while ordinary workers struggle to live, the lack of legislation to improve the working class to the failure to settle negotiations and wage increases, were voiced.
The rallying cries were “no justice, no peace”, “no retreat, no surrender”, even as OWTU executive Carlton Gibson urged his colleagues it was time for labour to take back the country.
“Say no to the PNM and the UNC,” Gibson told the demonstrators, encouraging them to vote for the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) which was part of the march and which has indicated its intention to contest the next two elections.
Even as the police in the parade were commended, Roget said crime is out of control. He recalled at last year’s celebration crime was identified as the most critical issue and his prediction if nothing was done the murder rate would have surpassed the previous year.
“Sadly, we were vindicated because the murder rate reached 516 last year while in 2017 it was 494. It is not just the numbers, it is the increasingly brazen, fearless and ghastly nature of these murders, where criminals kill in broad daylight with impunity, with total disregard for witnesses, CCTV camera, social media video recording and with absolutely no respect or fear for even the police.
“Many innocent people have lost their lives to these gun-toting criminals. We have now become a country where drive-by shootings, double, triple and quadruple murders are the norm, and where unfortunately as a society we have become numb and totally unmoved by these daily ghastly, heinous killings.
“Today it is very easy for anybody to put out a hit and have you murdered for the simplest of reasons. It does not matter who you are. As I have always maintained, the only reason you are alive today is because nobody really wants you dead as yet.”
While government continues to criticise the last administration for the cancellation of the offshore patrol vessels to secure the borders, Roget said, “It is a fact that today under the PNM our borders remain wide open.
“As a consequence even more drugs, sophisticated guns and ammunition are entering our country. These sophisticated weapons are finding their way in the hands of all these ruthless killers. This situation is now made even worse with the infiltration of Venezuelan gangs into our country. All because the government has failed to secure our national borders.”
He said only funeral homes, security firms, importers of security equipment, “and those who enjoy huge government contracts to transport young black men from the prisons to the courts on a daily basis” benefit from crime.
He called for a comprehensive overhaul of the entire criminal justice system, including prison reform and a halt to the lucrative prisoner transport contract.
“We call for the completion of the special court for Remand prisoners.”
Roget also urged government to stop its attempt to pass the Private Security Bill, which he said will only concentrate more power and wealth in the hands of certain private security firms.
He said the passage of that bill will decimate the Estate Police Association (EPA), “so that no organisation will exist to protect security officers. Today we stand with the EPA in their struggle against the monopolisation, and further concentration of state wealth in the bank accounts of certain private security firms.”