Fair-weather friends

OWTU president general Ancel Roget - Angelo Marcelle
OWTU president general Ancel Roget - Angelo Marcelle

IN OUTLINING their brand-new approach towards the PNM Government on Labour Day, trade unionists turned to a very old proverb: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

“Who,” asked Public Services Association (PSA) president Leroy Baptiste, “is the enemy of my enemy?”

“The UNC!” cried people in the crowd gathered at Charlie King Junction, Fyzabad.

“We have to get rid of the PNM next year,” Mr Baptiste replied.

Oilfields Workers' Trade Union (OWTU) president general Ancel Roget added, “Take everything they giving you – but vote their backside out!”

As a statement of policy, the approach thus articulated is one shorn of any ideological framework, value or belief. It is little more than naked ambition, naked political expediency.

It is a remarkably shallow basis upon which to anchor an entire movement.

And yet, it is, it seems, the best modern labour can do.

We do not feel it is an approach in the best interest of anyone, whether workers, citizens or trade unionists themselves.

Far more productive is the non-aligned stance adopted by the TT Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) under the leadership of Martin Lum Kin.

When labour leaders flip-flop depending on which way they feel the wind is blowing, it undermines their credibility.

When such officials go on to make endorsements or sign accords or join tripartite mechanisms, the population simply thinks of another old saying: “All skin teeth...”

This damages these leaders’ ability to get workers what they need.

By extension, it doubly antagonises a general population that often bears the brunt of strike action. Turning strong objections to the policies and programmes of a sitting government into a political matter simply returns trade unionists to a gayelle in which they have recently been ineffective.

Unionists flirting with governance is nothing new. Up until 2020, Jennifer Baptiste-Primus was a member of government. Errol Mc Leod and David Abdulah were a part of the People’s Partnership.

In labour’s heyday decades ago, figures like Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler and Adrian Cola Rienzi inspired energised mobilisation among the electorate.

Today, union-based parties like the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) muster a few hundred votes at elections.

The idea of a trade-union leader telling the membership who to vote for is one at odds with our now well-developed and deeply entrenched sense of personal freedoms within a democracy.

Mr Lum Kin’s apolitical stance, in this changed world, makes far more practical sense and is even a model that should be adopted by NGOs more generally.

Pressure groups need not espouse any special affiliation. Their outsider status empowers them to lobby for change no matter who is in power, and to do so with their credibility and even popularity intact.

The same cannot be said for fair-weather friends.


"Fair-weather friends"

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