Plantocracy v People power: A political case for the union movement

Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) party organiser Akins Vidale makes a case for the Trade Union Movement (TUM) to be seen as a viable political third party:

The pats on the back have been too many to count since the 2013 Local Government National Debate. However, on too many occasions, there has been the subtext that I will go nowhere with the MSJ.

“You would have a much better chance of contributing to this country if you joined the PNM,” they say. “You won’t get that opportunity as a member of the MSJ.”

Photo: Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley.
Photo: Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley.

There is hardly a week that goes by that I don’t have someone posit this scenario to me. This comes from many quarters and, all of them alike, don’t see the contradiction in the position.

The indictment on us as an electorate is our failure to see how absurd it is to acknowledge persons who have the capacity to contribute to this country’s development and in the same breath dismiss them as irrelevant because they have the ‘wrong’ party card.

It also explains in part the growing attacks on those who still make up the ‘undecided’ in the face of the unprecedented collapse of the Kamla Persad-Bissessar administration. I want to focus a bit on this third force, which I am unapologetically a part of.

I have heard many PNM activists argue that it was their move away from the PNM which led to the election of the PP administration. This is simply not true. There are only three seats currently held by the PP that would have gone to the PNM if it had maintained its 2007 voter tally, Arima, La Horquetta/ Talparo and Toco/ Sangre Grande.

The equation would have then been 26 – 15. The PP would have still won.

The loss in support for the PNM in 2010 in terms of actual voters was 12,976. This loss was spread across all constituencies save for 5 where they actually registered increased support, namely, Caroni Central, Cumuto/Manzanilla, Fyzabad, Laventille West, and San Fernando West.

Photo: Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (centre) campaigns unsuccessfully on behalf of Khadijah Ameen (left) in Chaguanas West. (Courtesy Jyoti Communications)
Photo: Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (centre) and candidate Khadijah Ameen (left) during the Chaguanas West by-elections.
(Courtesy Jyoti Communications)

In spite of registering increased support in these areas, they only won Laventille West and lost the others. Why? The answer lies in the third force not the PNM base.

The fact of the matter is that the PNM in its post 2010 campaign for re-election has focussed a lot of its energies chastising the population for the May 24th election result. While I am not in a position to know what has been discussed behind closed doors, what has been articulated publicly attempts to exonerate the PNM from any responsibility for the results of 2010.

In terms of the actual vote they would be correct because the shift in the PNM base was immaterial to the overall election result. So in that respect they can say proudly that they stood behind their Party. However what has not been assessed is the reason why there was an increased voter turnout against the PNM Administration. And it cannot be simplified to former PM Patrick Manning.

They must answer fundamentally: “What is it about the governance of the country between 2002 and 2010 that would mobilise the electorate to so resoundingly reject the PNM at the polls?”

The answer which the third force has tried to air amidst all the noise is that we are tired of the traditional parties. We are tired of the race-based mobilisation, we are tired of parties saying all the ‘right’ things in opposition and turning on us when they get into office, we are tired of financiers holding our government to ransom, we are tired of corruption, we are tired of nepotism, we are tired of arrogance and, most of all, we are tired of being treated as if we don’t know what we are tired of.

Photo: The Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) takes to the streets.
Photo: The Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) takes to the streets.

The PP has already lost the support of the third force by taking that constituency for granted to focus on its party base. The PNM seems to be on the same track. However although the PNM has not been able to sway the third force it has not as yet been rejected out of hand as the PP has been in this moment.

So, wither the MSJ in all of this?

In his essay titled “The Challenge of Independence in the British Caribbean”, Gordon Lewis noted that American unions became active in politics “because they have found that, although the company spy and the professional strike breaker have just about passed from the scene and although unions have certain protections under the law, the employer has decided that the place to curb the union movement is in the legislative field.”

The battle for the legislature in a former slave colony extends beyond the negotiation of wages and terms of conditions of employment. The Trade Union Movement (TUM) had a much more profound role in our Caribbean condition.

The 1930s was characterised by unrest led by the TUM. The period has been identified by many historians and regional academics including Sir Arthur Lewis and Susan Craig, among others, as a key turning point in our independence movement, starting with the universal right to vote.

Photo: Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) political leader David Abdulah (left) and general secretary Akins Vidale.
Photo: Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) political leader David Abdulah (left) and general secretary Akins Vidale.

In other words it can be argued that what the civil rights movement was for the US the TUM was for the Caribbean. I believe this is the spirit which the MSJ represents politically. The focus is the need to change the relations of power which is central to de-constructing our plantocracy.

Simply put the traditional parties have no problem with the plantation as long as they are Massa. As far as I am concerned “Massa day done!”

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About Akins Vidale

Akins Vidale
Akins Vidale lectures at the Cipriani College of Labour and Cooperative Studies and is a UWI graduate with a B.A. in History. He has served as the president of the Trinidad Youth Council and is the General Secretary of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions and NGOs (FITUN). Read his blog:

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  1. Warning: Undefined variable $userid in /www/wired868_759/public/wp-content/plugins/user-photo/user-photo.php on line 114

    Because I would think there would or should be periods of assessment and review of the impact of some trade deals to the economy

  2. I don’t remember all the phases of implementation off the top of my head. The site identifies them the link I posted was delivered last year and it identifies areas of implementation.

  3. I know it was signed
    But what has been the outcome since?

  4. Yup..a couple days before one of the anniversary celebrations

  5. I really dont remember now after all the drama since…

  6. I remember the address as well

  7. yes..he actually wrote a very lengthy piece

  8. The Party made several statements…there was even an address to the nation on CNC3

  9. He did Mel? My memory is failing me….

  10. It was in all the newspapers

  11. He did say it in public Savitri..

  12. Do you not think Mr David Abdulah should have said something publicly then? Open up the discussion amongst the general citizenry?

  13. Savitri There are several reason why we left. Fundamentally the PP abandoned the Manifesto which was the contract binding the grouping together. We constantly raised these issues and the fact that there were several complaints about corruption and the PM said she could do nothing about made it impossible to stay…we met with the COP constantly in the last period trying to get their support on these key issues and we can all see the choice that they made.

  14. The Labour Party had relations here since the pre Cipriani TWA and as for Cipriani himself I suggest people research ‘the Bloomers Report” to understand Cipriani’s method. Cipriani suffered extreme cognitive dissonance (assuming his mind was in the right place) He was part of the white elite fighting for rights of the barefoot which his class oppressed. There was often conflict and his history is actually more checkered with betrayals than most people care to admit.

  15. Akins, im interested in finding out why Mr David Abdulah and the MSJ left the partnership since we were never told. Altho I do like his level headedness, Im very wary now of his association with Ancil Roget and that crew who seems to be antagonistic.

  16. There were other issues about personalities and relations to the UK Labour party

  17. Another key thing missing from this thread is that all trade unions are not the same. Also I was very clear that I aligned MSJ with the spirit of the pre independence trade union and its broader purpose of seeking justice for workers (unionised and non unionised) where they live as well as where they work…contemporary contexts have changed that. Legislation has almost confined unions to industrial court. So when we attack there current operation we have to discuss the 1965 IRA

  18. 5. The OWTU as an organisation has its own long list of non IR interventions including public seminars open to school son politics, economics and a wide range of issues…and there are many others

  19. 4. As FITUN we partnered with private sector to advocate the implementation of Procurement Legislation

  20. 3. FITUN was at the forefront of the fight against the FTAA and the EPA..,we lost the EPA battle. CARIFORUM is the only entity that signed the agreement Africa and Pacific did not sign

  21. On your question of examples: I will do recent examples, because there are many. The food prices campaign in 2004 was led by FITUN. We got over 50 000 signatures and forces the re establishment of the prices council and a national dialogue on food sovereignty. 2. We also picked up the mega projects issue and joined forces with the culture sector when the Grand Stand was demolished the Grand Stand. It had to be re built (I think many people have already forgotten this)

  22. Im reading this thread and thinking why are some defending our trade union leaders in TnT when theyre only prepared to work towards salary increases and improved facilities (these were long overdue) and never petition their members to increase productivity? A prime example of this is Petrotrin/Trinmar/civil service.. Both union and management are meant to work hand in hand to improve/raise the standard of the organisation. What they lack is a sense of pride and loyalty.
    Steven Mawer has made some very important points in his comments about Germany and their work ethic. The unions leaders here have not advanced their cause because of their hostile attitude.

  23. Lasana Liburd this has generated several discussions. I will try to address a few of the questions but to do it effectively would require a series of articles lol

  24. So the only way unions can get more power politically is to have higher industrialisation with freedom of union activity

    However many innovative business leaders in America and Europe are pushing policies that might have been the view of unions like a 3 day work week and high livable wage

  25. The local trade union movement basically follows the European trade union movement for worker rights

    The European TM is or was affiliated with socialist and communist groups that sought the upliftment of the proletariat

    What ppl like Mawer and co like to push is that Europeans deserve proper rights but locals don’t because locals lazy

    Not realising that happy workers are the most productive

    Europe had their periods of exploitation under the feudal system with serfs and periods of large scale death increased their bargaining rights and the destruction of property in ww2 swung the pendulum towards workers versus capitalists

    The trade union movement from then onwas practically political as communists and socialists won elections in west Europe and Europe developed a large scale manufacturing secondary and tertiary economy under the Marshall plan

    The diff is that TT is largely a primary extractive economy with a few downstream assets in secondary economy

    In Europe more workers are unionized because Europe is more dependent on skilled labor and workers know where their bread is buttered and are more educated to understand the argument of policies

  26. Kyon if you scroll you would see I offered a suggestion. I don’t know, I offered a hypothesis.

  27. Within reason? So are local unions without reason? I asking eh

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