NWU: Class struggle is exploding and unrest is coming; workers must pick a side

“[…] Public sector workers, including health care workers, teachers and public servants, have not had a wage increase since 2013. They have not even had the full retroactive payments due to them and owed to them for more than six years.

“The widespread use of the contract system has turned a growing proportion of public sector workers into little more than indentured servants, with no job security and with little hope of lifting the standard of living of themselves and their families…”

In the following press statement, the National Workers Union (NWU) urges workers to get ready for battle with unions in crisis mode and supposedly under attack from employers, the one percent, and the government:

Photo: A trade union rally in Trinidad.
(via Al Jazeera)

For the past few years, the National Workers Union has been warning workers that the employers, the one percent, and the government have been seeking ways to force working people and the poor to bear burden after burden, as the economic system goes into free fall.

The employers are seizing the Covid-19 crisis to carry out their plans to slash labour costs and re-organise their companies. People are struggling to feed themselves, pay their rents, keep up with their mortgage and vehicle payments.

The education system is in collapse mode and the institutions in the country have lost all credibility: political parties, the church, the police, the judiciary, the trade unions.

They are using the Covid-19 situation to step up savage attacks on the rights, entitlements and standard of living of working people—but these attacks were coming long before Covid appeared on the scene.

Public sector workers, including health care workers, teachers and public servants, have not had a wage increase since 2013. They have not even had the full retroactive payments due to them and owed to them for more than six years.

The widespread use of the contract system has turned a growing proportion of public sector workers into little more than indentured servants, with no job security and with little hope of lifting the standard of living of themselves and their families.

Photo: TTUTA leads teachers on a demonstration.

Thousands of Petrotrin workers—and thousands more workers and small businesses that depended on Petrotrin—were thrown on to the rubbish heap long before Covid became a reality. Covid had nothing to do with the retrenchment of thousands of workers at Arcelor Mittal, RBC, Berger Paints, Trinidad Cement, OAS, UTT, Centrin, TSTT, IOCL, Agostini’s, Unilever, Yara and many more.

Now, under the Covid cover, some utilise the fig leaf of temporary layoff, as jobs are being lost at Massy Motors, Electrical Industries, Stork Technical, Newsday and others. Workers’ salaries are being slashed at Coca Cola and at a host of non-unionised workplaces.

The situation is so horrible that one non-unionised employer cut the pay of staff by 50% and then reduced hours from 40 a week down to 20. Having effectively cut pay by 75%, this employer promptly made eight workers redundant and based their severance calculations on the reduced pay.

Not satisfied with that, he decided that the 45 days’ notice required by the Retrenchment and Severance Benefits Act (RSBA) was far too much and has unilaterally decided to change the law by only giving 14 days notice.

A Joint Survey was done by the Trinidad and Tobago Coalition of Services Industries (TTCSI) and the Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers Association (TTMA). Three hundred and ninety four businesses in Trinidad and Tobago were recorded. The survey was titled Economic impact assessment of COVID-19 on Services & Manufacturing Sectors.

Photo: A satirical take on the relationship between businesses and unions.
(Copyright Carol Simpson)

It revealed that 36% of businesses surveyed had terminated full-time employees and 55% of businesses surveyed have terminated part-time or contractual employees. For companies that did not terminate staff, 58% were furloughed (temporary layoff) employees. Among these companies, 67% have furloughed at least 25% of their workers comprising of both full-time and part-time employees.

Furthermore, those employers who did not terminate staff, 50% resorted to a reduction in wages. Most of the companies surveyed reduced wages by at least 26%.

Most workers terminated were from arts, entertainment and recreation, tourism, manufacturing, food processors and drinks and the construction sector.

Let us be realistic. Let us not fool ourselves and hope that things will turn around or that you will, hopefully escape. Things are not going to get better, unemployment is going to increase. A number of jobs will be lost forever, especially in hotels, restaurants and bars. The big conglomerates like Massy and McAl are feverishly re-organising their operations.

Massy Motors has put a number of workers on temporary layoff without pay until 31 August and given themselves time to eliminate a number of jobs, so that when these workers return they may very well have to go back home permanently. Electrical Industries has put workers on temporary layoff with no return date and no salary.

Photo: An All Trinidad General Trade Workers Union protest.
(Courtesy ATGTWU)

Public sector workers have been assured that they will not lose their jobs. Remember a promise is a comfort to a fool. TSTT. Petrotrin and UTT were all owned by the state and where are their workers now?

For the last few years, the National Workers Union pointed out that the employers have designed a strategy to further weaken unions—already at their weakest in terms of leadership and ability to fight since 1937—while ensuring that non-unionised workers know and stay in their place.

They want to remove the provision in law that says that a worker, whether previously unionised or not, must be represented by a union in the industrial court. They want what they call small and micro-enterprise employers to be exempt from punishment for unfair dismissals and from the procedures that apply to other employers when it comes to trade disputes.

They want to make it illegal for the Recognition Board to grant recognised majority union status to a bargaining unit of less than twenty workers. They want unions to be decertified for bargaining units that fall below the magic number (20).

They are against domestic workers being treated like ‘workers’ under the law, despite the government promising to enable it through legislation. They are against workers who have been unjustly dismissed being re-instated.

They want to be able to retrench so-called ‘contract workers’ at will. They want to cut back on leave provisions in collective agreements.

Photo: A satirical take on capitalism.

They have developed legal mechanisms to delay and frustrate the already long drawn out process of recognition. They want restrictions on appeals against Industrial Court judgements to be removed. They want judges in the Industrial Court to come largely from the ‘private sector’.

They have set up a high level legal team to oppose and obstruct judgements coming out of the Industrial Court that are not in their favour and they have decided that the president of the Industrial Court must be removed.

The point of all this is that the economic elites in this country and their political watchmen realise that the economic system is sinking deeper in trouble, both internationally and locally.

The economic pie is shrinking and for years they have adopted policies to protect their share of a shrinking pie by picking the pockets of working people and transferring what we thought was our share of the pie into the pockets of the one percent, the economic elites and their political acolytes.

Unionised workers have to put pressure on their failing unions to get off their backsides and do what unions are supposed to do, which is defend and protect the interests of the workers and not concede to the demands of the employers under the guise of all ah we is one!

This is the biggest myth that we have been taught. They are sailing on luxurious yachts, while we are trying to bail water out of leaking pirogues.

Image: A satirical take on capitalism.
(Copyright Paul Krugman)

There is no buffer between working people and the poor and those who control the means of production. The lines are drawn. The class struggle is exploding and we are going into a period of instability and unrest.

If we remain disunited, they will pick us off bit by bit. Through serious networking and collaborating in action, we have to come up with a counter attack to beat off this assault by the one percent, the employers and their protectors in the government.

The health care workers are showing the way. They have decided to stand up and fight for what is theirs. Workers must reject the myth that employers are doing them a favour by giving them jobs. Without labour there is no production of surplus value that the employers are appropriating for themselves.

Workers have the power of numbers and the power over production. People all over the globe are showing that they are no longer willing to put up with oppression and exploitation. We ent folks too? If the priest could play who is we?

We cannot look to politicians to defend us. We cannot look to pundits, imams, priests and pastors to defend us.

We cannot look to the judicial system to defend us. We cannot look to weak, sell-out and flip-flopping trade union leaders to defend us. Only the workers can save the workers.

Photo: An overwhelmed nurse.
(via Shutterstock)

We have to realise we are in a vicious class struggle and we have to respond not as workers in this workplace or that workplace; as workers in this union or that union. We have to respond as a class. We have to unite across workplace and union lines.

We have to unite across regional and religious lines. We have to unite across ethnic and racial lines.

Only as a united force would we be able to push back the assault from those who exploit our labour, live high on the hog and push us down into the mud. Let the debate begin!

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