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.”
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.
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.
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.
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!”