“The OWTU could not even get its own members to shut down Petrotrin for last Friday’s ‘day of rest and reflection’. The diminishing influence of trade unions implies that the majority of citizens see them for what they in fact are: a divisive and dangerous lobby which is concerned only with the well-being of its minority membership.”
In the following Letter to the Editor, columnist and author Kevin Baldeosingh from Freeport suggests that the modern world is better off without trade unions:
A poll published last week in the Trinidad Express, done by Solution by Simulation, found that over half of respondents (51 %) thought that trade unions did more harm than good for the country.
This is not a recent development. Despite their continual claims to be champions of the poor and oppressed, the majority of Trinbagonians have long viewed trade union leaders with a jaundiced eye. A 2003 opinion poll done by Market Opinion and Research International (MORI) found that 44 percent of respondents did not trust trade union officials to tell the truth.
The 2010 World Values Survey in T&T found that 65 percent of respondents had little or no confidence in trade unions, that a mere five percent of the working population were active trade union members and another 12 percent were inactive, which means that 83 percent of the adult labour force do not belong to any union. On top of the that, the WVS found that 43 percent of citizens totally disapproved of strike action.
What is interesting about the SBS survey is that it was taken in a time of economic contraction, when conventional wisdom would suggest that trade unions should become more popular.
Yet the OWTU could not even get its own members to shut down Petrotrin for last Friday’s “day of rest and reflection”. The diminishing influence of trade unions implies that the majority of citizens see them for what they in fact are: a divisive and dangerous lobby which is concerned only with the well-being of its minority membership.
Indeed, this has been the history of trade unions around the world.
In South Africa during apartheid, for example, white trade unions supported equal pay laws in order to ensure non-white workers couldn’t get legal employment. Similarly, in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, trade unions specifically excluded blacks in order to prevent them from working for cheaper rates.
This fact was noted by founding black leaders in America. WEB Dubois said in 1929, “Instead of taking the part of the Negro and helping him toward physical and economic freedom, the America labour movement has tried to achieve freedom at the expense of the Negro… The white employers, North and South, literally gave the Negroes work when white men refused to work with him.”
Marcus Garvey also badtalked American unions, saying “the only convenient friend the Negro worker or labourer has at the present time is the white capitalist.”
And, in Trinidad, the Trinidad Workingmen’s Association lobbied in 1909 to stop Indian indentured labourers from coming to Trinidad because, argued the TWA leaders, Indians reduced the wage of black workers.
The closure of the Petrotrin refinery is thus a silver lining of the recession, since it means that the Government will be forced to make economically rational decisions which, in the long run, will make the country’s economy much stronger.
Sidelining trade union leaders who cling to Communist ideology will help this process and, as the opinion polls of the past 20 years show, the government can do so without any significant political backlash.