Dear Editor: Trade unions are irrelevant, OWTU couldn’t even shut down Petrotrin on day of ‘rest and reflection’

“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:

Photo: A satirical take on 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.

Photo: Oilfields Workers Trade Union (OWTU) president general Ancel Roget.

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.

Photo: Leaders of the All Trinidad General Trade Workers Union protest. “We woh we money” is their constant cry.
(Courtesy ATGTWU)
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  1. Trade unions stands as antagonists.
    Trade unions must seek the welfare of their membership. Should trade unions consider the deleterious effect of their actions on the national community when seeking this interest? This is a pertinent question at this time as they promote a “national shutdown” in solidarity with the OWTU. Should there be “sympathetic industrial action”?
    Technically, this country has been in recession for the last six or seven years as demonstrated by consecutive deficit budgets. Trade unions have all turned a blind eye to this reality and instead have continued their quest for salary increases and enhanced benefits. The OWTU in particular has been apprised of the PETROTRIN dilemma on several occasions but continue to make statements to indicate that it was once profitable and the workers are not to blame for the current situation. So business as usual.
    Empirical data presented by independent, qualified, experienced experts show that the refinery arm is hemorrhaging two billion dollars a year in losses while the oil production and other arms of PEROTRIN are accumulating profits amounting to approximately two billion dollars annually. Therefore PETROTRIN is not benefitting as the profits in one area is wiped out by the losses in the refinery area. OWTU refuses to treat with this and rejects the closing down of the refinery.
    That is an overview of the situation.
    The joint trade union movement plans to shut down the country as a result of Government’s decision to shut down the refinery. This, they say, is in solidarity with OWTU – a sympathy strike.
    *The law states that Industrial action can be initiated, according to certain procedural avenues, if there is a stated dispute involving the particular union.
    *Essential services under the act cannot resort to industrial action.
    TTUTA, at the time of calling on teachers to stay home, had no dispute registered in the Industrial Court.
    No right thinking individual can, in conscience, support the joint trade unions in this call. However, there is the political element (all the major players are high profile members of political organizations); there is the emotional element and there is the rabble-rousing element which needs no reason so to do.
    Should there be an element of maturity, the trade unions would hold meaningful discussions and negotiate with the employer (Government).
    Our trade unions continue to demonstrate immaturity, ignorance, and lack of requisite expertise as demonstrated by their puerile and pathetic rhetoric where they resort to insulting invective rather than reasoned dialogue.
    Political Action
    We help each other by standing together. That’s the idea behind TTUTA ’s Committee on Political Education , which is at the heart of the union’s political activities in TRINIDAD and TOBAGO.
    to ensures better wages, benefits, pensions, working conditions and job supports for its members; however ,it is also the responsibility of TTUTA to secures the financial and political support for innovative education programs, such as our community learning schools initiative and cutting-edge career and technical education programs;
    • They must also stand up and fight not only for teachers, but parents and children. The union is short sighted in this arena. TTUTA can claim that helping others is what we do; it’s why we’ve chosen our professions, hoping to make a difference in T&T.
    Seeking political action with a collective voice of other unions at the expense of the education of children is not a viable option but down right collusion and espionage in the political game to upend the republic platform.
    Make a difference. A day of “rest and reflection” could have been better served if TTUTA had not been so resistant to summoning teachers to a day of staff development. Some suggestions for an agenda:
    1. How to best mobilize the community activities to assist schools?
    2. How to handle investments?
    3. How to create an individual school safety plan?
    4. How to embrace an all- inclusive school curriculum?
    5. How to approach the methods of teaching (S.T.E.A.M.)science,technology,engineering,arts,math.
    6. How to develop a focus group
    At the end of the political fallout. This play is over written, too many Protagonists, too many acts, too many scenes. The unions are a distraction to an otherwise a good performance on the political theatre.
    The fact that we believe we are an independent nation is comical .when we consider that our judicial system is totally dependent on the British rule of law is interpreted by an assumed fifth world work ethics is pathetic.
    Our education system is in a struggle and the Chief protagonist is the Trinidad and Tobago Government who established or championed our destiny or future. Now the unions stand as the antagonist.
    Dr.Cliff Bertrand
    Former NYC Board of Education Public school Administrator

  2. I’ve been saying this for years now. Unions, in a complex world, where job security no longer holds, add as much value as ketchup on tomatoes. Union misleaders have been using the membership as fodder for their own political gain from as far back as one wishes to go. POliticians use two avenues to get into politics here: law and union leadership. Panday sat and watched as Caroni, his base, was shut down as if it was a done deal between him and Manning, another “Pres boy.” Over the years this nation has watched the destruction of every sector, from cocoa to oil, while unions parlance and “the leaders” go on to become MPs such as Panday, Mark, McLoud, Baptiste, Duke, Indarsngh, Abdullah et. al. Roget is not concerned with workers as he is with falling union dues. 3000 workers at avg $100 per month works out to be 3.6M per year.

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