Kamla: Labour gave workers rights

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar – Photo by Angelo Marcelle

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar said she salutes the nation’s working men and women with pride, hope, and solidarity on the occasion of Labour Day.

In a release, she said the labour movement has secured many things people take for granted, such as minimum wage, 40-hour work weeks, rights to sick, personal and maternity leave, workplace security, workers’ compensation, insurance and pension plans.

She said TT’s revolutionary labour movement began in the 1930s, with the historic hunger marches led by Elma Francois, Jim Headley, Jim Barrette and Dudley Mahon from 1933-35, and the protests of 800 sugar workers at Brechin Castle, Esperanza and other Central and Northern Sugar Estates on July 6, 1934.

Persad-Bissessar said on June 19, 1937, the historic Butler Oilfield Riots officially cemented the trade union movement as a viable social, economic and political force, which created the foundation of the country’s modern-day democracy.

The Opposition Leader said this Labour Day finds TT in considerable social and economic turmoil under the “destructive anti-worker, anti-trade union PNM Government.

“The Rowley regime continues its concerted, calculated attack against the working class and has now ruthlessly eroded the base of organised labour.

“This is evidenced by their unjustified closure of Petrotrin and other State companies and the complete collapse of the free collective bargaining process over the past nine years.

“Further, mass retrenchment has been the order of the day under the guise of restructuring. There has also been a proliferation of contract employment throughout the public sector.”

She said TT is at present hovering on the brink of societal breakdown in the face of an unprecedented, sadistic crime and violence wave that has citizens living in a state of acute terror. She said this has engendered an overwhelming sense of frustration and deep despair among the population.

“Labour Day reminds us that the power to uproot a tyrannical government ultimately lies in the hands of the people. The ordinary working man and woman, through unity and determination, can change oppressive political and economic systems by fighting for their rights of dignity, fairness, equality and justice.

“This then is the endearing lesson from our nation’s pioneering labour greats like Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler, Captain Andrew Arthur Cipriani, George Weekes, Albert Gomes, Adrian Cola Rienzi (born Krishna Deonarine), Elma Francois, CLR James and Basdeo Panday.”

Persad-Bissessar wished the labour movement a happy, meaningful and effective Labour Day.

“I urge them to unite in defence of our citizens’ safety, security, freedom and the nation’s democracy and eternally struggle against the Rowley government’s destructive authoritarianism and indifference to the people’s plight.

“For, in our darkest hours, we must always remember the words of the great civil and labour rights anthem: ‘We’ll walk hand in hand. We shall all be free, We are not afraid, We are not alone. Deep in my heart, I do believe we shall overcome some day’.”

Couva South MP Rudranath Indarsingh called on labour unions to overcome the suffering inflicted on TT by the PNM government.

Among the issues, he said needed to be overcome were the criminal mayhem which claims the lives of workers’ business owners, their families, commercial property and scares away potential investment; the prices of food, transport and school supplies, which strain the survival of families and children; the poor state of infrastructure; and ailing public institutions, including low trust in police, sick hospitals, a poor education system, a badly managed fire service, a dysfunctional coast guard and an antiquated public service.

Indarsingh said other issues to be overcome were the PNM’s indifference to workers’ safety, looming increases in property taxes, water and electricity rates, the unprecedented shrinking of the economy, and the closure of Petrotrin, Atlantic Train 1, the NiQuan plant, Arcelor Mittal and other companies which were hallmarks of industry and economy.

“We have no choice but to overcome the collapse of the collective bargaining process, the two-time breakdown of the National Tri-Partite Committee, the collapse of tripartism, the offering of 0-0-0 and 0-0-4 to our hardworking public sector workers, the unwarranted removal of President of the Industrial Court, the continued lack of pensions for nurses and daily paid workers, the abuse and political puppetry of contract work and the PNM’s reneging on its promise to the OWTU that the union would be allowed to operate the Petrotrin Refinery.”

Indarsingh said the UNC continues to stand hand in hand with labour and will walk arm in arm once more with labour into the corridors of power.