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RIGHT CONCERNS, WRONG DIRECTION

Published: 
Saturday, August 5, 2017
Members of the Joint Trade Union Movement during yesterday’s rally in Port-of-Spain. PHOTO: KERWIN PIERRE

The call by three of this country’s largest labour groupings for its membership to boycott more than 120 businesses across the country is not just counterproductive but lacking in wisdom. It is also an indication that the unions themselves can offer no progressive or sustainable solutions to the economic challenges being faced by the people of this country.

To attempt to justify the call to boycott these businesses as part of an effort to somehow punish or make the so-called “one per cent” feel the pinch is also a demonstration that, sadly, our unions don’t seem to understand basic economics of how jobs are created, families are fed, or that they really understand how to care about the workers they represent.

The labour movement has not yet released its list of businesses they want to boycott, but, by placing these cards on the table, they have showed us a hand that is marked by archaic strategies and classist undertones.

Let’s get one thing clear: this newspaper fully supports the principles which guide a productive, effective and progressive trade union movement. Unfortunately, the majority of this country’s unions are still lost in an era where they believe money can be manufactured, “bad management” must be to blame for all ills, global economics and contagion are not a factor, and all companies and executives in the public and private sectors must somehow secretly be “anti-worker.”

The approach adopted yesterday by this country’s labour movement was sad because it was a wasted opportunity. Under the principle of a tripartite agreement, different strategies can be adopted. Strategies which recognise the need to create more sustainable jobs by streamlining economies and companies, to increase efficiency, creativity and competitiveness.

So while this media house believes unreservedly that trade unions are a vital part of progressive economies, we are not sure that our unions are guided by the same principles. Simple research on highly successful and wealthier economies will show the impact of the role played by progressive unions. Results are achieved, being held to ransom is not an option, and classist undertones are out of the question. There is a partnership which facilitates progress, and benefits not just governments or companies, but the very citizens who labour not just for wages but for their families and country.

We do not agree with the view that engagement with employers should be based on old-fashioned and, frankly, ineffective concepts of class wars, as opposed to constructive dialogue and relationship. There must be an understanding that the more efficient a business is, the better conditions are for workers.

Capitalism has its flaws but workers with some of the best standards of living in the world are not in economies dominated by state-owned enterprises or socialist nations. Ask most workers in Venezuela or North Korea what kind of standard of living they would like to have—whether they prefer their current environment, or the conditions their counterparts in countries like Germany, Sweden, Japan, Canada or others enjoy.

The irony is that many of these wealthier economies still have strong social policies but are essentially capitalist nations, home to some of the most successful private concerns in the world. And let’s be clear, compared to what is the irresponsible, unrealistic and unaffordable pay and terms demanded by unions at many of T&T’s state-owned companies, major unions in wealthier nations actively work every day with employers to ensure profitable terms for all.

For T&T to grow again and build a sustainable future for generations to come, demonstrations driven mostly by tired, old classist undertones won’t get us anywhere. Suggestions that still seem to ignore some of the most basic principles of economics are also alarming. To argue that the way out of our deep economic hole is to continue to find and throw money into failed or failing state-owned companies is naîve, at best. And to suggest that both the state and the private sector can solve all the problems by just spending the same or more, irrespective of whether the money is actually there or not, is equally senseless.

We believe the Government’s accounts and private sector accounts ought to be run just like someone’s domestic budget; that you only spend what you have, not what you don’t. All of us, including this country’s trade union leaders, must understand that our country’s economic situation is too critical for playing politics and taking cheap shots. Our economy and our future are at a crossroads and we simply cannot afford to be distracted.

We urge the unions to tone down the boycott threats, as the truth is, the action would harm the very workers they claim to look after. If they demonstrate more reason, we will all be in a much better position to march across the streets of our nation. Not to protest but to celebrate the building of a successful, prosperous country, with a highly skilled workforce, accessible education and healthcare, and an enterprising society not depending on the unaffordable patronage of the state and the taxpayers as a whole.

We’d happily march to celebrate that.