By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
August 13, 2017
I am a child of labor. In any struggle between labor and capital, I locate myself solidly on the side of labor, since my family labored on the Orange Sugar Estates, Tacarigua, for almost two centuries. Their labor power was exploited ruthlessly by the owners of capital, which is nothing more than dead labor accumulated through the suffering and emasculation of millions of laborers. In Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 (first translated into English from German by C. L. R. James, Raya Dunayevskaya and Grace Lee Boggs) Karl Marx pointed out capitalism estranges or alienates the laborer from the fruits of his labor.
Since modern Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) began with the inhuman exploitation of our fore-parents, every African and Indian should appreciate labor’s role in making our lives better. Africans and Indians who have achieved a prestigious status in this society should not be oblivious of the struggle between labor and capital that continues apace, especially as our economy contracts.
T&T had its seven bounteous years (metaphorically). Now, the lean years are upon us. Prior to 2014, government received $25b from oil and gas, $19b in 2014, and $6 billion in 2017. The IMF team confirm that T&T “continues to face economic challenges stemming primarily from the sharp declines in global energy prices since 2014, combined with the fall in natural gas and oil production” (Trinidad Guardian, August 5).
Economists who define economics as an allocation of scare resources argue that we should continue to strangle poor people to extract more surpluses out of them. Economists who define economics primarily as a relationship between people argue that our crisis lies in how we treat working people, the primary productive force of social development. One theorist notes: “The production process could not be carried on without people, without their skills, production experiences and knowledge” (L. Afanasyev, The Political Economy of Capitalism).
The twenty-three unions that marched through Port of Spain on August 4 want to play a significant role in solving our economic problems. They understand that working men and women create most of the values in the society. While capital and technology contribute enormously to creating wealth, working people are an indispensable part of the production process. They should be an important element in crafting any solution to our socioeconomic problems. Dr. Williams noted that the unions “represent the nuclei of popular power over both the economy and the political process” (The Chaguaramas Declaration).
The PNM government acknowledges this truism. On August 27, 2015, Keith Rowley and Ancel Roget signed a “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) on behalf of their respective constituents. They recognized “that workers’ involvement with the country system of governance is central to economic planning and therefore the cycle of confrontation can be brought to an end, through genuine consultation” and that “government, business and labor must operate within a framework of mutual respect and collaboration to ensure a better tomorrow for all of us.”
The Prime Minister stated recently: “The Government…would hope that the workers’ representative would acknowledge the reality and outcomes of our strained circumstances and return to the tripartite approach enabled by the Government” (Newsday, August 6).
I’m sure the unions understood the “realities” of the economy when they signed the aforesaid MOU. This is why Roget responded defiantly saying that the Prime Minister “continues to use the current economic situation as a shield. Unfortunately he is suggesting we are not aware of the economic situation (Express, August 7).
The PM has asked the unions to return to tripartite talks to discuss the issues. Roget claims: “We have called for discussion with Rowley and he failed to respond . . . .Three federations have asked to meet with him. When he wanted the PM job, he met with us to discuss MOU. Today, he is a different man” (Express, August 7). Each party should go back to talking with rather than talking to or about one another.
Roget is as legitimate a leader of our society as PM Rowley. Some people have depicted him as an irresponsible demagogue. Gary Aboud described his call to boycott Syrian/Lebanese businessmen as “akin to the Nazis painting the Star of David on all their [Jewish] shops,” Guardian, August 7). They should all read Dr. Williams’ speech on the unions’ role in creating a new T&T. He said: “Moreover, we must not forget that an ideology has meaning only in so far as the proponents seek to put it into practice . . . . The importance of this concrete translation of principle [the transformation into a new society] into practice is to be seen in the fact that the masses will seek to make efforts and sacrifices only if they know and are fully aware that all sections of the community are sharing their efforts and sacrifices” (The Chaguaramas Declaration.)
Roget has cautioned likewise that the government needs “to reset the clock in sharing the burden of adjustments” (Guardian, August 9). Members of government and business should read Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2014) for guidance on this matter. They should discuss the issues raised by the unions with respect and humanitarian generosity. The same is required of the unions.