By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
June 26, 2012
I don’t know Ancel Roget. I never met the brother until last Tuesday when I attended the Labor Day rally at Charlie King Junction in Fyzabad. I was impressed tremendously by his eloquence and force. His address was pitched directly to matters at hand and raised substantial questions. His address was stamped with his character and did much credit to the labor movement.
Roget’s passion marks him as a person who is committed deeply to the struggle of the working people rather than the working class, a term he used often. I prefer Walter Rodney’s distinction between the two terms. Rodney believed that the possession of class consciousness is the necessary condition for workers to be so characterized. One may argue that a working class consciousness is not sufficiently developed among our workers which, in part, may explain the difficulty in translating workers’ sympathy into electoral practices in T&T. The word working people may be more all embracing.
Roget’s address was powerful because he has a clear determination of his antagonists: those who benefited from surpluses created by labor and a partnership that said it embraced workers’ interest but quickly betrayed it? He said, “In May 2010 they said they would put the workers in the center of the country’s development and by August 2011 they called a State of Emergency [SOE] against the same ordinary workers and the people.”
With a rising crescendo of emotions, he elucidated the sins of those who parroted change and reform: “We must not forget, they took away our constitutional rights, our right to hold public meetings and to march. They took away our freedom of expression and freedom of movement. Let us not forget they arrested and detained over 8,000 young black men without just cause, warrant or evidence.” The rights the People’s Partnership abrogated go to the heart of our democracy. He affirmed that over the last two years we have seen a fundamental challenge to our way of life and our basic freedoms.
I responded to Roget as I did because I was one of the few columnists who came out unequivocally against the fundamental unfairness of the SOE. On August 11, 2011 I declared: “I do not support the SOE and disagree with those who think it is the best thing to have happened in our country since sliced bread. It is just another attack against black people to which I am irrevocably opposed.”
On September 6, 2011, I wrote that in imposing a SOE in certain areas, the PP government had abrogated our civil liberties and stated: “It ought to be recorded that the first concentration camps in T&T were built by an Indian government to warehouse black youths which may be the beginning of what one can continue to expect from such a government.” Sad to say, Errol McLeod and David Abdullah were a part of that government.
Not content with waging what Roget described as “class war” against those who elected them, Roget differentiated between the callous treatment to which the working people are subjected and the enormous privileges accorded to a ruling strata (managers and executive of state enterprises, lawyers, etc.,) who use their talents at the behest of the dominant capitalist class.
Observing the behavior of the Employers organizations, the ECA and the various Chambers of Commerce, Roget observed: “Whilst they raised their deceitful voices condemning workers who agitate for their just dues, we heard deafening silence from them on reports that Junior Attorneys were receiving $400,000 plus a daily rate of $12,000 to hold briefs in public enquires with senior counsels earning three times that sum and more.” This is “not to mention senior executive and managers of state enterprises earning from 75,000 to 125,000 dollars per month even as those state enterprises continue to record sharp decreases in their performances.”
Having established the disparities between the ruling strata and the working people, Roget brought Governor Ewart Williams’ warning (that the economy is in a slump) to the attention of his audience. He observed, “Just imagine the panic throughout the US and Europe when there is negative growth in three quarters? Well, in Trinidad and Tobago, it has been three consecutive years of negative economic growth which seems of little concern to our government.”
“The bottom line is that there is nothing happening in the economy. [There is] no activity. It is stalled. We warned them about it.” He is correct. I would have gone a little further and asked when the government intends to implement the investment projects it has identified; if it has lined up the finance for its highway project of which Jack Warner spoke so much; what steps are being taken to bolster confidence in the private sector; and why isn’t the private sector taking advantage of the excess liquidity to invest in the economy.
Were I Roget, I would have warned the government not to repeat the PNM’s mistake by choosing the Chinese to build the South campus of UWI with severely limited local content. This project should give a big boost to the construction industry but with the Chinese doing all the labor it would not. At least, when the PNM made its mistake the country was close to full employment. No such luck now.
Roget was also concerned with the government’s intention to privatize major state industries; a point that needs to be emphasized over the coming months. Now that Larry Howai is the Minister of Finance and the Economy one needs to keep Roget’s warning in mind and look at his every move.
Roget began his speech by invoking Butler’s favorite hymn, “Our God, our help in ages past./ Our hope of years to come.” As I listened to him, I could not help but think of Luke’s words and say to him: “Never turn away thy face from any poor man, carelessly or scornfully, and then the Lord will never turn away his face from thee.”
Brother Roget. Please keep up the good work.