In Solid Support of Ancel Roget

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
August 13, 2017

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeI 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.

6 thoughts on “In Solid Support of Ancel Roget”

  1. Workers in Trinidad, and particularly the OIL WORKERS UNION have historically been stepped on by the PNM gov’t past and present. ERIC WILLIAMS tried his utmost best to practically destroyed the OWTU,seeing that the union was the most viable opposition to his rule, with the help of reactionary leaders like GLEAN, CRITCHLOW,TULL and many others,progressive leaders in the caliber of WEEKES,YOUNG, CLR and the rest were rounded up humiliated and jailed in most cases, for standing up for workers rights. When ever the economy starts contracting, the workers call for better conditions are always met with cold shoulders, where fingers are continuously being pointed at them and their representatives, gov’t and big business asking for increased production, while wages and benefits remain stagnant.Workers, have no other choice but to give prime minister ROWLEY, and big business a rude awakening, in the ERIC WILLIAMS era, it was the workers represented by NATUC that forced WILLIAMS to listen, the same may have to be done with ROWLEY and his misguided PNM.At times, an MOU is signed with all the right intensions, only to reneged on wording, as leader of the PNM ,the prime minister believes that he is holding all the aces, and is willing to dehumanize workers and their representatives, if his stake holders feels threatened. The approaching months may be heated ones.

  2. Roget represents the belligerent misguided and bullying part of Labour. The real labourers were my mom and dad who work in the hot sun cutting cane, planting rice, along with a host of provisions to ensure we always had food. We did not starve nor did we go to the neighbour land to thief except for the fun of it.

    Mom got out of bed made it to the lagoon and worked from 8 a.m. To 2 p.m. When she was not planting rice she was in the sugar cane fields planting, salting and eventually reaping. Yes, why when Labour is mentioned one must not suddenly rise to attention considering only oilfield workers. The truth is oilfield workers have benefitted from the national patrimony more than anyone else. There are just over 5,000 of them rewarded with a pay scale design to make the poor blush, $1.9 billion to be exact. They have not only enjoyed the fat but has wallowed in it, sitting their sorry ras in sheds playing cards whilst getting a big pay check. No sir they don’t represent Labour they are amongst the 1% of blood suckers in this nation. Drinking like a drunken man from a chalice filled with vintage wine.

    Petrotrin has incurred debt and continues to be poorly managed. One of their managers recently passed away leaving a debt of $12.5 billion with nutting to show. In fact that debt will increase because it has to service bonds in the Euro market maturing soon.

    As one consider Roget new mission of boycotting some businesses, one must note that those businesses employ people. His mission is such because of the looming Petrotrin restructuring that will strongly factor in the 1% control over that debt burden state enterprise. They get their murky hands in and the union is gone. Maybe they might create an alternative Union and checkmate Roget. But something has to be done with Petrotrin. Whilst the PNM has borrowed and borrowed lay off people just today 111 TDC employees given the pink slip, money ain’t there except for the pricey sea bridge. The oil workers must face their day of reckoning. Because this can’t continue in perpetuity.

    Thanks to the Juniper platform and former energy minister Kevin Ramnarine vision, some good news ahead.

  3. “Thanks to the Juniper platform and former energy minister Kevin Ramnarine vision, some good news ahead.”…….Mamoo


    Kevin Ramnarine’s stature in the energy sector is one that is modeled only by political intrigue and UNC posturing. This is so even in the historical fact that the only energy CEO to return a profit of over $1B U.S. dollars to Petrotrin is the recently departed and UNC lynched persona – Malcolm Jones. The thing with politics is that people say the most damnest things when they want to forward an argument, without regard to history or factual consequences. UNC DOES NOT HAVE OR EVER RESPECTED ANY BLACK HEROES (regardless of history or fact). This we should establish and accept as fact. Jack was their hero until…… well … everyone knows the story of Jack, so why pursue it. McCloud was their hero until …. why pursue that? Butler was once their hero too, until? Well …. why pursue that?

    Those with a sense of history know what I mean and I’m talking about. No need to rehash political adventurism. One of the things that is missing in this ongoing battle for moral leadership is the acceptance of truth, that being facts the way things occur and accepted. Arguments can be better made and accepted when there is respect for truth.

    The labour movement is the only true avenue by which locals were allowed to have a voice in the boardroom. But we have seen the labour movement led by intellectuals like CLR James, Cipriani and Cola Reinzi to buffoons like Watson Duke and blow-hards like Roget. Labour’s relevance has become questionable because the only things the push for are pay raises and job security, regardless of the economic realities. The climate of reality in which we now live calls for reason, understanding and accepting realities. Whats the point in asking for raises for an employee who gives less than four hours of labour in an eight-hour day?

    Production is a very serious issue. There is poor management in the way the labour force is used and manipulated by both government and private industry. With the involvement of trade unions is become a more convoluted proposition, because one sector is looking for performance and the other is looking for better remuneration. We must remember and take into consideration that the bottom line is ALWAYS THE PROFIT MARGIN.
    That determines the effect of performance and market share. If the reality is RED then it matters how negotiations will make it.
    Even if it is GREEN, there is always a concern one how much of it goes to labour and what goes back into the business.

    Roget and most trade union leaders have shown that they care little or nothing about the profit margin than they do in bargaining for more benefits. Our managers and trade union leaders need to negotiate from the results shown on the ledgers of most corporations and even government.

    In that sense I agree with Mamoo. But in matters like these it makes a better argument when political preferences are used to buttress an argument.

  4. Well said Mamoo…it’s about time that Petrotrin be privatized…never too late even though these workers have been subsidized in the $ Hundreds of Billions!

  5. “Roget is as legitimate a leader of our society as PM Rowley.”
    Dear Professor I respectfully disagree with you. One might remember the $15 million deal offered to Roget and his comrades.

    The role of a union leader is to fight for the working class. George Weekes, Errol McLeod could not be bought by the highest bidder as Roget has been bought by the PNM. Since the PNM came to power thousands have lost their jobs, taxes have increased considerably, food prices keep rising but like a tortoise in its shell the union come out once in awhile to say we are here.

    Sadly the current Labour Minister has put on the invisible jacket and can no longer be found. Jennifer Baptiste has not done anything for the thousands being retrenched. OJT is being slashed, GATE disappearing and no love from Jenny. What is her plan or vision for Labour. Errol McLeod worked tirelessly to settle wage issues and to Implement longer maternity leave to allow parents to be with their child longer.

    We all need heroes but I can say Roget and Jenny ain’t no heroes!

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