March 13, 2012 – newsday.co.tt
IT was in our view an amazing sight last Sunday to see ultimatums being issued to the People’s Partnership (PP) Government by one of the PP’s five member groups, the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ).
Viewers must have been confused by the sight of no less a person that OWTU head, Ancel Roget, along with other trade unionists, each sporting a jersey emblazoned with the MSJ logo, yet listing ten demands which if not met by May 24 would lead to the MSJ withdrawing from the PP.
While we have no problem with the concept of coalition politics — of various groups finding common cause — we are wary of any group that seeks to straddle too wide a chasm of self-contradiction.
Unfortunately, we think that this may now be such in the case of the MSJ.
Centuries of evolution of democracy has led to many parliaments including those in the Westminster system being based on adversarial politics, with a government in office, watched by an opposition standing ready as the alternative government.
Further, even at the level of an individual politician, each MP is kept in check by certain basic conflict of interest principles, such as stated in parliamentary Codes of Conduct for MPs, and even in legislation such as the Integrity in Public Life Act.
We think it is no coincidence that parliamentary convention, plus codes and statutes, have all long aimed to clearly place a particular politician in either government or opposition, but not both.
The old adage, “One man cannot serve two masters”, certainly looks set to put the MSJ in a most unenviable position. In fact, already the MSJ founder, Errol McLeod has resigned quickly and quietly as MSJ leader, a position which must surely have put him into dire conflict with his role as Cabinet Member and Minister of Labour. While his successor, new MSJ leader David Abdulah is not a Cabinet Member, his role as a Government-appointed Senator might conflict with his job of union advocate, both as MSJ leader and as OWTU general secretary.
As things now stand, after other unions settled their labour disputes at a five percent wage hike over a three year period (plus benefits), the OWTU swung a nine percent wage hike for its Petrotrin workers, and is now seeking a 16 percent increase for its Trinidad Cement Limited (TCL) workers. The OWTU’s threat to leave the MSJ has apparently led the MSJ in turn to threaten to leave the Government, if the MSJ’s demands are not met. All this is just a little too cosy, daresay incestuous, for our palate. How can OWTU officials purport to be in a group (the MSJ) that forms part of the Government, but which is also threatening the life of the Government? Much of this confusion is probably due to muddle in the mind of the MSJ itself, over its role and function. Let us ponder.
We ask, is the MSJ a true political party, that evolved as an independent, viable organism? Or is it a paper organisation, with no real history of struggle, recruitment and crafting of principles, but just an ad hoc creation to serve as an umbrella group for various unions? In 2010, the MSJ was signed up as part of the PP coalition to dislodge the former PNM government, but we ask whether the MSJ actually brought anything to the coalition in terms of electoral support, or whether it was just window-dressing for what was otherwise seen as a UNC-dominated coalition?
In pondering these questions, answers may be found to the next obvious question — what, if anything, would happen if the MSJ were to withdraw from the PP?
The MSJ’s Errol McLeod, as Pointe-a-Pierre MP, would have to decide if to remain in the Government as an independent MP, or resign in support of the MSJ thereby forcing a by-election in his constituency. As MSJ leader, David Abdulah would be hard-pressed to hold on to his job as a Government Senator.
But otherwise, we have no evidence that the exit of the MSJ from the Government would have any more impact on the PP regime other than mere symbolism, although some may argue that in TT politics, symbols can play a powerful role.
The MSJ impasse might also open the door for each party in the PP to start to issue demands of central Government, NJAC, TOP, COP and the UNC. While the MSJ may or may not have good intentions in its demands, its ultimatums do no favours to its supposed coalition partners.