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To build, boycott or bully?

Published: 
Wednesday, August 9, 2017
President General of the OWTU Ancel Roget,centre, arrive with members for meeting with Energy Minister Franklyn Khan at Tower C, International Waterfront Centre,Port of Spain, yesterday

As the country’s labour movement tries to elbow its way to the front of the line to an almost empty Government ATM to demand unsustainable companies be kept afloat and job cuts be taken off the table, they are putting not just the state or the private sector in a difficult position, but the average citizen too.

The unions’ unflinching posture in an economy struggling to make gains is doing more damage than good.

Platform platitudes that the “fight is for workers” fall flat when international rating agencies scrutinise the revenue flows and the industrial relations climate in this country makes investor confidence uncertain.

With the battle for a bleeding Petrotrin in one hand and a call to boycott over 120 businesses in the other, the combative stance of the country’s labour movement is not promising, nor is it working in anyone’s interest at this point.

When union leaders call on members to boycott businesses, the thousands of workers at those companies don’t seem to factor into union considerations. In fact, when one reporter asked a union leader about this yesterday, his response was “well, they are sending them home in any case, we would welcome them being absorbed into the businesses that will boom.” If only it were that simple.

In an obvious effort to salvage the matter, the unions yesterday also attempted to flip the script, focusing more on the fact that they are compiling a second list of “99 per cent” of businesses they intend to demand support for.

But union leaders don’t run this country. And we are fairly sure they don’t have the right to bully and browbeat their members or any citizen to a boycott or push them towards what to buy, from whom, or when.

Threats of boycotts, shut downs, demonstrations and blatant intimidation of both workers and employers is not just sad, it seems to be losing its effect.

The unions have also warned the country that if the Prime Minister doesn’t meet with them, they (the people) should “fasten their seatbelts.” Those kinds of statements have evoked strong reactions from diverse groups who are now describing union behaviour as non-effective and unreasonable at best and downright hateful at worst.

The bravado of statements like “take your platform and go” by one union leader in the energy sector a few months ago has not been forgotten as it revealed the changing tide in the way arrogant responses are received by average workers.

The “take your camera and go” edict to a reporter who challenged what sounded like “alternate facts” on a retrenchment matter from another labour leader, was equally telling. It feeds the belief that T&T’s labour movement is increasingly out of touch with the people they represent. Put simply, the fundamental concepts of macro-economics, tripartite agreements, basic mediation and negotiation appear not to register any more in our local trade union landscape.

There also seems to be a growing financial disconnect between union leaders and those they represent. State statistics say the average worker in this country is paid approximately $5,000. Some union leaders are making up to ten times that amount and more... in some cases, anywhere between $35,000 to upwards of $80,000. So when advice is being liberally given to boycott businesses that employ thousands of average workers, it should be considered carefully, as the perspectives of those advising and being advised, might be somewhat different.

What we know is this: the people of this country can see both risk and opportunity, and all of us base our buying or boycotting decisions not on commands, demands and the orders of labour leaders, but on what works for us.

The same way many are getting simply fed up of petty politics, blame games, lack of accountability and transparency, the people too, are also almost done with the tactics of a sometimes boisterous labour movement, which recently appears to be more interested in boycotting, than in building.