RADHICA DE SILVA
For the first time since 1938, the traditional boisterous Labour Day march from Avocat to Charlie King Junction failed to kick off in the historic town of Fyzabad.
The streets remained quiet as police made checks at most intersections to quell any possible public congregating.
But while the streets were dead, labour leaders insisted that the trade union movement is alive and well.
As they laid wreaths at the gravesite of Tubal Uriah Buzz Butler, labour leaders from the Oilfield Workers Trade Union, Communications Workers Trade Union and Trinidad Farmers Union paid tribute to stalwarts, including the last Butlerite Soogrim Coolman, who died on June 9.
Although there was no traditional march and marathon, the labour leaders sought to show how the working class had continued to suffer under the hand of the government.
OWTU President General Ancel Roget revealed that Patrotric Energies and Technologies Limited had submitted a new proposal for the acquisition of the Pointe-a-Pierre refinery and port since March, but the government had failed to respond to the proposal.
He said they were now convinced that the government was disingenuous from the start.
“One of the ways they tried to decimate the trade unions was to shut down Petrotrin with the hope that it will be it for the OWTU and we would not have been able to be here but when that didn’t work, they entangled us in an acquisition process that has cost us tens of millions of dollars,” Roget said.
He said Patriotic was being hoodwinked and the whole acquisition process had been a ruse by the government.
“We diligently did our work and registered a company and we got that company to win a bid but they began to work behind the scenes to ensure that Patriotic doesn’t acquire the assets of people on behalf of the people. We won the bid but that was just a ruse after attempting to break the union to whittle down the finances and drive us out of the landscape,” he said.
Even though the OWTU was financially weakened with reduced assets and resources, Roget said the union remained strong.
“They have used every measure and method to try and cut down, denigrate, get rid of the trade union movement but that fail because we will be ready to be back on the streets when all of this is over and it will be over and it will be over, I assure you,” Roget said.
General secretary of the Communications Workers Trade Union Clyde Elder said trade unionism in T&T is alive.
“Just remember that without the union you could not have been where you are today.
He added: “While we are in a pandemic, the trade union movement will continue to represent and defend workers.”
He accused Finance Minister Colm Imbert of being disrespectful to senior citizens.
“Imbert was fast, out of place, obnoxious, discourteous and downright foolish to say that senior citizens are living too long and posing a strain on the economy. Those citizens contributed to the economy he is managing. The labour movement will be here, pandemic or no pandemic, SOE or no SOE, we will always be here to defend the rights of workers,” Elder said.
President of the TUFA Shiraz Khan also said that the government had betrayed the working class.
“Our people need to be respected and some people who put their hand in ink, how comfortable are they with the way they are treating you? They lost their jobs, they can’t feed their family and they have to be begging,” Khan said.
After the wreath-laying, the leaders walked to Butler Hall where they placed a garland around Butler’s statue.