MSJ big move raises labour hopes higher
Labour Day 2012 dawns with a new formation giving new impetus to realisation of an old ambition: "Let those who labour hold the reins." The Movement for Social Justice (MSJ), with labour leaders at the fore, which appeared on the scene in 2009, had not by the run-up to the 2010 general election, projected as a player in the power game, to the extent of registering with the Elections and Boundaries Commission.
Then MSJ leader Errol McLeod, former leader of the OWTU, ran and won under what were supposed to be colours borrowed from the long-established UNC. Mr McLeod gained Cabinet appointment as Minister of Labour, and David Abdulah, OWTU general secretary and head of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions and NGOs, became a government Senator. Other MSJ nominees also took seats on the boards of state enterprises, in furtherance of partial entitlement to the spoils of office.
That outcome underscored the MSJ's dependence on colleagues in the coalition led by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar for the advancement of its political and other objectives. Industrial relations conflicts, pitting the People's Partnership administration against various unions, including the OWTU, eventually caused the MSJ to see its share of a hold on the reins of power look ever more precarious. A further complication lay in the position of Mr McLeod as Labour Minister performing a role largely scripted by industrial relations law.
Facing growing disenchantment within the movement, Mr McLeod gave up the MSJ leadership. This implied a commitment to government, lessening the appearance or the reality of divided loyalty on occasions of labour conflict. That turn of events also strengthened the hands of those MSJ elements, especially the OWTU.
Ancel Roget, OWTU president general, publicly vowed to take his union out of the movement if the MSJ remained in the ruling coalition. Such "contradictions" and mixed public messages could not long continue. Mr Abdulah this week announced the inevitable withdrawal of the MSJ and his own resignation from the Senate.
What now? Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar, rhetorically refusing to be shaken by this development, even suggested her Partnership might be the stronger for it. Mr Abdulah on Sunday declared his movement's readiness to "paddle its own canoe" and to "walk the talk" toward building its own "mass political party… that can offer itself to the electorate as a serious alternative to the traditional parties".
The MSJ has thus struck out on its own to achieve the "good governance" it despaired of seeing realised within the ruling coalition. It is aiming to build a coalition of its own to include even "big business persons stressed out by crime" and economic uncertainties.
On Labour Day, a more inspiring call to arms can hardly be imagined. Those answering the call, however, will have expectations of the MSJ leadership correspondingly higher than in their 2010 bid for office.