ON THIS Labour Day as readers leisurely assess the political nuances of the withdrawal from the People's Partnership Government by the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ), one cold, if mathematically challenging factor stands out: One from 29 still leaves 29!
To appreciate this strange political arithmetic, readers' understanding of the results of the May 24, 2010 parliamentary elections should quickly solve the problem:
The MSJ, under the leadership of David Abdulah, veteran general secretary of the militant Oilfields Workers' Trade Union (OWTU) and well-known social activist, was among four other parties that contested that snap poll.
It was called by then-prime minister Patrick Manning, whose People's National Movement (PNM) was struggling for political survival, against the odds, amid an internal leadership tussle in which current Opposition Leader, Keith Rowley, was a significant player.
The five anti-PNM coalition partners to contest the elections for the 41-seat House of Representatives were: United National Congress (UNC)—with a known dominant mass base—; Congress of People (COP); Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP, a newcomer); National Joint Action Committee (NJAC) and the MSJ.
The fundamental difference between the hastily formed MSJ and the four other coalition election partners was that while known to have a working relationship with some well-established trade unions—not necessarily Port of Spain-based—it did NOT register as a contesting political party for the elections with the Trinidad and Tobago Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC).
When the official election results were declared, the People's Partnership coalition of Kamla Persad-Bissessar had secured a landslide 29 of the 41 parliamentary seats—21 UNC; six COP and two TOP.
The NJAC failed to win a seat and there were no seats to declare for the MSJ, which had not registered with the EBC. It, however, was allocated a Senate seat that went to David Abdulah.
Abdulah's resignation of that seat came with the announced MSJ withdrawal from the coalition government. Therefore, despite the ongoing political acrobatics of the COP, currently under the leadership of Prakash Ramadhar, blowing hot and cold about its relationship with the Persad-Bissessar-led government, the People's Partnership remains with the same parliamentary strength secured at the 2010 poll—29 of 41 (the PNM holding the remaining 12).
The irony of the MSJ's withdrawal from the People's Partnership, failing to make a statistical difference to the coalition's parliamentary strength, is that the MSJ's former leader, Labour Minister and once long-serving OWTU president general Errol McLeod, seems quite settled in the Cabinet as Minister of Labour.
McLeod, it would be recalled, had actually ended up as a successful election candidate for the UNC.As Minister of Labour he had settled the issue of any conflict of interest by resigning as leader of the MSJ. Currently, he conveys the clear impression of being quite settled in serving the Government to which he was elected and without any of his critics being able to substantiate claims of a betrayal of workers' interest.
Indeed, McLeod continues to reveal a commitment to what the Express editorially noted yesterday as "performing a role largely scripted by industrial relations law…Lessening the appearance or the reality of divided loyalty on occasions of labour conflict…"
It is a pity, though by no means a surprise, that long-standing colleagues of the labour movement and fighters for social justice have had to be so openly divided over the future of the "Partnership" they had forged to bring an end to government by the PNM.
In his statement announcing the withdrawal of the MSJ, Abdulah claimed that "for them" (those constituting the governing Partnership), "it is not about changing the system of governance but rather changing faces…."
This political whiplash needs fact-based analysis. But it is early days yet and Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar in her initial response was equally harsh in pointing to what she deemed "unrealistic" and even 'reckless demands" by Abdulah in the name of the MSJ.
On the other hand, latest reaction from COP is that it "understands" why MSJ took the "withdrawal decision'…We share some of the sentiments", said COP's leader Ramadhar.
Really? The people of Trinidad and Tobago would be quite interested, to learn of at least some of these "shared sentiments", and whether they should also look forward to a similar move down the road as taken by the MSJ?
Should that happen—and assuming it could include all six of COP's current MPs (which is doubtful)—only then it will no longer be one from 29 leaves 29, but six from 29, resulting in a UNC-led government of 21, if not 23 (counting TOP's two).
At mid-term, therefore, despite all the excitement being generated by allies and opponents over its policies and governance strategies, the UNC-led coalition government comes nowhere near to being in any danger—even as adjustments and readjustments continue in the body politic.