Sunday, December 17, 2017

Political parties in T&T


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Part 3

In my last article I started to discuss the policies and philosophy of the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) as expressed by leader of that party (Errol McLeod) at the recent (founding) conference of the MSJ.

Movement for Social Justice

The presentation of Errol McLeod starts with a historical review, similar to the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC) Blue Book which I discussed in Parts I and II of this series. Mention is made of the history of slavery, emancipation, development of humanising institutions by former slaves; creations such as the "sou-sou" (a form of saving) "mas" (Carnival), invention of the musical instrument — the steelpan, creation of values such as respect for elders, self reliance, the importance of work and being one's brother's and sister's keeper. Reference is then made to indentured labourers also resisting colonial rule and preserving their religion and culture.

McLeod cites the workers organisations that have struggled for the representation of the people's interest: the Trinidad Workingmen's Association which later changed its name to the Trinidad Labour Party; the Butler Party — properly known as the British Empire Citizens' Home Rule Party; Rienzi's Trinidad Citizens' League; the Negro Welfare Social and Cultural Association led by Elma Francois; the West Indian Independence Party; the Workers and Farmers' Party, the original United Labour Front of 1976; and more recently, the Movement for Social Transformation.

He states that there are some persons in this society who: "Claim that trade unions and politics don't mix and they can't accept that we are in the Parliament. How foolish they are! But we really ought to place the primary blame for their misguided positions on the People's National Movement (PNM). It was the PNM and its founder — Eric Williams who, in seeking to replace the workers movement and Butler as the dominant political force in the country, started to put the idea in the heads of workers that they didn't need their own class to represent them.

In one speech in the lead-up to the 1956 elections, Williams likened Butler to the age of the donkey cart while he Williams was in the jet plane age. It was the worst possible insult imaginable, yet workers applauded Williams as the world's third brightest man. And over the years Williams and the PNM intensified this false ideological position and in this they have been given encouragement by the party that drew its mass base from the Indian segment of the population. And so we, as ordinary people, have allowed ourselves to join and support political parties which do not represent our interest. Indeed, these parties have, in the main, represented the interests of big capital and oft-times of foreign capital".

I quote this section of the presentation as I believe it gives a clue to the reason for the MSJ joining the People's Partnership—presumably to oust the PNM.

However, I find it very difficult to understand how a political movement can on the one hand be critical of "the party that drew its political base from the Indian segment of the population", a party which Errol McLeod states encourages the PNM in representing in the main the interests of big capital and of foreign capital, and then join in a partnership Government with this party. Errol McLeod argues that in other parts of the world parties representing workers are forming coalitions with right wing parties. I am concerned with Trinidad and Tobago and would like to see this justified here. I would like to hear how the MSJ will be able to speak out (publicly) against policies that may not be in workers' interests, such as low wage settlements that do not even keep up with past inflation.

As I have stated in my last article, the MSJ website does not give information on its policies and while Errol McLeod gives a historical perspective and emphasises that the MSJ is a party of the workers and the people, a statement of policies is absent and so I have not been able to ascertain from his presentation any insight into the MSJ policies.

I would like to learn of policies on the structure of the economy and related social issues. Does the MSJ support a low rate of taxation such as we have in this country and which has not resulted in investment? Could higher rates of taxation help to provide the funds to meet higher wages for public sector workers? Does this party support a progressive taxation system in which higher income earners pay at higher rates or a retrogressive one that has a fixed rate? Does the MSJ support value added taxation (VAT) which must be paid by workers and persons of high income alike? Does the MSJ support GATE and competitive scholarships in which all income groups are treated the same or would it support a means test for access to these entitlements? Does it support middle and low income taxpayers paying for free laptops for the children of high income earners even of millionaires? Does it consider the education system equitable in which children whose parents are able to afford extra lessons at primary school have an advantage and can get into better secondary schools, an advantage which will persist through secondary school and enable such advantaged children to enter the faculties of the universities in which there is severe competition for entry such as medicine?

What is the policy on autonomy for Local Government bodies and for Tobago? What is the policy on modernisation of the agricultural sector as opposed to sending URP workers into farms as has been proposed by Minister McLeod? Would he advocate sending URP workers into the petroleum industry when that industry is in economic difficulty? If not, why not? Answers to these questions may give an indication of MSJ policies.

In my next article I shall discuss the policies of the Congress of the People and the United National Congress.

To be continued