Sunday, February 25, 2018

The resurrection of 'Comrade' George


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Comrade Ancel Roget, president general of the Oilfields Workers' Trade Union (OWTU), should reflect on the experiences of the late Comrade George Weekes before he pulls the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) out of the People's Partnership coalition, if his aim is to reposition the MSJ in the politics of the country before fresh elections are called in 2015.

We are told by Roget that he is giving the Partnership until May 24 to address ten concerns the MSJ and the OWTU have. He has said if those demands are not met fully or at least substantially, the MSJ will leave the Partnership, and as he added, "who want to stay could stay, but I risked it to go in, and [will take the risk involved] from coming back out."

One assumes he was talking to Comrade McLeod who no doubt would prefer to retain his ministry and have the MSJ remain part of the coalition.

The MSJ's complaints are that the Partnership was attacking trade unions by attempting to fit a "one size fits all" wage cap of five per cent; was disrespecting farmers; was imposing the odious system of contract labour on the public service and state enterprises, was plotting to privatise State enterprises like Petrotrin and FCB; was using the police to stop the legitimate and peaceful activities of civil society, including protest action by workers and the rights of the media.

This is a very potent agenda, and as the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) has pointed out, cannot be addressed by May 24.

The question to be determined, however, is whether the MSJ "socialists" are negotiating or whether they are itching to leave the coalition and return to an ideological environment wherein they are more comfortable.

may well be that the ideological gap between them and the Partnership is too wide and difficult to ford. It may well be that the MSJ does not want to be regarded as one of the junior associates of an unpopular UNC and wants to provoke a break. One notes that this kind of dilemma confronts most coalitions in which the parties see themselves as competitors even as they value the benefits which they derive from being in power.

My assumption is that it is only a matter of time before the MSJ leaves the coalition and that Roget, Abdulah, Cabrera et al will form a new left of centre (if not fully socialist) party which will challenge both the PNM and the Partnership for power. Some of us would recall this is what the Workers and Farmers Party (WFP) sought to do in 1966. The entire range of left wingers affiliated to the WFP threw down the gauntlet to the PNM. The rest is "history", as they say.

The WFP, which included Weekes, Basdeo Panday, CLR James, Stephen Maraj et al all lost their deposits. The party got a mere 3.46 per cent of the votes cast. Weekes, then president general of the OWTU, swore he would never face the polls again, a promise he faithfully kept.

learned a lesson in that encounter, viz, that Afro-Trinidadian oil workers would support their union and any other progressive union in the quest for enhanced workers' salaries and benefits, but would maintain their political link to the PNM.

If the precedent holds, Roget and Abdulah will walk out of the Partnership virtually alone after May 24, but are unlikely to find themselves being followed by an OWTU phalanx.

This, of course, raises questions as to how many voters the MSJ brought to the Partnership in 2010. One might speculate that while the MSJ did not bring much in terms of voting fodder, they brought legitimacy.

The Partnership campaign of 2010 brought back memories of the politics of oil and sugar, even though the material base of the unions had changed. The WFP ghost was still alive and its apparitions in the form of Abdulah and McLeod helped to promote the view that the whole country, irrespective of tribe, was swinging with the Partnership and against Patrick Manning.

Perhaps many of those who went to the Partnership in 2010 may have been looking for a temporary home away from home and may already have left the Partnership to go back to base. This must certainly have been one of Rowley's assumptions.

One is not clear what McLeod will do. He is caught in a serious scissors clinch. He is loyal to the coalition and clearly enjoys being in the coalition. But he is being challenged by Roget to put his ideological money where his mouth used to be.

I hope he stays, and that Kamla has the good sense to keep him in the Cabinet. He may even be useful as a candidate in 2015 as he was when he ran on a ULF ticket. He is clearly worth more to her politically than does Roget. Whereas Kamla and the Partnership need COP to hold on to power, they really do not need the MSJ.

Questions also continue to be raised about Rowley. How well or badly did he do? Rowley has said in moving the no-confidence motion, he was speaking to citizens outside of Parliament and not to those who were already bound over. That formula is however not meaningful since those inside the Parliament are part of the medium through which the message travels. Communication specialists know that the "masses" outside rely on validating elites to help them interpret or evaluate what it is they are hearing. The communication is rarely ever direct. It is mediated by opinion leaders. That is how it used to be under the old media paradigm.

Which raises the question as to whether Rowley had any success in persuading many PNM stalwarts to recross the River Jordan. If we were to judge by media "noise" and "headlines", we would have to conclude that the PNM carried the night. But media noise may have been distorted by interference. We simply do not know what happened on the ground.

We also do not know what collateral damage, if any, was done to the PNM caused by Louis Lee Sing. PNM supporters must have been horrified that Lee Sing could have been so politically mischievous and opportunist. It must have been the perception to many that Lee Sing had deliberately set out to "lick up" Rowley, and at the same time advertise his own campaign for the PNM leadership, a goal on which he is now fully embarked.

One understands ambition in politics, but in my view, Lee Sing went much further than was tolerable. He shot at the General when he was leading troops into battle. Men have been court-martialed for less. But we are again reminded that politics has its own rules about morality and loyalty. The ends justify the means.

My judgment is that Rowley handled Lee Sing well. He allowed him to remain hoisted uncomfortably on his own petard.