Labour movement deserves a place in politics
It is necessary to respond to some of the views expressed in relation to Labour's bold assertion as regard its political involvement and political future. It must be said that there are some people who seem to have forgotten that it is the absolute right of the labour movement to support any party of its choice.
The criticisms levelled against Labour seem to suggest that it is quite all right and acceptable for trade unions to support political parties. If that party is a labour party, then the thinking changes. To those elements, I say, it is our constitutional and legal right to support a labour party. It is silly to think that we are good enough to support the traditional parties, but we should never support our own party.
The other position which has been advanced by our detractors is that labour leaders should stick to labour issues. But what comprises a labour issue? Obviously, this view is premised on a shocking lack of consciousness.
Trade unions are required to advance the interests of workers both inside and outside the workplace. It is silly, short-sighted and counterproductive to pursue only grievance-handling and collective-bargaining negotiations at the workplace but ignore social and political issues outside the workplace. Such issues impact directly on the workplace.
A case in point is the five percent wage cap. That is a purely political matter, and workers must not continue their struggle hoping that a political party which is not of their making will protect their interests in Parliament.
It is pure backwardness on the part of those who have a problem with Labour taking its rightful place in politics. It is also a case of high-class hypocrisy because in nearly every country, in the Caribbean and internationally, there are either labour parties or other political formations which emphasise the politics of working people.
Some attempt to postulate that Labour should stick to its core business, but who are they to define for us what our core business is. In fact, we are not a business enterprise. Our critical success factors go far beyond the corporate definition.
Politics is a core function of the labour movement. The American AFL-CIO closes down its office at election time and sends its supporters in the field to campaign for the Democrats. In Britain, one of the major parties is the British Labour Party. While Butler was leading the struggle in the 1930's, there were already trade union leaders elected to Parliament on a labour ticket.
Of course, the same people who have no issue with the American or British examples quickly take issue with a particular type of political involvement of Labour in Trinidad and Tobago.
Why is it legitimate to have people vote along lines of ethnicity but not along class lines? On what moral basis is this position being advanced? Some organisation has to break the neck of ethnic voting, and the labour movement is the best positioned to so do.
The Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) will do better than the attempts of the past. People are today more enlightened, and there are many who know that it is only political backwardness which provides the premise for arguments against the noble position advanced by Labour that they must seek the political kingdom.
Ethnic voting and poor governance is retarding national development. It is not a dream; it is a legitimate desire and objective which has to be achieved.
The reality is that there are labour leaders and workers who support the People's National Movement (PNM) or the United National Congress (UNC). The task of the MSJ and other progressive people is to win over those comrades to the labour party. We have to show them that those middle class, political formations have not served, is not serving and will not serve the true interests of workers.
We have to show them that having one minister and one senator in an entire Cabinet and Parliament just does not cut it. Labour certainly deserves more than that. But no one is going to give us that; we have to build support and accomplish that for ourselves.
Perhaps the most latent argument which the reactionaries are using against the justification for a labour party is the argument which places labour interests as being diametrically opposed to the national interest. This is described as the unitarist frame of reference. It presumes that Labour is a small group of miscreants always asking for more money.
When last I checked, I saw that working families comprise the large majority of the people. Whatever happened to the mantra of majority rule? Put simply, Labour's constituency is much larger than the constituency represented by all other interest groups put together. Some hold the view that whatever is good for General Motors is good for America. I hold the view that whatever is good for the majority of the people is good for the country.
Those who have sworn to serve the people, therefore, must remember that working class families are people, too.
chairman, Movement for
Social Justice (MSJ)