FORMER Caroni (1975) Ltd workers have been invited to join the country’s newest political party, the National Solidarity Assembly (NSA), to contest seats in the 2015 general election.
The NSA was formed by members of the All Trinidad General Workers Union (ATGWU) and is expected to be launched next month.
ATGWU president general Nirvan Maharaj said the political party was formed to encourage the Government to respond to issues affecting ex-Caroni workers.
He said screening would begin soon for 17 candidates to represent constituencies in the sugar belt.
Four former sugar workers have already expressed interest in four seats, including Pointe-a-Pierre, Naparima, Couva South and Couva North, said Maharaj.
“It is an attempt to get the Government to respond in a meaningful way to the issues of the ex-Caroni workers. We will be contesting 17 seats in the sugar belt areas, all in a bid to give ex-Caroni workers a choice. It is not a question of winning or losing, but there are 1,000 ex-Caroni workers living in Couva North and if I get 1,000 votes I will know that the ex-Caroni workers are saying continue the struggle on our behalf,” he said.
And if the votes do not favour the NSA, Maharaj said, he would reassess his position.
“If they don’t (support) I will know they are saying to let somebody else do so. We cannot be struggling indefinitely. We need to get a mandate and 2015 will be the best time to get that mandate,” he said.
Maharaj said his resolve was strengthened when the Government distributed 500 acres of land to former workers last week.
“I have no choice, 500 acres were given out last week and leases were given out without any infrastructure, development, without any roads, drainage, access irrigation. We have people who got leases and don’t know where the lands are located. The minister is saying people can go on a computer and see where their lands are located but that is different from people physically going on a site to see their lands. I need to get a logical conclusion,” he said.
Maharaj said he was stunned by the increasing support from ex-Caroni workers, small farmers and other groups.
And if his political party succeeds in claiming above 1,000 votes in the Couva district, Maharaj said, he would continue to articulate on behalf of the ex-workers, seeking legal options to ensure the issues are settled.
“But it can’t be that you vote Ramona Ramdial and Rudranath Indarsingh today and then come to me to take up a struggle on your behalf and then elections are called and you vote for them again and then come to me the next day to take up a struggle against the persons you vote for,” he said, referring to current Government MPs.
Maharaj said he was not too concerned about winning the election race, but making a statement to the former workers that the power lies in their hands.
“If I don’t get the support I will have to rethink what I am doing, because at the end of the day we can’t struggle in isolation for those we are struggling for. We have to reassess and reanalyse the situations,” he said.
Couva South MP and former All Trinidad General Workers Union (ATGWU) president general Rudy Indarsingh questioned the intent in the formation of a new political party to contest seats in the sugar belt.
And he dismissed claims that the People’s Partnership Government was not doing enough to resolve outstanding issues faced by former sugar workers.
Indarsingh was responding to statements made by Maharaj, who is expected to launch his new political party next month.
“If you form a political party, you form a political party to get into government or to achieve being in government. The composition of Parliament is 41 seats. When I was president of the ATGWU I left a union that lost 12,000 members between 2003 and 2010. Steering that union financially was a challenge. I doubt that the union has been able to increase its membership tenfold since closure of Caroni (1975) Ltd,” he said.
Indarsingh questioned whether Maharaj’s decision to launch NSA was sanctioned by the union’s general council and financial executive.
He recalled that the People’s National Movement (PNM) shut down Caroni and was about to pay out workers’ financial entitlements when the union intervened.
And through a legal battle, he said, the union was able to secure residential and agricultural land for workers.
Indarsingh said the PNM delivered 184 agricultural leases in its nine years in government, whereas the People’s Partnership distributed 4,000-plus agricultural leases and 1,984 residential leases.
He said the Kamla Persad-Bissessar-led Government also made it possible for the ex-Caroni workers to recover money they invested in Colonial Life Insurance Company (CLICO) and Hindu Credit Union (HCU).
Indarsingh said the Government had never shut its doors to dialogue with ATGWU to speed up the process in matters regarding the former workers.
“I am not saying that there are not some challenges, but the Government has been very open and committed to the process of continuing dialogue and working with the union. It is a work in progress and the Government is committed.”
Indarsingh said the last meeting between Government ministers and ATGWU was held at the Ministry of Housing two months ago.