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TCL strikers: Don't call us terrorists

By Sue-Ann Wayow sue-ann.wayow@trinidadexpress.com

THEY have been described as overpaid golddiggers and terrorists with no concern for the nation's economy, but striking Trinidad Cement Ltd (TCL) workers say all they want is a better salary to support their families.

The workers are no longer on the jobsite producing cement, but they are still on a shift-system, ensuring that the strike camp at the company entrance is manned at all times.

Yesterday was day 29 of the strike by the Oilfields Workers' Trade Union (OWTU) members, who are now being watched constantly by a contingent of police officers assigned to the company's gates at Claxton Bay.

The police deployment is in response to weeks of attacks in which TCL workers who have opted to return to work, have been harassed and intimidated, with threatening phone calls, fire bombings, and a boulder attack on a bus shuttling workers from the factory.

The workers spend their days playing cards, singing and playing music, or relaxing under trees and at the strike tent.

Nearby, armed police officers read newspapers, waiting with handcuffs.

The workers have a shift system, where some show up during the day and at night another team "take up duties".

The striking workers told the Express they have wide support.

Supermarkets, mini-marts and persons not associated with TCL or the union have been donated food items.

The food is used by the protestors for meals they cook themselves at the tent every day, except on Tuesdays. On Tuesdays the workers fast and have prayer meetings, praying that God changes the minds of their employers to grant them more than a 6.5 per cent wage increase.

Many, who were employed with TCL for several years said they will survive the strike because they saved money.

Worker Arjoon Lakhan said even though he was willing to continue striking for 90 days, he hoped the wage negotiations could be settled by his employers and the union soon, so that he can return to work.

TCL withdrew its first offer of seven per cent and has offered a 6.5 per cent because they said the union was being violent and engaging in acts of terror and vandalism.

Lakhan who lives within walking distance of his job-site, has been employed with the company since he was 14-years-old and has been a permanent member for the past 30 years.

Lakhan, 56 said employees worked under terrible conditions and they deserve a wage.

The swimming pool attendant said "Many people, when they retire, they do not live long because of the effect the dust and heat has on them. The union and company should come to an agreement soon. Everything is rising. It is getting very expensive to live."

Lakhan said he did not appreciate being called terrorists by his employers.

"It sounds really bad. We are just fighting for our rights. I don't think anyone from the OWTU did those things. I think other people are doing it just to make OWTU look bad."

The father of two said when he first began striking, his wife was not very supportive and encouraged him to work. He said one of the main reasons he stayed away from work was because he was afraid.

"Sometimes in things like these, you have to be very careful. Some workers may want to work and there are others who may not, and that could cause some trouble."

His wife and other family members eventually began showing support.

"They were a bit sceptical in the beginning but now they are not worrying about anything."

One worker said even though he has been working for 27 years at the company, he was not yet been made permanent.

And he shows his dissatisfaction with the company by showing up at TCL 's compound 5 a.m. every day since the strike began and leaves at around 10 p.m.

He admitted that not his entire family including his wife and six children supports him.

He said he is surviving without salary because "I had something put away. I am digging into that right now."

Joy Ramnarine, a sewing machine operator who works at TCL Ponsa Manufacturing Limited in Point Lisas, said she visited the strike camp to offer support.

Ramnarine said workers were given tasks they should not be doing.

She said "At the end of the day we are all employees. The managers always like to use our own people to divide and attack, and they would use any means necessary to get what they want. I hope the management have some sort of sympathy. We are all human. We don't want the whole cake. We just want piece. Give us our worth, what we work for."

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