Friday, June 19, 1998


Trade unions must redefine their role

ONE of the country's major trade unions which represents sugar workers was reported as having second thoughts earlier this week about participating in today's Labour Day observances.

Spokesmen for the All Trinidad Sugar and General Workers' Trade Union (ATSGWTU) voiced their unhappiness about criticism by other trade union leaders aimed at Prime Minister Basdeo Panday, still constitutionally president of the union till next week's election. Members of sugar union obviously remain faithful to their president and are sensitive about other unions taking pot shots at him, even if they are doing so in his role of Prime Minister.

For that reason, and as things looked late yesterday afternoon, the labour solidarity usually evident on Labour Day was set to be somewhat lower in intensity this year. This is a remarkable development. It might have been expected that, given Mr Panday's long association with the trade-union movement, his stint as Prime Minister would bolster organised labour. That, however, has not been the case. In fact, when the Oilfields Workers Trade union (OWTU) recently organised a day-of-resistance march in Port of Spain, it was obvious from the small turnout that the labour movement is not as united as it no doubt would like to be.

This raises questions, not for the first time, about the future of the trade union movement in this country. Traditionally, because of the manner in which the trade union movement came about in the first place, our trade unions have put a lot of emphasis on "struggle" against employers for better wages and conditions of employment.

But times have changed. Unemployment may have dropped, but there are still large numbers, especially of young people, who remain unemployed, or marginally employed, and who are therefore more preoccupied with gaining employment than joining trade unions. And even those workers who do belong to trade unions seldom relate to their unions outside of seeing them as a means to gaining a wage increase or improved working conditions.

Union membership on the whole has dropped considerably in the past decade. Even the classic ideological underpinnings of the labour movement have been undermined by the end of the Cold War and of the great antagonism between left and right.

Trade unions today sorely need to look at themselves anew and to come up with new ideas about their real purpose and functions. Perhaps trade unions need to consider their own involvement in business and certainly they ought to be thinking of ways to provide better welfare for their members.

Labour Day should be an opportunity for such reflection. The annual celebration, set on the day Tubal Uriah "Buzz" Butler's 1937 oil strikes began, brings the country's major trade unions and their members together. And it is a time for focusing on where the labour movement is and where it should be going.

Perhaps the occasion should be regarded as much more than an opportunity for a giant party. The labour movement is in dire need of a new impetus that would ensure its relevance into the new millennium.

The November 19 story

SO as I was saying, before going off on a tangent about the dullness of France '98 so far, I am watching these games with Marlon Morris's book by my bedside hoping to learn from the mistakes of our own Italy '90 campaign ('94 and '98 being closed books to me) what we have to do to be there too in 2002.

The book is titled rather cumbersomely, I find: The Historic Attempt of the Trinidad and Tobago Football Team to Qualify for the 1990 World Cup in Italy. From Morris's vantage point, as one of the playmakers of that team (although to this day I'll never understand why he was not brought on even in the eleventh hour of our dying cause on November 19, unless of course Marlon is right and "Gally" lost it during the half-time break), I learned about:

The dressing room debacle:
"The first half had come to an end and the technical staff hurriedly proceeded to the dressing room. I anxiously awaited the soccer wisdom that Cummings was supposed to impart to his troops. To our surprise however the coach appeared even more confused than the players and was bereft of any tactical ideas. Cummings behaved like a drowning man clutching at straws. He was lost; lost for any ideas, format, system, strategies or tactics as to how we should deal with the task at hand.
He criticised the team in general and was especially harsh on Latapy and Yorke. He asked the team members why they were playing so badly. To Cummings surprise, Latapy, Yorke, Elliot Allen and Kerry Jameson all said that they were tired. After hearing their reply Cummings was speechless for about 20 seconds."

And then there was:

The Disappointing Second Half:
"Our second-half performance was probably more abysmal than the first. Would you believe that we did not produce even one goal-scoring opportunity during this period, not even a half-chance. Most of the players appeared exhausted. The USA adopted the correct strategy and placed all of their players in defence counteracting occasionally with five or less players.

"But reality had unfortunately caught up with us. The long drive from Fyzabad, the frequent trips which we took towards Port of Spain to practice, the ridiculous training session two days before the game in thick mud and the arrogant behaviour which some of our players were exhibiting before the game all together took their toll on the team...

"The extent of the team's exhaustion and fatigue could probably be epitomised by the six seconds before the game ended when Kerry Jameson tried to retrieve a ball in midfield. Kerry was so tired that when he attempted to kick the ball towards the other end of the field he could strike it no further than approximately fifteen yards..."

Marlon's book is a game effort of but 135 pages, but I found a number of nuggets ("Cummings knowing full well that Spann would not be playing in the final game against the US decided to give Spann a final 'taste' of the National Stadium...he showed glimpses of his deft dribbling skills...lacking match practice...when he was eventually taken off he left the field to a standing ovation. For Spann in his own right was a legend in Trinidad and Tobago's football history. It was Spann who created the famous 'Spanner' dribble..."). Not that either Morris or I felt that Spann should have played. Just so happens that the old Leroy was a firm favourite of mine.
But we must press on and in the same chapter about why we lost I found, among other things:

Long drive from Fyzabad:
"Every time we travelled to Port of Spain the players complained of lethargy and fatigue. But for some absurd reason the manager and the rest of the technical staff wanted to stick to tradition and travel to the game. I could remember that in an unofficial discussion with the players the manager stated clearly that they wanted to continue this practice because, as he said, "we had been winning by doing this all the time. I do not intend to change..."

Use of maxi-taxi to travel to the game:
"Besides doing the absurd by travelling such a long distance we made even bigger fools of ourselves by travelling in a maxi-taxi. We were cramped up in two maxi-taxis. A maxi-taxi is not designed to allow for passengers to relax and keep their legs outstretched. When we came out the maxi taxi we felt very tired and stiff..."

Ridiculous training on Friday, November 17, 1989:
"Something happened which was a major factor in our demise...We had agreed to forego training on Friday November everyone's surprise a session was called...a long and intense one...players were tired and nursing injuries yet Gally refused to end the session which was carried out in thick least two inches thick...After the session the players all looked physically and emotionally drained..."

Listen, for reasons of immediacy I have sampled from Marlon's missive only some of the proximate causes of that hopefully-never-to-be-repeated-November 19 fiasco when, in the words of a cruel British sportswriter, we were "all dressed up with nowhere to go". But there was much more to it, of course. And in his book Morris talks as well about all the other stupidness which, as I wrote at the time, was the only thing that could have defeated us.

Get this book, since no true fan should be without one.

Shifting the media centre


IF ONE of the country's corporate giants, such as Ispat or Lawrence Duprey's Clico, for example, were to invest in a daily newspaper with a base, say, in Chaguanas or Couva, it would possibly do more than the present regime could ever do (having regard to the intrinsic and cultural resistance to it) to change the psychology of some of our people and fight the one-sided charges of State racism being orchestrated by the mainstream media.

This would be done by presenting, in bold headline print, the other side of the news. Possibly, I say.
Such a media house would not be based in Port of Spain and would not be making such embarrassing mistakes as presenting Ganga Singh as the Ministry of Energy, or referring to Hamza Rafeeq as the MP for Caroni West. There is no such constituency or thing as Caroni West and if there were it would mean the UNC would start the next election campaign with 18 seats.

The proposed media house would be based in and confined to a new area of the country and would present a new view on issues and concerns. It would contribute to a more balanced perspective on how this country thinks and what this country is really about. Possibly.

Then, there would be real competition for niche and or ethnic markets. Economics would be the dictating force, no doubt, as certain groups began to support the newspaper. And, my own guess is that many media houses in Port of Spain would be forced to "balance up things", engage in massive rearrangements of their format and priorities, or simply be thrown out of business.

The year is 1998; things have changed and things will continue to change and to both Ram Misra of Ispat and Lawrence Duprey I say the idea is worth considering.

While one daily newspaper wages a subtle and subliminal campaign to have the words Indo- and Afro- dropped from the national vocabulary, it turns around and slaps the country in its face by referring to Miss Universe as the "ebony beauty". References to "ebony beauty" were part of its front page ("factual") reporting and not the view of one of its columnists.

Wendy is Miss Universe! Why the focus on black beauty? Is there an inferiority complex here? Was last year's Miss Universe an Ivory beauty? And the one from India, was she a brown or an Indian beauty?

Not satisfied, the newspaper in question then turns around and regurgitates a back page TnT Mirror story of two weeks previous on its Sunday front page, carrying raw and rabid allegations of racism at the state-owned Petrotrin, using the words "African" and "Indian", not Trinidadian.

I consider the words Indo and Afro to be of extreme social-scientific importance in the context of the plurality of this country and it must be used. It must be used for social scientific enquiry along with the terms "white", "Syrian", and "mixed".

For example, as part of a university thesis, one might be interested in finding out who are the most affluent groups of people in the society in terms of ethnicity. Am I then to say that that group is Trinidadian? What sense does that make? What do I mean by Trinidadian? Is that group of people "Syrian", "white" Indo, Afro? Such ethnic labelling cannot be dropped (for social-scientific enquiry and study) from the national vocabulary.

If memory serves me right, they originated from the ISER at UWI and were made popular by a certain pollster who used to conduct political polls for St Augustine Research Associates (Sara).
In the US, another highly plural nation, there are four basic ethnic categories which are used on a daily basis: white, Afro-American, Hispanic and Asian. Are Spike Lee and Dennis Rodman racist for identifying with Afro-Americanism?

These terms are commonly used, particularly in studies relating to crime, in order to determine which groups are more delinquent than the other...who is the rapist, the murderer etc.

There are some in this society who use the words Trinidadian and black conveniently. They would forever tell you that I, an Indo-Trinidadian (and I am not going to apologise for who I am), am black. That's fine. But in the racism charges and allegations recently made at Piarco and Petrotrin I am not, then, black or Trinidadian. Then and there, I suddenly become Indian or Indo and the allegations of racism being practised is not Trinidadian vs Trinidadian, black vs black, but Indian vs African.

Mr Panday's government is not a Trinidad and Tobago Government, it becomes, in the frenzy, an "Indian Government and its Cabinet, one more akin to Pakistan". Then and there I am seen as an "Indian", a national bad word, and in the process I am publicly stripped of my Trinidadianness.

These people who use racial terms for their own interests, while attempting to deny others an identity, are the most dangerous in the land. They must be seen for who and what they really are-mind-sets overflowing with hypocrisy, hate and double standards.

So this is where Wendy and I part company. For social-scientific reasons, the words Indo and Afro do have relevance in this country. Wendy, with her law degree, of all people, should know this.
And, you can take this to the bank!

Letter of the Day

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One letter from the Express will be posted at this website daily.
Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

T&T Caribs on the move

THE EDITOR: The trend in our country is to celebrate the arrival of some of our ancestors and the emancipation of others. I say "others" because although Emancipation Day originally marked the freedom of our African ancestors, today it includes other racial groups who were freed from the shackles of their masters.

Unfortunately, we do not hear much of the indigenous people who were here before the arrival of Columbus and other ethnic groups.

The members of the Santa Rosa Carib Community have therefore decided to establish a research centre at our headquarters on Paul Mitchell Street, Arima, and to mark the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Columbus on our shores with the opening of this centre.

We firmly believe that our research centre will be beneficial to all who seek information on our indigenous ancestors.

We have had visitors from such places as Sweden, Australia, Canada, Australia, Venezuela, Guyana and Dominica, as well as students from primary and secondary schools and from the university at St Augustine and the University of Adelaide, Australia, seeking information on our indigenous heritage.

At the moment the University of Adelaide is engaged in an anthropological field project with the Santa Rosa Carib Community.

Unfortunately, our displays are insufficient and we are using this medium to request assistance from those interested in anthropology and history to establish this research centre which will not only be educational but will also be an asset to the tourist industry as it can be included in the list of interesting historical places.

We also welcome suggestions from the public and donations of such items as display boards and any other material which will make our venture successful.

Those wishing to support the establishment of a research centre of our American heritage can contact any of the following members of the community: R Hernandez Bharath 667-0210; E Reyes 626-7385; J Khan 667-2706; B Almarales 667-2139.

Thanking you in advance on behalf of the Santa Rosa Carib Community.


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