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NWU Addresses


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It is truly an honour and a privilege to welcome you all to the 2ndAnnual Congress of Delegates of the National Workers Union, in this its 42nd year of existence. The National Workers Union has a long and rich history steeped in industrial relations and workers’ rights. Through changes in governments, political ideologies, market fluctuations and mainstream philosophies, one thing remains constant, that of workers’ rights.

We in the Caribbean region are not new to struggle as ours is history defined by struggle, gaining rights and privileges denied for centuries.It was not too long ago that trade unions were illegal in the region and only through struggle we were able to gain so many of the freedoms we enjoy today. Dare I say that the labour movement has defined regional philosophies and politics as almost all political leaders prior to 1990 came from the labour movement.
It is no secret that the fallout of the 2008 recession has forced the labour movement to further re-evaluate its position within the political and economic landscape. The movement has been forced to ponder the fact whether it is or ever was an equal partner in the decision making process and whether or not its contributions were ever heavily regarded.The fight of workers today mirrors struggles of decades past when we found ourselves fighting for every single benefit and privilege advanced. Though many leaders were borne of the movement, history has shown us that once they have achieved the highest office, labour’s concerns become the adversary and are the first to get cut, silenced and minimized.
Comrades, the resilience of the movement has been tested and its relevance questioned. It was thought that the checks and balances put in place in this globalized and regularized market would be enough to protect and preserve all the gains and freedoms so long fought for. We were told to trust the ‘invisible hand’ of the market. Comrades, look at where the invisible hand of the market has brought us. Who can forget the unanimous cry emanating from workers the world over, shouting in one voice, showing their frustrations with a financial system which rather than protect brought millions to their knees.
The pivotal moment in the trade union movement which we have been speaking about, is no longer a point in history which signaled a massive shift in thinking or ideology. The fact is every day is challenge, every decision made in today’s environment affects how we will deal with and respond to situations tomorrow. Every day is pivotal for trade unionism, every day is pivotal for workers.
Comrades, these are some very serious times. Regionally, our small island economies have not be able to rebound from the 2008 financial crisis. Locally, the everyday pressures in the form of Value Added Tax and other taxes, and increasing food and utility prices continue to put a strain on every day workers. The gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen, while our middle class is diminishing. We are seeing a level of poverty that is frightening. There seems to be a pervading attitude at the top that everything must be kept there, in the hands and control of a select few. Comrades, are we not each other’s keeper? Surely what is good for the top 1% must be good for the rest of us.
Unemployment continues to increase and underemployment is rampant. Both of these will have devastating consequences in the years to come as our young people will not have the foundation to allow them to build a solid future. These, in addition to the recent decisions being taken by the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank all leave us wondering what’s next. The recently passed Banking Act is not worker friendly nor is it client friendly. The Act allows financial institutions to repossess and auction off houses under homeowners. The Act also removes priority rights for Bank workers when a financial institution goes into liquidation. We did everything that was required of us, we put money aside and we invested. CLICOInternational Life Insurance Ltd and British American Insurance Company Ltddevastated our faith in investments while falling interest rates have questioned our belief in savings.The 2% interest rate being offered on savings does not give any incentive for saving leaving most with a feeling of helplessness.
Comrades, the nature of business has once again changed to ensure its survival. Business consolidation is the new order of the day. Rebranding and changing marketing strategies are some of the actions being taken to reinforce their longevity. This brings a whole new fight to the workplace. In St. Lucia, the mergers involve regional heavy hitters which come with their own culture of doing things and getting things done.
As trade unions, we have to accept the fact that it is no longer business as usual, that we too have to change and evolve in order to meet the challenges these mergers bring. We have to remain vigilant, we have to remain committed and we have to double our efforts. These developments highlight the fact that unionism, more than, ever is relevant and if businesses realize the need to re-invent and consolidate for survival, the movement has no choice but to come to the same realization and do the necessary to ensure its relevance and longevity. There must be cooperation and collaboration within the movement. The movement must also adapt to a changing work force, a younger more results oriented worker. Our representation must capture their nature, their aims and objectives not only for the work place but life in general. Business has already given its response to the changing market, Labour must now respond accordingly. We must consolidate for survival.
Comrades, it is against this backdrop that we have the honour and privilege of having Cde Basdeo Panday, Former Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago and President of the All Trinidad Sugar Estates and Factories Trade Union to address you this morning. Cde Panday’s association with the National Workers Union goes way back to the 1970s. Cde Panday contributed significantly to the development of the National Workers Union as he helped to shape and direct the operations of the organization in its early days. The National Workers Unionwill be forever grateful to him along with Cde George Weekes, Joe Young, Raffique Shah and Allan Alexander for their unyielding support during that time.I urge you to listen carefully and attentively as we are very fortunate to have him here with us today.
Comrades, the road ahead is long and scattered across the path are stones and boulders which appear to be permanent. We have to keep pushing forward, we have to make the right decisions and we have to do it all together. We have been able to achieve significant strides in spite of all that has been thrown at us, we have had to flex our muscles from time to time, but it is necessary as we continue to remind the powers that be that workers must be valued and the Union must be respected.
Comrades, we have come so far, we still have a ways to go. We will walk the path together. We must consolidate for survival.
Long Live the National Workers Union.

Thank you.

Protecting And Defending The Economic, Social, Educational, Cultural And Political Interest Of Workers
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