Leader of the Opposition
Parliament of the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago
My Brothers and Sisters, the struggle of the labour movement is a yet-unfinished battle against social injustice.
The unification of the labour movement 71 years ago and the leadership of Stalwarts such as Arthur Andrew Cipriani, Tubal Uriah Buzz Butler, Adrian Cola Rienzi, George Weeks and countless others, have caused the advancement of the terms and conditions of work to more humane levels. However, times have changed and workers must once again reassess their situation and take steps to correct the injustices that still prevail.
The primary objective of work is to earn the means to provide for the immediate and future needs of one's self and family. This means that for an honest day's labour the working man and woman anticipate a take-home wage that is sufficient to put food on the table, a roof over their head, to clothe and educate their children, to obtain medical care and medicines when ill, to afford basic "luxuries" such as furnishings, a vehicle and utilities, and to establish a saving for "rainy days" and future needs.
It was the frustration of workers who were exploited – working tirelessly, day upon day, with little to show in the face of intolerably high cost of living three-quarters of a century ago – that provided the common thread for persons from all sectors of the national labour force to join hands and force the hand of their oppressors.
Decades later, frustrations have been rising once again.
Legislative measures such as the minimum wage, maternity protection and occupational safety and health provide some shelter for workers although this protection has its limits. Minimum wage is inadequate. What is more important is a minimum standard of living, the enforcement of labour laws without which vulnerable groups such as women and the poor are at the mercy of some unscrupulous employers.
But the most significant source of frustration for all working persons throughout the length and breadth of this country is the hardship induced by the activities of the government – a regime that has sought to undermine the strength of the labour movement by union busting.
The selfish determination of the Manning Administration to continue the accelerated public spending on corruption-riddled tall-building-projects fuels continuously rising inflation putting food, medicine, building materials and other goods and services further out of reach of the average worker.
Incessant gridlocks on all major roads cause workers to leave their homes before sunrise and return after sunset, spending hours in bumper to bumper traffic. This causes employees to arrive at work frustrated and leave no time for recreation and family bonding. It undermines productivity and drives prices even further up.
In the face of all of this, workers can find no peace of mind haunted by a seven-year-old spiraling crime wave that is indiscriminately robbing citizens of their hard-earned possessions and the lives and dignity of their loved ones. High crime also contributes to rising prices as businesses must hire security to protect their investment.
It is these conditions and others that have conspired against workers everywhere.
The labour movement of the 1930's has proven that by cohesion and unity of purpose, the powers that be can be forced to take measures to alleviate the suffering of the masses.
Unless workers everywhere unite and demand a society conducive to their welfare, the fruits of their labour will forever evade them and they will toil in vain.
Hon Basdeo Panday
Leader of the Opposition
MP Couva North
Chairman & Political Leader, UNC
Labour Day in