This article was first published in the Trinidad Express Newspapers on August 18th 2018.
Do you remember the story of the goose that laid the golden eggs? Apparently , it was a big goose, one of those from Away , and each egg it laid was made of 24 carat gold , and could support the entire farm for a long time or so the story goes.
Then , one day a greedy guy who wanted MORE stole the goose . I don’t know what happened then.He thought he knew better than the farmer and could keep the goose laying golden eggs just for him alone? Maybe he couldn’t get the special food the goose needed , maybe he just didn’t know exactly how to care for a goose of that sort? Whatever it was, the goose died. And the farm had no other produce to sell, having lived for so long on golden eggs, so it went broke.
I thought about that sad story when I read about the Prime Minister’s bold declaration that he was not afraid of Ancel Roget’s threats. “Don’t threaten me” he thundered
What were the threats? As near as I could ascertain from various press reports, they implied a threat to remove Dr Rowley from office if he did not agree to fire Petrotrin’s senior executive and professional managerial workers , who are, after all, also workers employed by the company, not its owners…(that wealthy and powerful 1% would be the Government) and to fire the Chairman as well. This is all so different from what I learned was the union’s policy of “not a man must go”.
He also demanded that Dr. Rowley, who obviously represents the 1% owner, accept the Union’s two year old plan for running Petrotrin. Not having seen the plan, I would have no idea what was in it . or why the government has not taken it and implemented it wholesale. What I do understand is that it will take apart the Petrotrin goose that has been laying golden eggs. At one time OWTU insisted that the company be taken over by locals who knew best how to run it, and so it has been run on lines only the government has been able to afford . I thought at the time that the union was right, and that “the commanding heights of the economy” should be owned and run by locals. I am a little bit puzzled, therefore to hear the rumours that the Union Plan involves new foreign investors. I am probably wrong, though. I often am.
Reminds me of the Acelor Mital situation, where SWUTT, an offshoot of OWTU , simply refused to listen to or consider the company’s problems. The whole world knew that due to China’s about face in the market, the iron and steel industry all over the world was in crisis. At the time , so I was told the company tried over and over to persuade the union and their members about the seriousness of the situation and the need to cut salaries and benefits, at least for a time in order to survive. They wouldn’t even meet , much less agree, So the issue went to the Industrial Court, which , to be fair to the Court, ordered that since the wages and benefits were part of the Company’s collective agreements ,which once registered by the Court, which they had been, then had the force of law, awarded in favour of the Union, saying that the company could not just unilaterally cut salaries and benefits . The Union boasted about its victory, and the following week , the company closed down and the goose that was laying those golden eggs left Trinidad & Tobago.
Acelor Mital the company that owned the goose , like Dr Rowley, refused to be intimidated . It moved its operations to Wales where the union there , understanding the crisis the world wide industry was in, agreed to lower wages and pension benefits, took into its fold the goose which started laying a few small golden eggs for the thousand new workers it took on to replace the ones that had been retrenched in T&T . The eggs grew larger as did the company as market conditions improved, as they do. Wages and benefits were restored and the company goes on.
It is part of our culture to believe that we know better than anyone else. It is part of our culture to think that if we shout loud enough and threaten often enough we will intimidate others and bend them to our will. We see it on the school yard, we see it in the Family Court where domestic issues end up. We kill a lot of geese that could lay golden eggs that way.
It is not new in Industrial Relations. Back in the nineteen eighties when economies were tight and competition among manufacturing companies was fierce, the pattern was established. Union reps made demands that beleaguered companies could not meet. Workers , led by their unions, thought that threats and violence would get them what they wanted . And they went on strike , sometimes violently. Companies struggled to keep going, managers and supervisors and a few employees did their best to save their own jobs and those of other workers, but eventually Companies like Metal Box, Trinidad Meat Processors, Bermudez Printing and Packaging, Dunlop and many others one by one went out of business. And the culture of violence and intransigence continues. Dr Rowley has a fight on his hands .