The Petrotrin Goose

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 .

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