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About that one per cent

Published: 
Thursday, August 10, 2017

As the voice of the trade union movement grows louder in T&T, its rhetoric becomes more absurd.

Last Friday’s call by president of the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) Ancel Roget for a boycott of over 100 businesses owned by the “one per cent” is the latest in a series of manoeuvres that offer no long term, sustainable benefits to this country.

Trade union movements are important institutions in any modern society. That said, our unions in their current dispensation, have entered a dangerous territory that has the potential to undermine the social fabric of T&T—a fabric that makes us particularly unique as one of the most cosmopolitan countries in the Caribbean.

By simply observing the current modus operandi of the labour movement, one gets the sense that, collectively, they have no specific target or goal in mind.

In other words, the question that should legitimately be asked—and one which the union movement owes T&T an answer—is: what is the trade union movement currently trying to accomplish?

For instance, what was initially supposed to be a protest about “saving the jobs” of Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise division workers from the big, bad T&T Revenue Authority, descended into an attack on a specific group of individuals in our society.

How and why?

Mr Roget must have recognised that while his statements may produce wonderful sound bites, choosing to attack a group of people in this way is absolutely reckless. One can understand Mr Roget’s venom. Statements made by certain members of that community which aired on Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown quite obviously left a bad taste in the collective mouths of Trinbagonians. The public backlash was swift and an apology to the nation was offered. However, for Mr Roget to attack an entire ethnic group based on the voices of a few is patently unfair. But that’s not even the biggest issue.

The biggest issue, and Mr Roget may not have recognised it, is purely economic.

If his requested “boycott” is successful, it would mean that the thousands of people employed by the enterprises owned and operated by the “one per cent” would suffer tremendously as a result.

In an already constrained domestic environment, reduced business activity immediately translates into reduced jobs. That’s just simple economics.

Would Mr Roget define this as a successful outcome? The addition of hundreds more to the breadline? One would hope not.

At a time when economic activity should be encouraged, Mr Roget, quite unwittingly, seems to be demanding the exact opposite. But it goes even further than that. This same “one per cent” is responsible for contributing millions of dollars annually to the government’s coffers in the form of tax revenues. This same revenue is used to provide several amenities that many of our citizens utilise and perhaps even take for granted. And, to push the envelope even further, provide subsidies for numerous state enterprises to stay afloat.

It’s plainly evident that Mr Roget has not considered the ripple-effect of his “boycott” demands.

It would also be of interest to understand exactly how citizens are to define the “one per cent”. Is it based on income or ethnic makeup? If it is based on income, citizens may well have to go beyond the “100 plus” list of businesses as expounded by Mr Roget and extend it to several others in T&T whose income would easily classify them among the top one per cent of income earners/revenue generators here in T&T.

If, on the other hand, it is based on ethnic makeup, citizens must note that it is painfully obvious that the “one percenters” cover every race that defines our society.

So, from every angle, Mr Roget’s actions cannot be justified in good conscience. The fact that several associations, business groups and even labour organisations have spoken out against Mr Roget’s position should be indicative of the dire economic situation T&T currently finds itself in, and the necessary steps that must be taken to foster dialogue instead of contempt.

With full clarity, and with sober consideration, Mr Roget should realise that his war against the “one per cent” is not a zero-sum game. In other words, for the “99 per cent” that he claims to represent to win, the “one per cent” does not have to lose. He should be more concerned with uplifting his membership and constituents honorably than trying to dishonorably pull down another.

It is left to be seen how this entire situation unfolds, but for the sake of T&T one can only hope that good sense prevails.

Correction:

In this space last week, reference was made to Terrence Farrell, chairman of the Economic Development Advisory Board. He was erroneously referred to as Trevor Farrell. Our sincerest apologies.