Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 24th 2015 Contents A23
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an independant member of
As if to punctuate the Labour
Day brawl at Fyzabad, Mr
Derek Chin, the MovieTowne
and Ruby Tuesday owner, repeated
(in an interview) a familiar litany
of employers woes. Good labour
-- literate, polite, and who actually
show up -- is impossible to find.
The complaint and the knee-
jerk solution of importing labour
are floated periodically by captains
of industry. It s been addressed in
this space before, but apparently
chambers of commerce do not
hang on to my every word, so I ll
Capital often chooses expedient
solutions to problems, which usu-
ally turn out to be horribly wrong.
This labour-shortage solution is
different in that in addition to
being unworkable, it s already been
tried and failed. The Ministry of
National Security revealed last
October that 100,000-plus illegal
immigrants had entered and stayed
in the last decade. This is in addi-
tion to the anywhere between
100,000 and 200,000 who
entered between 1962 and 1990.
(Incidentally, this partially explains
the atrocious state of public trans-
portation, medical, education, and
housing infrastructure. They/we
are drowning in unplanned-for
and uncounted subscribers).
But at any rate, the immigrant
labour force business desires is
already here. Yet the problems
persist. Why? Could the problem
be cultural? Could Trinidadian
culture teach all in its sphere to
resent those who have more than
they do, feel entitlement to reward
without work, and communicate a
general sense of anything-goes
anarchy? This attitude (laissez faire
bordering on anarchy) pervades
the business attitude as well.
This is one of those things that s
not a local problem. Considerable
management studies literature has
been aimed at productivity and
labour, from books like The No
A***hole Rule, by Stanford profes-
sor Robert Sutton (2010), to arti-
cles in the NY Times, like one last
Sunday, by Christine Porath, No
Time to Be Nice at Work. The
relevant conclusion is that civility,
and the people factor in general,
seems to be a magic bullet to
transform work and productivity.
Treat workers nice, they ll recip-
rocate. It seems simple enough,
but the chief stumbling block is
capital s myopia, and seeming
misanthropy, also not a local issue.
It s been examined by cultural
critics like Naomi Klein, philoso-
phers like John Gray, and Nobel
laureates Joseph Stiglitz and Paul
Krugman. The local case was out-
lined in Brinsley Samaroo s book,
the Price of Conscience (reviewed
in the T&T Guardian on June 11)
on Howard Nankivell, the colonial
secretary during the 1937 labour
Samaroo shows that capital in
Trinidad and Tobago has always
been hostile to labour, and the
engine of this hostility was and is
racial paranoia. The colonial elite s
fears of the black and brown mass
manifested in all areas of life,
including labour policy. What is
less evident, though, is that the
malaise spread through the society.
Arthur Calder Marshall s Glory
Dead, describing a stay here post-
labour riots, details how race prej-
udice manifested at all levels of
society. CLR James told the same
story in Beyond a Boundary. The
situation has evolved and com-
mingled with the class-economic
situation to produce the malevo-
lent capital labour environment of
today, of which the Fyzabad brawl
was merely a revealing irruption.
The question is: can the prob-
lem be solved? Capital no longer
has the social power it had in the
1930s, and labour now has much
more power and influence. So a
solution requires both parties.
Labour s part is easy: stop
showing public rage, fighting and
bullying as normal tactics. Articu-
late a subtler assessment of the
local situation than moronic slo-
gans, inane chanting, and threats.
Capital s part is similar. A long-
standing complaint about local
business is its collective rapine
behaviour, and aversion to social
and capital investment, leaving to
the government things the private
sector should be doing. Business
must invert its national motto
from "Do anything you can get
away with," to: "Do unto workers
as you would do unto yourselves,
friends and families."
There are exceptions -- ANSA
McAL (from where my pay-
cheque comes) has donated mil-
lions to the UWI, and funded the
Caribbean Awards. Arthur Lok
Jack, Massy and Bhagwansingh s
have also made similar gestures.
Additionally, many companies
support pansides and throw
money at Carnival and other
It s not enough.
Business must also adhere to its
own creed: change with the mar-
ket. The companies suffering for
labour have refused to recognise
the market and society have
changed, and needs are more
elaborate. It only starts with more
money -- it s called "a living
wage," and workers in the US have
been agitating to get it. But the
idea that a salary is the only thing
employers are responsible for
won t fly any more.
Work as a human activity has
an emotional component.
Employers know this: they want
"buy-in;" they want workers to
care, be loyal. But employers don t
reciprocate. Life in 2015 is compli-
cated and dangerous. If all
employers were to live a week in
their workers lives -- try to get to
and from work via taxi or maxi,
make do on their salaries and
work conditions, while worrying
about their children, bills and
crime -- things might change
Since that s hardly likely to hap-
pen, progressive policies like flexi-
time, workplace daycare, and ini-
tiatives would show workers
they re people, not cogs. In the
wider environment, business must
know its obligations do not end at
the factory gate, and stop
mouthing clichés like "CSR" and
start actually doing meaningful
things that will change the atmos-
phere which creates the malaise
This is now starting to sound
fanciful, but it s normal in the
countries to which our best and
brightest emigrate. It could be all
boiled down to a single relation a
deeply religious country should
know: do unto others..., or, sim-
WHAT CAPITAL & LABOUR SHOULD KNOW
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