Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Letter: Remembering the 1969 bus strike and PNM brutality

A glimpse of the Black Power riots in Port of Spain in 1970
How many remember the bus strike in 1969…and of the PNM government’s response? 

If your answer to each or the second question is, "Not me!", then how can you understand the nonsense that's passed for the PNM's protest against the building of the Point Fortin highway and the way the PP government handles industrial relations? 

1969 marked the 13th year of domineering rule by the PNM. Labour laws were completely anti-worker. Government workers' salaries, wages and general terms and conditions of employment were extremely poor. Unemployment was rampant. Citizens were itching for the general election to dump Dr Williams and the PNM. In April 1969, within that context, PTSC bus workers struck and changed the course of our history.

Schools were closed for Easter...generally, the travelling public didn't feel the brunt of the bus workers’ strike, in any case, everyone expected the strike would trigger early settlement of the drawn-out wage negotiations. 

Nobody figured for the spitefulness of the PNM though -Dr Williams and his Cabinet refused to budge. The PNM's wilful reluctance was countered by striking bus workers’ deepened resolve. 

Apart from recalcitrant PNM members and supporters, the wider population stood with the strikers. On the weekend before school was to resume, then Prime Minister, Dr Williams, made a tv and radio broadcast to the general public. If you ever heard him speak, you know the measured, nasal tone...if you never, picture a stuffy-nosed person.

"Come Monday morning, when school reopens, the buses will roll. And heaven help anyone who tries to stop them!" he drawled, without giving a hint of the brutality to come.

When Monday morning reached, soldiers and police were manning the entire PTSC fleet. Striking employees who peacefully tried to stop buses leaving the POS terminus and who weren't fleet-footed enough to "brakes from" the police batons, were roughly manhandled and bundled into waiting Black Marias and convoyed off to jail. 

The atmosphere was highly tense…buses were accompanied by heavily-armed police and soldiers…we, schoolchildren, went from home to school and back under the steely eyes of loaded guns, I was so jittery, my end of year school exam results were the worst ever.

The PNM's heavy-handed 1969 reaction to the busworkers' strike was a chilling glimpse of greater PNM heavy-handedness to come twelve months down the road - April 1970, "The Black Power Riots". 
The 1970 upheaval was a direct consequence of the PNM not caring for what the wider public thought was important. 

The PNM’s attitude was, “My way, or, the highway!” The PNM’s now 56 years old. Old dogs cannot learn new tricks. It’s virtually impossible to teach the PNM that national planning is best conducted not by sticking it to the people, but by sticking to the highway of proper priorities and planning.

The PP government seems to have hit on the right mix, even when a mistake is made. It responds intelligently when an error occurs, confirming that only intelligent organisms can make corrections. Good sense shall prevail in the end with the JCC independent review underway. I have no objection to taxpayers footing the bill for that review. Santa is a figment. Nothing in life is free. 

Governments normally hire independent experts to get a detached perspective or input in national planning when they can't rely on public servants to do the same. 

Furthermore, considering the brevity of its incumbency, no intelligent person can decry the PP’s industrial relations competence and political will, given the number of inherited industrial disputes it has already amicably settled.

Ayodele Chieng | Irving Street, in Petit Bourg.

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai