Courtiers, Parasites and Pilloukis
Photo : T U B Butler, Adrian Cola Rienzi, Basdeo Panday
As we mark the anniversary of the labour uprising of 1937 (June 19) tribute must be paid to T.U.B. Butler, Adrian Cola Rienzi and the myriads of labour leaders and workers that joined hands and struggled for better wages and working conditions for workers. Today we stand proudly on their shoulders.
It was the labour uprising of 1937 led by TUB Butler that brought about universal adult suffrage in 1946 and the right of citizens to elect their representatives to parliament to represent their interests. Had Butler not called that strike in 1937 the status quo might have continued and many of the social and political changes that we take for granted today might not have come our way.
Had Adrian Cola Rienzi stood aloof and apart from the struggles of the working people, trade unions such as the OWTU and the ATSEFWTU would not have been formed. Rienzi, a barrister, used his political expertise to fight for the welfare of the working people. Unfortunately, the trade union representatives today are not of the ilk of Rienzi and Butler. The spirit of Butler and Rienzi appears to be forgotten. The strength to protest is no longer there. The belligerence of Basdeo Panday and George Weekes has dissipated if not disappeared from the picket lines. Too many of our leaders have become imbued with “false consciousness,” that is, identifying with the ruling class and government which do not have the welfare of the citizenry at heart.
Today’s labour leaders are more ready to open their hands to receive gifts from government officials and compromise their roles and responsibilities to represent the interest of workers. This was seen when a few trade unions received a grant of $15million from the Rowley administration came to power in 2015. More so, we witnessed trade unionists disrespecting females as was done when Ancil Roget, in a protest at Parliament, had on display a naked mannequin representing Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar. This is the dark pit of degradation that Ancil Roget and his minions have dragged the labour struggle; a far cry from the glorious past of Rienzi, Butler, Panday and Weekes.
“Who will bell the cat?” is a well know cliché that many don’t have the courage to chat about. It simply means “who would confront the enemy?” This is the dilemma that faces every human being every day. This dilemma is best captured in the Mahabharat where Drupadi, a princess, was dragged by her hair through the assembly by the evil Dushana, a prince (his father being the care-taker king) and molested by stripping her of her clothing with neither the King nor the courtiers protesting against this heinous act. Even Drona, the teacher and Bhishma, the elder, were silent. Such is the degradation of mankind!
Why did the courtiers and those who were supposed to uphold dharma did not protest against wrong? It is a simple answer. They were fearful of losing their positions, perks and other hand outs from the coffers of the State. “Should I speak out I would incur the wrath of Prince Duryodhan? My daughter has an application in Petrotrin? My name would be removed from the Prime Minister guests’ list at the diplomatic centre.” These would have been some of the thoughts passing through the minds of those minions that sat in the court and did not utter a word of protest.
It is a clear lesson: Courtiers and pilloukis don’t challenge the might of the King. Vibhishan had the courage to tell his brother Ravan that he had committed a grave wrong by kidnapping Sita and advised him to return her and beg Ram’s forgiveness. Instead, Vibhishan was banished from the Kingdom and the pilloukis were left to sing Ravan’s praises for their contracts, grants, briefs and ads for their television and newspapers and free trips abroad to attend conferences. None had the courage to protest!
Gandhi (1869-1948), the Father of Struggle, was faced with a similar situation. He went to South Africa as a lawyer to represent a client and was appalled at the social abuses Indians had to endure. When he was kicked out of the train he spent the entire night on the railway platform and took the decision to struggle for civil rights for the Indians in South Africa. The few Indian businessmen felt that “it’s no big thing to be kicked out of a train…that happens to us every day.” Gandhiji took a decision to struggle against those injustices and spent 20 years altogether struggling to improve the civil rights of Indians. It was while in South Africa that he had first-hand experiences with the inhumane conditions of Indian indentured labourers and on returning to India in 2015 launched a campaign that brought this system to a close in 1917.
A big shock for Gandhiji was the manner in which the Indian National Congress was treating with the British Raj. Instead of working for the British to leave India, the leadership of the Indian National Congress was engaged is an enterprise of surgrahaying (patting) the British. The leadership of the Congress would petition the Viceroy. In their eyes British rule was colonial care and welfare at its best. Educated Indians were enthralled with British civilisation. Milton, Byron and Shakespeare were there enlightened ones; not Sankara, Vivekananda or Tulsidas. The elites had studied more of the geography of England than India and so knew more of the River Thames than the sacred Ganga. Those were the challenges that faced Gandhi when he took leadership of the leadership of the struggle for India’s independence.
Gandhi had to awaken within the Indian psyche pride in their ancestral way of life. He dressed in his dhoti, thus elevating the status of the village folks that wear the traditional clothing. He gave the people “Ramraj”-the reign of Sri Ram- as his political utopia and the Gita as his political manual. When it was said: “Hindus and Muslims are going to kill each other when the British departs from India,” Gandhi responded that “that would be our problem to worry about, not yours.”
Rosa Parks (1913-2005) was a not a barrister or a writer, more so the holder of a doctorate or professor at a university. She was a maid but had pride in her dignity as a human being. Her simple words “my feet are too tired” was enough to ignite the civil rights movement of the 1960s in Alabama, USA.
Today our country is in a moral crisis. While many argue “against child pride,” holding up themselves as paragons of virtue, in reality they are sleeping in bed with a government whose policies are anti-people. While workers are being retrenched and social programmes are being cut, golf courses are being built. The banks and big businesses continue to dominate the economy. Small businesses are shutting down because they are denied foreign exchange by the banks. Children are staying away from school because their parents are losing their jobs. The hospitals are not working and crime is out of control.
In Guyana the sugar and rice industries are being destroyed by the PNC regime to make way for the parasitic oligarchy to import and distribute those products. More than 100,000 workers and their families are going on the breadline. Yet, Guyanese Pilloukis attended a fund-raising dinner for the PNC at Zen Restaurant in Richmond Hill, New York. Luckily, a group of Guyanese with testicular fortitude came out and launched a placard protest against officials of the PNC junta.
Who are speaking up for our farmers? Where are the voices? In chit chat everyone talks about the problem that farmers are facing on a daily basis. It is rumoured that NAMDEVCO market at Debe is identified for closing down. Who is protesting? The government also plans to shut down Agricultural Development Bank and merge it with state-owned FCB. Has anyone protested? No. And why should they?
Ravan courtier’s remained silent amidst the atrocities being committed against the innocent citizens. The Kuravas were also getting away with their evil actions. Both scenarios were finally settled in long wars causing destruction to all. Are we going to hold on to our few perk and privileges while the ship of state is sinking? Or, are we going to rise up in unity and call for a change in captain? This is the dilemma that confronts us.