A slew of international financial crises in the early 1990’s, including collapses in Mexico, Southeast Asia, and Russia, highlighted the important influence international lending organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank had over economic decisions in the developing world. Often in cooperation with local elites, these bodies have forced countries to respond to debt crises by privatizing public industries and utilities, in many cases selling these public resources to foreign companies. Workers and citizens of developing countries often view these policies as a new form of colonialism. In this excerpt, Donna Koons Kingsley, a public relations officer of the Oilfield Workers Trade Union, describes workers’ reactions to the process of privatization in Trinidad and Tobago.Listen to Audio:
KINGSLEY: If you know anything about the OWTU, which is the Oilfield Workers‘ Trade Union, we have been engaged in struggle for the last sixty years this year. We are celebrating our sixtieth anniversary, so the union was born out of struggle. So my relationship with the Oilfield Workers’ Trade Union is a reflection of that and our desire to make a contribution or to work in the interests of the poor or of the working class and to defend those interests against capitalist exploitation. In fact, I was telling you just is that in this period of new technology, as they call it, of globalization what we find is a renewed interest by U.S. capital in the natural resources of areas like ours in the third world, in Trinidad and Tobago. So that we find that Amoco wants to move some of its main, its headquarters or some of its divisions to Trinidad and Tobago because it has everything going for it here.
These companies have no interest in our people, in fact, the present General Manager of Powergen stated that quite openly on television two days ago. That Powergen, which is a subsidiary of Southern Electric International, which is owned by Southern Company of Atlanta, their business is not seeing after the people here, their business here is to make money. That’s what they said, they are here for business not for pleasure or to see after the people, that’s the government’s business. So they’re in the process of retrenching or laying off permanently Trinidad and Tobago citizens who are in the employ of the Electricity Commission, which was recently handed over to Powergen in part of a sweetheart arrangement made by the government. Now we fought that tooth and nail. We picketed, we lobbied every sector of the government in power. They told us we had no choice, that these foreigners have to come to run our electricity, (Cries) Excuse me. That we have no choice. We have been running electricity for decades in Trinidad, I mean this is our, you know, our resource. And they take it and they give it to Powergen. Powergen gets natural gas free. The government buys natural gas, Trinidad Natural Gas company from Amoco, we pay Amoco and we take it and we give it to Powergen. They generate electricity, which we were doing all the time, and then sell it back to T & TEC to provide for citizens. So T& TEC, which is the Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission, only controls now the distribution of electricity. The generation is controlled by Powergen and the first day of their operation they declared a profit of $178 million U.S. T & TEC’s loss was almost equivalent and T&TEC will never make a profit, you know why? Because we gave away the generation of electricity and all of the resources come from us.
The history of the Caribbean has spoken of a lot of struggle and sacrifice on the part of the people of the Caribbean to own and control their own resources that in the past we have come through the period of colonialism. We were all colonies of England and so on. And that in the period running up to independence of the Caribbean islands there was troubles that people engaged in, in order to bring control of the resources of the Caribbean into the hands of Caribbean people. In the 1950s the People’s National Movement, which was formed in 1955, came in on a wave of anti-colonialism. It was a movement and mood of the time that the Caribbean islands should belong to Caribbean people and Trinidad and Tobago was part of that struggle. So we got independence in 1962 and looking back, the natural resources that we had then, looking at what has happened to us in the last 30–35 years, we have come full circle in that we have re-entered a period of neo-colonialism in that we no longer control our resources.
The same People’s National government engaged in a massive privatization in the 1980s so that electricity and water and our resources were privatized, were given to foreign hands. The people in our union see themselves as nationals of a country with resources, as members of communities and we intend to take whatever action is necessary to insure that Trinidad and Tobago continues to exist in the interest of the people of Trinidad and Tobago. What ever that takes.
Source: Interviewed by Simin Farkhondeh, 1997
Courtesy of Labor at the Crossroads