The National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB) will be holding elections for officer positions this weekend. These are important elections, because the NTUCB is a very important organization. The NTUCB has the power to challenge elected governments of Belize, even in a political system wherein the Prime Minister enjoys almost unlimited power.
In order to become Prime Minister in Belize’s present political system, a system which is dominated by the major campaign financiers, which are individual, family, and corporate in nature, the Prime Ministerial aspirant must satisfy these major campaign financiers that his loyalty is to them, not to the masses of the Belizean people.
Once the individual becomes Prime Minister, the major campaign financiers will hold his feet to the flame because they know he has the power to serve their interests. In the case of the recent crisis in Belize’s sugar industry, the corporate powerhouses of the BSI/ASR knew that the Prime Minister had the power to force the cane formers to capitulate on BSI/ASR’s terms.
With their backs against the wall, the cane farmers went to the Supreme Court of Belize in order to pressure BSI/ASR to begin grinding their sugar cane without a signed agreement, as had been the case for the 2014 grinding season. BSI/ASR brought maximum pressure on the Prime Minister. They insisted on a signed agreement. They were supported by the business and industrial community of Belize. This was a test case of sorts, wherein the capitalists in Belize needed to be assured that labor did not have the power to challenge them.
Strictly speaking, the cane farmers are not labor. They are small capitalists, in a sense. They own their cane fields and their homes, and they can mortgage these to raise capital for the growing of their cane crops. But the cane farmers do not own the sugar mill, and they need the payments from the mill owners, the capitalists, in order to meet their bank payments.
Face to face with the mill owners in any bluff poker which requires the ability to wait indefinitely, the cane farmers have to yield to the mill owners. Their only bargaining chip is their cane, which represents the labor which trade unions classically withhold from companies in order to pressure them. The cane farmers tried to stand united and use their sugar cane to bargain with, but BSI/ASR knew that the Prime Minister had the power to smash their association, which the Prime Minister essentially ended up having to do.
We have said to you that we native Belizeans are at a disadvantage in any system wherein capital is exalted over labor, because the people who control the capital are the same people who enslaved and exploited us. That enslavement and exploitation were precisely about enabling them to accumulate that capital which they now bring to us and set on the table and say, you need this; so, you must abide by our terms. We natives are thus held to ransom in a more sophisticated version of slavery and exploitation.
For us natives to get a break, we must have a system wherein our labor has more value and leverage than during slavery and colonialism. If not, we and the generations who come after us are condemned to poverty. The political system of self-rule, as opposed to colonialism, was supposed to raise us to a level where we had a chance for a fair deal. The workers of Belize, quite naturally, supported the nationalist revolution in Belize which began fighting for self-rule in 1950. The most powerful trade union in British Honduras, the General Workers Union (GWU), was in a coalition with the People’s United Party (PUP) which fought and won the national elections of 1954 and 1957. What happened after 1957, with respect to the PUP/GWU coalition, is never discussed in Belize.
Whatever the case, although both the major political parties of Belize are controlled by capitalists, the NTUCB proved in early 2005 that it had the power to challenge an elected government. We cannot overemphasize the importance of this weekend’s elections for the people of Belize.
The democracy within our party political system has been subverted by big money. It would not be unfair to say that we people of Belize sold our democratic rights for a mess of pottage, but then one has to point out that the Belizean people were led astray, betrayed by our political leaders. We came out of colonialism with enthusiasm, but without political education. The NTUCB is our last hope for power for the Belizean people.
The recent crisis in the sugar industry exposed, once again, the fact that the Belizean people are divided. Localized protests in Toledo (SATIIM) and Belmopan (BGYEA) last year did not generate the national support they required to stand up to the Government of Belize. Historically, the cane farmers of the Corozal and Orange Walk Districts had been able to fight for their rights without support from the rest of the nation. When the cane farmers, and NTUCB, began to realize how dramatic the faceoff with BSI/ASR had become, and how isolated the cane farmers had been once the Government of Belize took the position that it did, it was too late. NTUCB was unable to mobilize quickly enough to rescue the cañeros.
No one needs to alert the enemies of the Belizean people to the importance of NTUCB’s elections. The enemies of the Belizean people are on top of their game. It is the Belizean people who need to be educated to the fact that the NTUCB is the last hope for real Belizean nationalists. The recent sugar industry crisis gave us a graphic example of how abusive, to Belize and Belizeans, international investment capital becomes in their war for increased profits. The Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) has fallen. The NTUCB is our last line of defence.
Power to the people. Power in the struggle.