Senator Al-Rawi on Trinidad Protest

Sen. Faris Al-Rawi (PNM)

By Alexander Britell

As attention in the United States focuses on a sometimes-ugly battle by public servants and the government over benefits, public-employee protesters are turning Port-of-Spain into a more civilized version of Madison, Wisconsin.

Nearly 150 protestors demonstrated outside the Central Bank of Trinidad & Tobago yesterday, with the tumult loud enough to bring several senators out of their offices in Parliament, including opposition Senator Faris Al-Rawi (People’s National Movement), who was hearing two anti-crime bills at the time.

“In the middle of the debate, there was a very loud protest that could be heard coming from the street around the Red House, and during that protest I was very interested to hear what was going on,” Al-Rawi told the Caribbean Journal.

The protest, which was located in front of the Central Bank and other places in Port-of-Spain, was announced in advance by Trinidad’s Public Services Association union.

Protesters limited their agitation to waving placards and singing songs of opposition.

The debate involves the division of wage increases over the years 2008-2010, and with the collective bargaining agreement set to expire, it has become a pressing issue.

Compared to a wave of public unrest across the globe, and even an increasingly vicious struggle between Wisconsin’s unions and the state’s governor, Scott Walker, the Port-of-Spain demonstrations were something of a bastion of civility – and likely more effective.

“It’s a very organized campaign, but it’s a sustained campaign, and it isn’t of the type you’re seeing globally,” Sen. Al-Rawi said. “It doesn’t cause any unrest in our society, but it does signify that it is a very important issue for the nation to be looking at.”

Sen. Al-Rawi noted that given the breadth of employees the PSA covers – including the police, the union issues had a direct impact on crime-fighting.

“Because the union that is protesting has its membership across all unions – including the police, it’s a very important issue which must achieve the government’s attention. It’s something that certainly has to be addressed as a matter of alacrity, and has to be dealt with as a matter of sincerity,” he said.

While it is likely the protests will continue until the protesters’ demands are met, their tenor should remain.

“This is a very peaceful demonstration from my perspective,” Al-Rawi said. “It was a responsible thing to agitate interests in front of the people who are considering them – what we did as an opposition was to relay the concerns, but in a very peaceful, organized way. It’s a testimony to the type of democracy we have here,” he said.