For the membership of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) and its leadership this is indeed a special occasion. For me, this activity represents the realization of a cherished dream. From the Union’s perspective, the construction of this College is a monumental feat. Its maintenance and use for the Union members would be an undeviating task we from the Union’s Central Executive have set ourselves. This structure and its complete furnishings, again from the Union’s point of view, will reach the princely sum of one hundred and ten million dollars or US $ 550,000.
This we are sure, is a wise investment to promote working class education.
The College building houses, among other things, 2 classrooms which can accommodate 35 and 30 students respectively, a Conference Room, a Recreation Room and a Library. Dormitory facilities are also provided for up to 35 students.
In the overall and varied activities of our Union, education has been a fixture on our agenda. It is a work spanning very many years. We consider it as indispensible for a disciplined organization and the struggles of our workers to understand issues and engage in struggles linked to their basic and immediate interests.
The thrust of our educational work, as in the past and will certainly continue today, is to provide the essential tools and knowledge to our members to be more and more effective in their Trade Union work. But it is not limited to those objectives. We seek also to lift our members overall consciousness. Working class unity, indeed national unity and solidarity are values dear to us and, these are values that we promote in our educational activities too.
We live in times that are troubled and a world that is, becoming increasingly complex. Since the latter part of 2007, the world has been in the grips of an economic and financial crisis. It is referred to as a recession and the biggest since the Great Depression that lasted from 1929 to 1933. The crisis has been triggered off by banks and insurance companies of developed countries, most notably the USA. And that crisis has sent shock waves all across our planet. Few countries, if any at all, have been spared its effects. The pursuit of mega-profits , the lack of ethics, uncontrollable greed by the commanding heights of the capitalist economy – as our late Honorary President Dr Cheddi Jagan would refer to them – are the roots of the crisis; the consequences are millions of workers laid off their jobs, millions of people thrown out of their homes.
But the crisis is a great education to the world’s workers too. It has exposed the capitalist system better, I believe, than lectures in a classroom can do. From it we must learn.
We note, for instance, the rush and ease which the political elite of several countries have moved to support their financial institutions and, on the other hand, the minimum of assistance to the jobless and homeless, the deprived and the hungry. Equally, we must also note what seems to be a reawakening of the European workers after years of relative dormancy. The streets are becoming alive with workers militancy, strike actions and demonstrations are taking place and workers struggles are in the air. The present actions of the Greek workers must be particularly acknowledged.
What we see playing out with the crisis sweeping developed and developing countries too are class issues. Capitalism’s methods may have changed over the years, but their insatiable appetite for profits at the expense of workers and plunder of countries resources remain.
In such times and circumstances, workers need to be extra alert. A new breed of Robber Barons has emerged today. Ruling circles which serve them are feverishly engaged, along with their apologists and handmaidens, in taking measures to defend, protect and preserve the old order. Division of the working class and taming the workers are national objective of neo-liberalism and their arsenals are filled with tricks, stratagems and weapons to achieve their ends. Organization, education, unity, solidarity and struggles are our answer to defend our interest, our cause and to bring about alternative systems more supportive of working peoples well being and welfare.
The workers within the fold of GAWU indeed, the Guyanese working class, as a contingent of the workers of the world must learn and follow such developments but also understand the common threads that unite us in struggle whether in Europe, Latin America, North America, Asia or Africa, and together utilize our energies to bring about change- change of a system that is founded on exploitation, oppression, plunder and waste which are also telling negatively on the world’s climate.
Our College has much to do. In any perspective, the facility will be for the use of our members but, hopefully, it may also serve other sections of our working class as well as other segments of our population.
The GAWU, through, this venture is making its contribution towards workers’ education. But there is a crying need for more to be done, more resources to be devoted to this objective.
Taking part in this activity today are several ministers. The GAWU is pleased at their presence.
We have, also followed and supported the efforts made in recent years to promote and strengthen our formal education sector. I am sure this will show future benefits. We also think that the time has come for Government to be active, in a major way, in workers education. This could either be done through the Ministry of Education or by giving grants to Unions and other genuine social organizations with proper supervision and accountablity, to invest in education of our working people. One need not, at this moment, detail the advantages, but, the benefits to citizens, economy and country are obvious.
Our College will serve workers from the several entities where GAWU is recognized and we look forward to the continuous co-operation and support of the management of those entities. While the sugar industry is our largest base, our College will also serve workers from eleven (11) other enterprises where our Union enjoys bargaining rights.
The GAWU Labour College will be expected to deliver quality education programmes designed to accommodate the varying academic backgrounds of our members while setting certain minimum levels in the content of what is to be delivered.
We hope as our programmes develop to be able to include members of our sister unions in the future.
It is our intention also to accommodate our members who wish to move to higher professional levels by providing training in some appropriate subjects and to develop Certificate and Diploma Programmes that can be fully accredited and recognised.
We have chosen this week for the formal opening of our College to coincide with the activities to observe the birth anniversary of our late Honorary President , Dr. Cheddi Jagan. Dr. Jagan was a tower of strength for our Union as indeed for the entire working class. In an out of Government, he was a true champion of the workers’ cause.
In his address to the 10th Conference of the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) in June 1993 Dr. Jagan said:
“I tell you once again, this government is rooted in the working class and if I am going to remain head of any Government, this one or any other one, you can be certain that the working class will always have its say in determining the policy of this country.”
In an address at the Omai Gold Mines in November 1992, he said:
“But we don’t want just recognition. We feel that the workers must be involved in decision making and management wherever they’re working.
Workers are not only muscle power. They have brains which must be utilized in making the place run as efficiently as possible. This is how it must be.”
Dr Jagan made a sterling contribution to the Education programme of our Union. He lectured to numerous groups of workers on a wide range of political, economic and social issues. Dr Jagan also contributed to workers education through his many writings in the newspapers, booklets and classic books such as the West on Trial.
The establishment of the GAWU Labour College is a tribute to the great working class Teacher and Educator, Dr. Cheddi Jagan. We in GAWU pledge at this opening ceremony, to intensify our efforts to provide quality workers education for our members and the wider trade union fraternity.