Address by GAWU President Komal Chand at FITUG May Day Rally 2010

Introduction

On behalf of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), allow me to extend a hearty and fraternal welcome to those of you gathered here. I also wish to take the opportunity to salute all the workers of our country on this special day. It is pleasing to observe the overwhelming turnout and I wish to express my Union’s appreciation to all of you who participated in the march from the Parade Ground through many streets in Georgetown preceding this Rally. Today, we are celebrating this red-letter day under the theme “Responding to Global Challenges through Trade Union Initiatives and Solidarity” and thus from this rostrum, I wish to extend greetings and solidarity with our fraternal brothers and sisters throughout the world.

Comrades, May Day provides us with the opportunity to reflect on the situation confronting the working class, especially the occurrences over the last year. Indeed, there have been positive developments in our country, in our region and in the world. There have also been setbacks.

 First of all, I wish to recall the origins of May Day starting in 1886 when 80,000 Chicagoans marched in the street, demanding an eight (8) hour work day without any loss in pay. Their demonstration ignited hundreds of thousands of workers throughout the other states in the US to engage in strike actions and protests.

The struggle for the eight (8) hour workday gained prominence in 1889, when at the Congress of the Second International, an organization of socialist and labour parties, passed a resolution declaring that May 1st be celebrated as International Workers Day throughout the world. From that time, this day has come to be known as May Day, Workers Day or Labour Day. In Guyana, this day was first observed during the 1930’s on the initiative of Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow, who as head of the British Guiana Labour Union, organized workers to observe this day. Labour Day became a National Holiday in our country, when in the Legislative Council in February, 1958, Janet Jagan, the then Minister of Labour, Health and Housing, supported a resolution by Rupert Tello, a former TUC General Secretary.

International

Comrades, this May Day mandates the working class and their organizations to consider new strategies as they face ever complex challenges. Unemployment continues to soar, joblessness is the order of the day and those who hold on to jobs are forced to accept lower pay and less favourable working conditions.

This has become the stark reality of workers especially since the latter months of 2008 when most of the developed economies entered into a deep recession while recovery is not taking place as predicted.

The belief in the virtues of the market economy is shattered. Those who have advocated, since the 1980’s, the righteousness of the neo-liberal model of development based primarily on privatization, have become disillusioned. The model encouraged massive speculation and the creation of worthless paper being sold for billions by many financial institutions.

There were warnings about the model. In 1999 Fidel Castro warned of the un-sustainability of what was taking place.

He said “… While some … talk insistently of the need for a international financial architecture, our countries suffer the impact of a system that allows daily speculative operations amounting to three trillion US dollars. That architecture is beyond repair. It is not a question of renovating it but rather of demolishing it and building a completely new one.

“Can anyone explain the rationale behind this ghost economy, which produces nothing and is sustained by selling and buying things that do not exist?…”

The neo-liberal system has also aggravated the inequalities in the world. The massive disparity is so great that it boggles the mind. 

The richest 225 people in the world today control more wealth than the poorest 2.5 billion people. Moreover, the three richest people in the world control more wealth than the poorest 48 nations. The rich are getting wealthier whereas the poor are becoming more poverty-stricken and the middle class is becoming endangered.

The rich people and the transnational corporations are dictating many government policies and actions in the world as they have become powerful octopuses. Now look at the irony. The banks and the large corporations who engendered the economic and financial crisises are rescued with billions of tax dollars. Most of them squandered the bailout dollars through huge bonuses they pocketed.

New York Attorney General, Mr Andrew Como aptly described the sad situation when he said, “…When banks did well, its managers were paid well, when banks did poorly, its managers were paid well. And when the banks did very poorly, they were bailed out by tax payers, its employees were still paid well. Bonuses and overall compensation did not vary significantly as profits diminished…”

The Attorney General disclosed that, US banks lost 80 billion dollars, received 174 billion dollars in state support and without blinking an eye, dished out 30 billion dollars in bonuses to their executives.

Comrades, we see that while the capitalists have benefited and are benefitting from the crisis, the workers are the chief and primary victims.

Today, it is estimated that the real wages of workers in the US are at their 1970’s level. When the workers fight back their unions are targeted. Workers are being harassed and discouraged from joining unions and new strategies are being developed to counter workers struggles.

Despite their actions, workers struggles are gaining momentum. Today, thousands are marching in Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Spain, France and other Euro zone countries struggling to defend their jobs and to halt the decline of their living standards.

It is time that we uphold loftily Karl Marx’s famous call, “WORKERS OF ALL LANDS UNITE.” We have no doubt that proletarian internationalism must become an effective tool of workers organisations if the struggles of the workers worldwide are to become effective.

Comrades, the situation in our region is becoming alarming with the growing militarization worldwide. The Republic of Colombia has given approval to the United States to occupy many bases in that country, ostensibly to fight drug trafficking.

Venezuela and several countries of the continent rightfully feel threatened. The recent military coup in Honduras and that of Haiti, supported by circles in the US has strengthened fears about real threats to democracy and democracy in our region.

We have also seen the US reactivating its Fourth Fleet directed by its Southern Command to have a greater military presence not only in South America, but in the Caribbean.

Further, the exploitation of our continental resources is being intensified. It is noted, that the United Kingdom is exploring for oil in the South Atlantic, close to Argentina and Brazil in the disputed Malvinas islands.

The developments have led to enormous expenditure on armaments which could further worsen the conditions of the working people in our continent. This sad situation is occurring at a time when Latin America and the Caribbean are deemed to have more than fifty million poverty-stricken people.

Therefore, comrades, we have to be a part of the active struggle for general disarmament as a world of peace will redound to the betterment and safety of the working people everywhere in the world.

Comrades, before I turn to local issues, I wish to quickly touch on Cuba and the Palestinian situation. Fidel Castro’s Cuba has always stood by the struggling people everywhere. There are few third world countries, if any, which have given so much to the world’s poor and oppressed as Cuba. Hundreds of Cubans lost their lives in Africa fighting alongside the freedom fighters in Angola, South Africa, Namibia etc making a decisive impact on those countries liberation. Cuban assistance to many countries in terms of education, health, training of specialists etc is unparalleled. What would our country’s health system have been without the Cubans? Yet, Cuba for over four (4) decades is being persecuted because of its ideology, its system and its international role. On this May Day, GAWU reiterates its call for the United States to comply with the several UN resolutions, to end the shameful trade embargo. We appeal to President Barrack Obama to act now. Viva Cuba! Viva Cuba!

In Palestine the situation is undoubtedly worst today than it ever was. Daily, Palestinians are harassed when not militarily attacked and bombed and ruthlessly evicted from their homes by the colonialist and apartheid practices of Israel. The situation wounds the conscience of the world. Since the British imposed partition of Palestine into two states in 1947, the Palestinians have been made to live virtually in hell. The US has recently criticized Israel, yet it refuses to sanction Israel although it has the leverage to halt the sad situation noting the massive military and financial aid it pours yearly to the warmongering Israeli ruling class.

On this occasion, we take the opportunity to call on the United States and its President, Barrack Obama to exercise political courage and humanism in order to bring an end to the shameful and dastardly situation in Palestine.

Sugar Industry

Comrades, the sugar industry remains at the crossroads.  Last October, the entire 36 per cent cut in the price of our sugar exported to Europe had been effected. The situation was aggravated with an extremely poor sugar production of 233,735 tonnes last year.

The Corporation continues to recycle the same worn out excuses for the industry’s failures:- climate change, industrial action, worker absenteeism, etc. When the industry fared well in the past those factors were not absent. We take the opportunity to reiterate that the industry’s dismal performance is centered on neglectful and poor management, resulting particularly in inefficient practices in the fields. Our sugar industry, unlike those in the Caribbean, has an abundance of arable land, ample labour, fresh water, sufficient factory capacity, and other resources to perform efficiently, noting that it is an industry over three and a half centuries old.

To illustrate our point about poor sugar production, we wish to take into consideration the last two (2) years. In 2008, production was 226,267 tonnes and in 2009, production was 233,735 tonnes. The sugar production in those years fell short of the Corporation’s last revised targets by 33,733 tonnes and 16,265 tonnes respectively. The almost 50,000 tonne shortfall would have yielded almost G$6B. Had the Corporation realized even its lowly revised targets, there would have been no losses and the situation in those years would have been vastly different.

I cannot fail at this forum to denounce the three (3) per cent wage increase ordered by the Gobind Ganga Arbitral Tribunal last December. It was an act of spitefulness, we feel, because of the workers’ militancy and the stance of the Union in defending its members. Let our members be assured that their Union would not be daunted and cowered. It is the Union’s duty and responsibility to support the democratic rights of its members and to strive to improve their general welfare.

Sooner than later, the Corporation will retire its Diamond cultivation notwithstanding the cogent arguments that the Plantation could be pivotal to the success of the Enmore Packaging Plant which is being constructed and which would be capable of producing 80,000 tonnes of packaged value added sugar. The Diamond workers in reacting to the reorganization at Diamond have not found favour with permanent deployment to LBI Estate. The long distance of travelling each working day would eventually result in them abandoning their jobs and therefore losing their retirement benefits. Our Union stands firm to contest anywhere the workers’ right to Severance Pay.  

Another hot issue in the industry which is now emerging, surrounds the proposed acquisition of the Corporation’s Health Services by the Ministry of Health. The Union is seeking full and frank dialogue with Guysuco on this matter.

LCDS

Our people across the board ought to be enamored with our innovative Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS). We hold that this strategy has a positive dimension and that the benefits arising from the LCDS will redound to all Guyanese. We have already seen this in the step taken by Norway.

In recognizing the positive impact of the LCDS to our country, we also recognize the role of President Bharrat Jagdeo’s persistent efforts to promote and sell this strategy nationally and internationally. We take the opportunity to add our congratulations to him on his prestigious international 2010 Champion of the Earth Award from the United National Environmental Programme (UNEP).

We take this opportunity to thank the PPP/C Government and the team of dedicated experts who also played and are playing a significant role in advancing the strategy aimed at bringing about development as well as preserving over 40 million acres of our rainforest. Undoubtedly, this is a major contribution by Guyana to prevent the ravages of Climate Change that today threatens the world.

CLICO Situation

More than a year has passed since the operations of CLICO were placed under Judicial Management. Billions of dollars belonging to workers and others through the investments of the National Insurance, savings, pension funds, etc are yet to be settled.

While this issue is before the Court, the long awaited decision is a matter of deep concern. However, President Jagdeo’s commitment, supported by Resolution No 82 of the National Assembly, last year, assured all depositors that they would be repaid.

Let us all hope that long before the next May Day the way will be cleared for the liquidation of the Company’s assets in order for all depositors to secure their funds.

Local Government Elections

At our 19th Delegates Congress, last year, GAWU is on record of being guardedly critical of the Elections Commission on the question of Local Government Elections. This, May Day, we express our disappointment in learning that, yet again, these elections have been postponed. Apparently, all the major political parties are agreed on this. GAWU strongly subscribes to the view that these elections are an important aspect of the return and renewal of democracy which began in 1992. Local democracy represents a major decision-making process, especially in matters affecting their village and daily lives. For too long, Local Government Election has been withheld. It is time to move forward. GAWU calls on all political parties to face up to this shortcoming and consider concrete proposals for the holding of Local Government Elections within a feasible but early timeframe.

 

Trade Union Unity

Comrades, unity among workers and their unions is essential to confront the challenges facing the working class in our country. Therefore, it is with great concern that I note that our two trade union centers – the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) and the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG), have not been able to reconcile their differences.

GAWU fully supports a united Trade Union movement and would like to see one Trade Union centre to speak with one voice on behalf of the workers in Guyana. We contend that if this cannot materialize then there should be established a Council or Committee comprising of representatives of both FITUG and the GTUC, to provide an opportunity for collaboration between the two bodies and thus their affiliates.

Last year, we referred to the failed effort of a Regional Trade Union icon, Sir Leroy Trotman whose mediation efforts were not fruitful. Of course FITUG cannot be blamed for that.

It is time that the GTUC recognizes the strength of FITUG. GAWU will play its role within FITUG to support reunification or collaboration.

Comrade Chairman, comrades, one of our May Day slogans read as follows:- “Yesterday the Bauxite Union, Today CCWU, TOMMORROW, WHO NEXT?”

In a statement dated April 16, 2010, the Union stated among other things “GAWU is now constrained, as a matter of principle and solidarity, to express this single simple view: that the Minister of Labour should reconsider his previous and current indifference with respect to this issue. GAWU agrees with those who have quoted the laws which provide the Minister with the authority to intervene. Section 4 of the Trade Union Recognition Act is instructive in this regard. Of course, no company or employer has any authority to “de-recognise” a duly recognized bargaining agent; that is the sole prerogative of the country’s Trade Union Recognition and Certification Board. GAWU cannot stand by when Collective Labour Agreements are being flouted EVEN IF WE HAVE AN OPEN MIND ON THE NEW THINKING OF THE AFFECTED WORKERS THEMSELVES.

Despite the perception by some that sugar workers are somehow a favoured lot we in GAWU know much differently and realize that the Labour Minister’s laxity could also make our members victims one day. We, therefore, join the call for Minister Manzoor Nadir to shoulder his responsibilities in this issue.”

GAWU wishes to reiterate that solidarity in the Labour Movement is crucial, especially when employers want to bust Unions. When GAWU considers a matter important to receive its comments, it will do so as a matter of principle. We, therefore, reaffirm our support and solidarity to workers to belong to a union of their choice and give respect to ILO Convention 87 – Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise and Convention 98 – Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining.

Comrades, developments in our day, call for great vigilance of all working people and their organizations.

Imperialism and its political hand-maidens in the developed countries and its puppets in the developed world continue along its war-path. It’s a path that perpetuates exploitation of workers, oppression of people plunder of countries, aggression of environmental disasters and wars.

It is heartening to see the workers fight back in Europe and elsewhere. For us, we must stand ready to give our solidarity to those self-less struggles. We must do so, even as we stand guard of our interest and continue to struggle to expand our gains.

Let us be alert but remain principled. Let us be highly organised and frustrate attempts to weaken and further divide the working class. Let us be aware in our midst of the wolves in sheep clothing.

Long live GAWU!

Long Live Workers Unity and Solidarity!

The struggle continues!

Long live May Day 2010!

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