Celebrating May Day has become a tradition for us. It is now part of Guyana’s working class’ proud history and a fixture of our present solidarity. Our march and assembly holds great significance to us. Through our May Day activities, we pay homage to our past heroes and heroines and reflect on the struggles and sacrifices they made in bettering the causes of the working class. May Day helps to remind us that in as much as we have problems specific to our circumstances and national conditions, at the same time, we are a contingent of the working class of the world who are engaged in fierce struggles for betterment, social justice and a world free from exploitation of man by man, a world where peace prevails, a world where plunder and coveting other peoples’ wealth are no longer tolerated, a world where the dignity of man is universally respected.
After a long period of relative dormancy, we are not surprised to observe today a renewed outburst of militancy by workers of the world, especially in Europe and the USA. These struggles, wherever they take place, are a dramatic reminder that class struggles have not become extinguished or extinct as the bourgeoisie and their apologists would want us to believe. Indeed, it is a fortifying reminder that struggles cannot be delinked from the life of workers in societies where a handful seeks to live parasitically off the wealth produced by the masses of wage-earners.
The second decade of our 21st century has dawned with mighty challenges by the workers of the world to the predominant capitalist system. The capitalist system is failing utterly and is yet to extricate itself from the crises it has brought unto itself since September, 2008.
The hundreds of billions of dollars ploughed in by the primarily developed states to save the system has only resulted in the rich getting richer while the poor and the workers face increasing suffering, austerity measures, cuts in education, and other social expenditures and so on.
The neo-liberal model based on outright privatization, deregulation, division of the working class, among other features, lies in tatters. It is discredited and bankrupt. Those myopic politicians, who were lured or pressured into buying into this model and who sold it by various pretexts, today, are seeing the results of growing poverty, unemployment, rising prices, and food insecurity.
In this day of reinvigorated struggles by the international working class, fresh hopes are awakened for a future of better tomorrows and an alternative world order where the masses of working people will have a decisive say.
The working people of Guyana have a role to play, however modest, in the efforts to attain such lofty objectives. For our role to be meaningful and telling we need to connect the dots of the national to the international. Every struggle we wage here in defense of our gains, for wages and better work conditions impact on the struggles of fellow workers in other countries. The voice and demands we raise here on issues of national concern inevitably help to influence the shaping of an alternative world. We cannot as we have not taken the path of silence at wrong-doings and complacency. That would be disastrous for us.
On one hand, May Day demonstrates that we are part of an international movement of workers and, in the context of imperialism, we have common struggles and goals. On the other hand, May Day provides another occasion for workers to express some of their concerns and renew their resolve to face up, in a responsible way, to those issues affecting them in their individual enterprises and in the country.
National and Regional Elections
For us Guyanese, 2011, will be another significant year. This year, national and regional elections are constitutionally due. In a matter of months they will, expectedly, be held. The working people and their eligible families along with pensioners, most certainly, will comprise over eighty (80) per cent of the voting population. The upcoming elections, therefore, presents an opportunity not only for workers to vote for the Party of their choice but for the working people to call on the contesting Parties to outline and articulate positions and policies that address their general interests and concerns. Such expectations should be based not simply on their voting numbers, important as that is, but more so on the knowledge that the working people constitute the power that drives the engine of growth that makes plans, small and grand, into realities.
The GAWU takes the view too that the Guyanese working people should also play a vigorous role in ensuring that our elections are free and fair, that the democracy which was returned in 1992 is not undermined and the elections’ campaign and the elections are conducted in a conflict-free atmosphere and issues are discussed in a democratic way, even if spiritedly.
Beginning in 1993, we undertook in Guyana the task to rebuild, to lift our country from the pits of stagnation and place it on a path of steady progress. The indicators of the achievements made are visible to all of us. Health, education, pensions, the physical infrastructure, housing construction, the reach of water and electricity services, good and inclusive governance, reduction of our national debt are some of the sectors of our society where notable improvements can be seen. These improvements came about not without strains and stresses. And in spite of the many challenges, in the past seventeen (17) years, a foundation was been set on which we could continue to build a new prosperous Guyana.
While the strides made have raised to a higher level the working-people’s quality of life, we cannot ignore those ugly features of our society which would not go away despite strenuous efforts. Here, we must draw attention to the troubling issue of crime, violence against women, prevalence of illicit drugs and its use and the gun violence it breeds, the perception of widespread corruption, among others. These negative features tend to overshadow the country’s gains and, at the same time, act as restraints to further economic growth.
Over the past year all did not go well with respect to labour and trade unionism. Two of our productive industries have had to contend with measures which could be deemed anti-labour and against established trade union practices. Strangely, these measures were taken at the recently re-privatized and foreign-owned bauxite and at the state-owned sugar industries but certainly not limited to them.
The GAWU is concerned over this development since it is possible that new assaults on trade unionism can well be in the making.
In recent times several contentious issues have arisen in the sugar industry. These occurrences have badly muddied the industrial relations atmosphere within the industry. There is a level of discontent among the workforce. Given the plans and the juncture the industry is at, one wonders what lies behind such measures and what agenda is really being served. The GAWU recalls at this time, for instance the provocative threat just months ago to derecognize the Union. Needless of the fact, that recognition was won over 35 years ago in arduous struggle spanning three-decades. That threat was not pursued thanks to the intervention of President Jagdeo. The Union is puzzled that an attempt, to what, in effect, would have amounted to sabotage of the industry, nothing is being done to expose and strongly discipline the culprit or culprits who may be guilty. This we find to be very interesting and inaction may tell its own tale.
The GAWU wants to believe that the present administration will not condone that threat. Thus, in a situation of inaction by Guysuco, the GAWU is suggesting that the President considers intervening in this matter.
Trade Union Unity
GAWU reaffirms publicly its commitment to Trade Union Unity based on democratic practices. We are despondent that yet another year has gone by and Trade Union Unity has not been achieved. By our division, we are only hurting ourselves. Division means weakness and weakness simply makes our struggles to defend workers’ gains, interest and rights less effective.
It is time that the genuine leaders of the workers work together to defend the gains of our workers and strive to improve the welfare of all workers to secure a better Guyana in keeping with the theme of FITUG’s May Day celebration: “Better Workers’ Welfare – For Guyana’s Development”. The workers must demand of their leaders to work towards strengthening unity and trade unionism in Guyana. After all, there will be others who have a stake in perpetuation of our division.
In this regard let us be reminded that GAWU and FITUG were among the first to protest RUSAL’s move to derecognize the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union (GB&GWU). Let no one argue that the Union was not derecognized. Let’s not deal with semantics and let’s be realistic. We take the opportunity, at this forum, to call on the relevant parties to ensure that the status of the Union is reinstated and thereafter deal with the perceived breaches through the adherence of the relevant procedure.
Critchlow Labour College
Let us also be reminded of GAWU’s pronouncement, a few years ago, that the Government’s subvention to the Critchlow Labour College ought to be restored on condition that there is a properly constituted Board which is run democratically and there is transparency and accountability of the College’s finances. Incidentally it is pleasing to note that the GAWU Labour College and the Critchlow Labour College will jointly observe Critchlow Month with a symposium on Occupational Safety and Health at the GAWU Labour College on May 04, 2011.
Turning to the sugar industry, comrades, there is a burning issue which is of major concern to sugar workers. They have not been able to get the five (5) per cent hike they received last year added to their rate-of-pay from January 01, 2011. Employees in the private sector and the rest of the public sector received theirs. Therefore, it could be concluded that sugar workers have been treated discriminately, so far. However, on April 21, 2011 the Corporation at a special meeting with the Union’s 50-person negotiating team assured that the new rate would be implemented not later than June 30, 2011 with retroactivity to January 01, 2011. The vigilant sugar workers are working assiduously to reap as much canes they possibly could reap during this crop now that the weather has vastly improved. They are, however, looking forward to receiving the new rate of pay not later than the stipulated date.
We understand that from some quarters of Guysuco that the Diamond workers would be awarded their severance pay at last. We shall hail such decision when it is pronounced and the aggrieved workers would be pleased and most satisfied that the Corporation, though late, has not ignored their right. The Union on the assurance of the settlement of the matter, would withdraw its lawsuit.
On this May Day, FITUG’s platform is being graced by the presence of the President of the Republic. We are pleased to welcome him at our celebration. We well know that over the recent years he has won personal acclaim and in so doing raised the profile of Guyana, for his LCDS project. Unusual climate behaviour in our day has triggered off large disasters while threatening entire peoples. LCDS can be seen then as Guyana’s contribution to stave off the threat to human civilization.
Cde President in welcoming you allow me to seize the opportunity to bring to your attention, that Resolution which was passed in Parliament and related to Clico, has, so far, not been applied to GAWU. I am confident that you are aware of this oversight and it will be soon corrected.
At this time, GAWU sends May Day greetings to its members, all the workers of Guyana and throughout the world.
At this time we reaffirm our solidarity with workers and oppressed peoples the world over struggling against imperialism and its militaristic polices as well as its economics based on greed, plunder and exploitation.
At this time we need to restate our support to all those who stand for peace, democracy, freedom, protection of their sovereignty and economic justice.
At this time GAWU recommits itself to unity and struggle in the interests of its members, the Guyanese working people and the continuing development of our country.
Long Live May Day!
Long Live the Workers of Guyana!
Long Live Proletarian Internationalism!