Allow me on this May Day, this red-letter day of workers, to salute all workers of Guyana and to extend this salutation to the working-class in countries across the world. For those workers who are free to celebrate this day, they, like us, expectedly would review past challenges, events and issues impacting their lives and struggles. To those of our fellow-workers in countries that prevented them from celebrating this day and even to have trade unions, our fullest solidarity goes out to them.
This tradition of May Day, we recall, has revolutionary beginnings. On May 01, 1886, workers in Chicago, USA called a general strike for an eight-hour workday. Two (2) days later, the police, as usual, were unleashed on them killing six (6) workers. On May 04, a protest rally took place in a square called Haymarket. At that rally, a bomb exploded and the very large contingent of police who were in readiness went into action with more shootings, beatings and brutality. Eight of the strike leaders were arrested that day. Of them, four were sent to the hangman’s noose. As they went to their death they were singing the revolutionary song called the Marseillaise. And one of them, August Spies, before life was squeezed out of him shouted these words: “The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today.”
Thus, working-class history refers to the Haymarket Martyrs from which came May Day. The decision to name May 01 an international day of workers was taken in 1889 at a meeting of Socialist parties, known as the Second International to honour the struggles and martyrdom of those who sacrificed so much to better their lives and, in the process, the betterment of lives of workers everywhere.
But comrades, those history-making and inspiring events occurred 126 years ago. During this time many battles have been fought by the working-people and oppressed worldwide and many gains have been made too. But some critical things remain the same.
As we follow the developments of today much of the experiences of a century and a quarter ago are again replayed albeit in a new and different context.
The working class, youths, students and pensioners again find themselves at the centre of class struggles raging in different corners of the world.
After four (4) years, the crisis of capitalism is ongoing. Around the world we are witnessing the obliteration of productive forces, plundering of resources, factory closures, job losses and attacks on workers and trade union rights, including the abandonment of Collective Labour Agreements. Tens of millions have swelled the ranks of the unemployed and underemployed. Poverty generally and its extreme forms have increased. The erosion of civil liberties and the attacks on countries’ sovereignty take place in utter disrespect of international laws.
The edifice of the capitalist system is shaking badly due to its inner contradictions and greed. The billions in bailout the banks received doesn’t seem to help much to extricate the system from its turmoil. Now, through crude austerity measures they are placing the burdens on the backs of the working-classes and other vulnerable groups.
The heartless treatment of the working masses has roused them to action in demonstrations, strikes and pitched battles. A renewed climate of class battles is sweeping across the planet. These class battles are especially strong in Europe and North America, in Latin America and in India. Wherever these struggles are taking place, we embrace them too as our struggles. These fellow workers of the world are in the frontlines against our common enemy – the capitalist/imperialist system that prevails globally.
In the same breath, we condemn the heavy repression unleashed by the ruling classes against the workers, youth and students who are actively defending their jobs, livelihood, pensions, educational gains and other benefits.
And, comrades, if the fight-back by the working masses and youth rekindle fresh hopes for a better, just and happier world, at the same time, we should not fall into illusions. The exploiting bourgeois class and their state and media arms will not go away or give up their profit-making system easily. As Karl Marx pointed out, the capitalist class will resort to any crime to protect and safeguard their super profits which they accumulate through exploitation of people and plunder of countries, especially poor developing countries natural resources.
In this – controlling and exploiting various countries resources, in addition to hegemonic dreams – we find the reasons for much of the troubles in our world, US imperialism and its NATO allies, with help from accomplices with weak backbones, are on the warpath. Militarism has been reinvigorated and for them, might is right. Their war-drums send out ominous messages. In countries they have violated, they have brought, like in colonial times, bloodletting, devastation, mass crimes, assassinations, slaughter of women and children, torture, disrespect of people’s customs and traditions and occupation. Countries from the Mid-East and North Africa, including Afghanistan, feel the full brunt of imperialism’s adventures. Yet, to satisfy their appetite for blood and profits and destruction, new wars and destablisation of countries are being plotted. Syria, Iran, Venezuela, possibly Pakistan are clearly prime targets. And the increased US military manoeuvres and presence in South Pacific, indicate that China is increasingly in its war sights. In spite of indications from President Obama, US attitude to Cuba has not meaningfully changed as we saw its insistence to isolate Cuba from the recently held Summit of the Americas meeting. Imperialism’s surrogate, Israel, continues to ride rough-shod over the Palestinian people’s rights, show scant respect to the UN resolutions and continue to occupy and imprison Palestinian land and people.
On this day of international solidarity, let our hearts and empathy go out to those who must suffer the trauma and destruction, the indignity and anguish to see their children and dear ones die by the bombs and bullets of the US military, its allies and agents.
On this May Day GAWU raises its voice, once again, to STOP WAR and for World Peace.
On this May Day, GAWU upholds the right of Peoples to resist occupation of their countries and plunder of their resources to defend their sovereignty, their dignity, their all-round security and their future.
Comrades, as we meet today, little or no progress is being made with regards to the degradation of the environment resulting in disastrous climate fluctuations. The hunt for super-profits by the transnational monopolies is the main cause of this degradation. One-third of the planet’s peoples must suffer starvation and live in miserable conditions as they must contend with lack of protection against natural disasters, global warming, reduction of the protective ozone layer, depletion of natural resources, destruction of forests, desertification, genetically modified foods, nuclear and toxic waste, air pollution, lack of access to clean and safe water, among other threats. Humanity is seriously threatened. At the upcoming meeting in Rio, Brazil these questions will again be discussed and hopefully, unlike the damp-squib results from the Copenhagen meeting, GAWU expect the leaders to this meeting to stand up for their peoples, for civilization, for our planet.
Comrades, since we met in May last year, momentous events took place in our country. One of the most significant, no doubt, is the holding of the national and regional elections. GAWU is pleased to note that violence, as in several others before, did not mar this one. What is somewhat disappointing, however, is the representation of the working people, the bulk of our electorate, in Parliament. A reasonable contingent of them could very well bring to bear the real life experiences, hopes and concerns of the working man and woman to the discussions in that August body, especially now-a-days.
With respect to labour, GAWU can proudly say that it gave genuine representation to its membership. Workers took militant action when they had to and several gains in increased wages and benefits and working conditions were made. Of major significance is the agreement reached between GAWU and Guysuco on the question of the Job Evaluation exercise which was conducted last year and is now being implemented.
The sugar industry’s state of health and performance are, naturally, of great interest to us. We note that resources at the disposal of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (Guysuco) are not matching with the yearly production especially for the past six (6) years. Guysuco’s land assets spanning its seven (7) grinding estates needs to produce sugar as in the days when the industry’s production was 350,000 tonnes, 364,000 tonnes, 372,000 tonnes. Cane-growing knowledge is there. It is primarily left to those who manage the industry to make the critical assessments and come up with the proper decisions to make this industry viable and a success. In this, GAWU is always ready to play its responsible role in the defense of the workers’ everyday and larger interests.
GAWU welcomes the Government’s continuing support to the industry as it seeks to overcome its several challenges. It is apt that I quote the Minister of Finance in his recent Budget Speech. He said: “I now wish to announce that Budget 2012 provides for a transfer of $4 billion from the Central Government to GUYSUCO, in order to ensure that the sugar industry is financially able to meet its operating and investment requirements. The production and financial turnaround that is expected to be aided with this support from Government, and other initiatives taken by the industry, will ultimately redound to the benefit of the industry’s 18,000 workers and their families, along with the industry’s suppliers of goods and services, bringing the total number of beneficiaries to 120,000 persons.”
This four (4) billion dollar support from Government is critical to the industry. It is hoped that crucial capital works, so badly required, in certain areas would be soon undertaken and a value for money audit be conducted soon afterwards to satisfy any concerns about the expenditure of the much needed sum.
With the fixing of the major defects at the Skeldon factory before the commencement of the second crop in late July as we were recently assured by Guysuco, then 2012 can really be the turnaround year for the sugar industry. Indeed, it can be so if a quantity of sugar of not less than 300,000 tonnes can be produced by the end of 2013 in keeping with the industry’s present resources and with the current price of sugar in the overseas markets – an end to the industry’s yearly large deficits is on the horizon.
Whilst pleased with the substantial interest shown by the Government in the sugar industry on one hand, the GAWU was and is peeved by another intervention which sought to divide our workers’ ranks and undermine Trade Unionism, specifically GAWU. Here, attention is drawn to the attempts by leaders and activists of the AFC to seize on the genuine grievances of some sections of our workforce, no doubt to promote their political ends. We have fended them off so far, but our members must be aware and alert for wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing. And as the FITUG Solidarity Statement with GAWU pointed out, the AFC has revealed an anti-working class and anti-Trade Union tendency and mischief is afoot.
Apart from sugar, the preceding year brought other matters to the national table. They are important enough to engage our attention and assessment especially as these will impact our lives and the lives of future generations. Here, reference is made to the several investments in the mining sector and possibly land acquisitions. There investments in our resources are linked to development questions and we need to ensure the best returns and benefits come to our country, people and with an eye on future generations. Those in authority, we are sure, will find it a useful exercise to start up conversations with our people on these important and crucial matters.
Comrades, as we meet on this May Day, you would know that consideration of the 2012 Budget concluded in Parliament a few days ago. But the debate is continuing outside – in the streets, in our communities and villages. One person remarked to me that what we saw those past days was Parliamentary theatrics, but if it were, then the show on display was certainly a tragedy. It brought tears to the eyes and will snuff out the hopes and dreams of many.
In one fell swoop, over twenty (20) billion dollars from the proposed 2012 budget was guillotined by the combined Parliamentary Opposition. A range of issues encompassing workers jobs, development programmes, continuing our modernization thrust, programmes to benefit the Amerindian communities, the fight against illicit drugs, governance, investment possibilities and much more have been obliterated or now seriously threatened.
Why, we ask, would a few politicians, without understandable rhyme or reason, seek to obstruct our country’s development especially given its low current level and at a time when it is making strides, even if small, towards progress?
Hundreds of our fellow workers stand to lose their jobs, we are told. Secured in their jobs days ago, today, these workers are destined to join the breadline and an uncertain future. And, the important thing to note, is not that money is not available to pay them wages and salaries, it is simply that some politicians, themselves not workers, seem to find a special gratification in ensuring that hundreds are thrown to the unemployed ranks and they and their families exposed to the prospect of a hand-to-mouth existence.
Given our recent experiences of the AFC in the sugar industry, its continuing anti-working class stance comes as no surprise to us. But the APNU’s stand confounds us, bearing in mind that, unthinkingly, it many have sent many of its supporters jobs to the chopping block while preventing programmes that will open up other employment opportunities.
Comrades, May Day 2012 has come with a mixture of good and bad news. The air is filled with loose talk but one thing is certain, the working peoples’ struggles in defence of their interests must go on and we must not allow our unity to be broken. Our class feelings and solidarity compel us to condemn forcefully those who are snatching food from the mouths of our fellow workers and destroying their livelihood, whatever category they belong to. At the same time, whatever other criticisms one may have, we must acknowledge and recognise the present government’s passionate defence of these sectors of the working class who may now be affected and the development programmes they have initiated.
The recent developments in our nation are telling. They tell us that new challenges are appearing in our path. We must be ready to face up to them. At this time we see the need for our working people to stand unitedly. Wild bulls are unleashed in the China Shop. And as, we increase our vigilance let us be aware of the confidence tricksters or fraudsters, who are only interested in your political value to fulfill their political agenda and ambitions.
On this May Day, GAWU sends out militant greetings to all workers and working people of Guyana and their genuine representatives. We express our solidarity to our own working people and the working and oppressed peoples the world over in their struggles for bread, justice, peace, democracy and progress.
Long live the workers of the World!
Long live May Day!