Address by GAWU President, Cde Komal Chand on May Day 2014

Under our May Day’s Theme: “Advancing Workers Interest for Future Development” allow me to greet you and all Guyanese workers on this red-letter day when we join with workers in a number of countries who like us, are celebrating and observing this day. GAWU is pleased to see your response today. It shows the unity of the Unions belonging to FITUG, whose members have just marched in an orderly way from Independence Ground and covered many streets in Georgetown.

 Comrades, this tradition of May Day, we recall, has revolutionary beginnings. It goes back to May 01, 1886, when workers in Chicago, USA started a general strike for an eight-hour work day. 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 engaging in 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, better the lives of workers everywhere.

But comrades, those history-making and inspiring events occurred one hundred and twenty-eight 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, youth, students and pensioners again find themselves at the centre of class struggles raging in different corners of the world. 

International Situation

Comrades, at the international level fast moving developments are taking place. Anxieties over our world’s direction are still upper-most on peoples’ minds. The world situation remains complicated, yet one can see with growing clarity trends and patterns that are defining our times.

Ever since the break-up of the world socialist system, a little over two (2) decades ago, US imperialism has run roughshod across our planet. It saw new opportunities to impose the neo-liberal model of capitalism on countries, to realize its age-old dream of world domination and to cast its greedy eyes on the resources owned by the peoples. In its triumphalism, it took the title as the ‘sole superpower’ and seen as such. For those who walked in the corridors of power in the US Empire, the world became ‘unipolar’ and they, in the new conditions, sought to usher in a new world order.

But, as we have seen, by 2008, the developed capitalist countries experienced the biggest crisis since the 1930’s and one whose effects are felt around the world. As a system capitalism is governed by laws and whilst it is based on exploitation of workers and driven by the need to accumulate, it has in-built contradictions which inevitably lead to crises. Today’s crisis is not only one of its biggest but also one which is not easily going away. In seeking a solution, the ruling classes are throwing the burden on the backs of the working class, youth, pensioners and other segments of the people. The results of the crises and the measures resorted to by the rulers are, for millions, growing unemployment, homelessness, cutting of pensions, less spending on social services, widespread impoverishment of the masses. This is the price workers and their families must pay for the greed of the ruling class.

The working class allied with other forces must wage the struggles not only for their betterment but importantly, also for change of this system. And comrades, in addition to the economic crisis of capitalism, troubling for us working people also, are the spread of wars and various military adventures and activities, literally going on across the world. Beginning with the invasion of Iraq at the beginning of this century, the Chief Spokesman of US Imperialism promised a New World Order. It looks like we indeed have a New Order and one of its distinguishing feature is clearly perpetual war and military conflicts which are springing up all around us – in the Mid-East, the African continent, in Asia, in Europe. Entire nations are being terrorized while mass atrocities are committed on peoples; hundreds of thousands of families are uprooted from their homes and many bombed out of existence. As workers, we are no strangers to injustice and when crimes against humanity go on anywhere, and of the scale they are committed today by Imperialism, its NATO and other allies and its proxy forces, the perpetrators deserve our strongest and unapologetic condemnation. On this May Day, we again demand the halt to the unjust imperialist wars of aggression. After World War II, the Nuremburg trials set a precedent on how to treat with war criminals. Today’s war criminals must also be brought to justice and the world’s peace and justice loving peoples must demand this.

Comrades, the perilous state of our world, is also being aggravated by what clearly is a persistent undermining and assault on democracy and civil liberties and rights we have been seeing in recent times. Democracy, its norms and institutions and rights have always been an integral component of our overall struggles in Guyana as is true of the struggles of the working and oppressed peoples of the world. For us, democracy is associated with majority rule as the ancient Greeks would have us understand. President Abraham Lincoln ideally spoke of government of, by and for the people. In our own struggles in Guyana it found expression in the demand for ‘free and fair elections’ and ‘one man, one vote’ and we have recognized too the important role of the constitution, an independent judiciary and the rule of law.

But, in these times, comrades, we are seeing some strange and ominous practices of countries that profess to be the greatest upholders and promoters of democracy in the world. Today, we see these so-called democracies engaged in torture, kidnapping and unlawful detention; we hear of an Executive President determining who, including his citizens, should be assassinated; we see murder in several counties of civilians, including children, by drones; we read about the beginnings of a police state with related laws put in place; we read about special forces operations and death squads being set up in various countries; revelations are continuing, in blatant disregard to the right to privacy, of the mass surveillance by the so-called ‘five eyes’ club of all peoples of all countries who use a phone or the internet.

Furthermore, comrades, the working peoples cannot, in our day, ignore the rise of a phenomenon referred to as ‘colour revolutions’ which, in essence, are attempts to use violence and mass actions to destablise and to bring down democratically elected governments which have earned the displeasure particularly of, US Imperialism. There are several examples to point to but, let us note two of these at this time – in neighbouring Venezuela and in far off Ukraine.

In Venezuela, President Maduro has pointedly accused external forces working along with local extremists of fanning and promoting violent actions. No doubt these are to bring a halt of the pro-people Bolivarian, Chavista Revolution and to re-establish the rule of the old elite. But little mind is given to the fact that the Venezuelan government was democratically elected which, obviously is of little value when class interests are involved.

In Ukraine, the democratically elected government has been overthrown, with the extremist rightist and Neo-Nazi forces playing a big role. Now, for the first time since the defeat of fascism and Nazi forces in the Second World War, Nazism is back in a government in Europe. By this, world peace, already threatened, is further endangered. Moreover, what is also interesting about Ukraine events is that officials of the US State Department have been caught red-handed plotting the overthrow of that elected government. And in that country, the US says it spent US$5 billion in various programmes for “democracy promotion”. Guyanese should take note of this revelation. Let us also note comrades that some countries that pride themselves as liberal democracies and which paid a high price to bring about the victory over fascism and Nazism in the world, now find it opportune to work with such forces today.

The very circles whose policies brought on the economic crisis, which are spreading endless wars are also the source from which the anti-democratic expressions of our day come. It’s a vicious circle.

In view of such developments, we need to ask ourselves: What do all these things mean? What do they tell us? Maybe Karl Marx gave us a possible answer a long time ago when he told us that a ruling class will stop at no crime in order to protect its rule, its interests and its profits. Others might very well say that all these are in keeping with a desire for world hegemony. There is a lot of truth in both propositions. And, as workers, these critical times and such circumstances demand of us that we be vigilant and alert.

Let us also recognize comrades that the world is not going along on a one-way street. There are counter currents and trends. There is a fight back. Workers and small farmers, women and youth, the poor and oppressed are, in many countries and at several fora and in diverse ways are resisting the march of the imperialist juggernaut. This wave of resistance and fight back are scoring significant victories proving that the spirit of militancy and struggles that saw the birth of May Day are still with us and despite the efforts of reaction over the years, it has not been dampened or neutralized.

Our working people must cherish that inheritance firm in the belief that a new day will dawn only out of our consistent struggles. History’s final verdict is yet to be made.

As you are aware, comrades GAWU has a proud and principled record. We have stood, as we stand now, with the forces for peace, democracy, social justice and social progress. In today’s conditions, world peace has become urgent. Likewise, solidarity with our class brothers the world over, we see, as uncompromising. Difficult as the situation may be, we must continue our work and march-on filled with confidence that the victories and achievements of today foretell of greater victories ahead.

Sugar Industry

Comrades, the sugar industry’s state of health and performance are, naturally, of great interest to us.  Another year has gone by and yet the industry has not overcome the misfortune that has befallen it. However, we can say that its importance to our economy and in providing employment to tens of thousands of Guyanese have not diminished. The wide interest shown in the industry in recent months testifies to the value of this industry to our country. The GAWU welcomes the interest shown but cannot see eye-to-eye with those who offer ill-thought out solutions like selling of estates or diversifying to ethanol or put lands to aquaculture. At the same time, as a stakeholder, we would like to see the industry becoming viable as this would surely impact the quality of life of our membership.

We believe a key factor for success is GuySuCo’s ability and capability to grow sufficient quantity of good-quality canes. We have the adequate land at the seven (7) grinding estates to produce the requisite quantity; we have the knowledge to grow cane and with good management, a satisfied labour force and various innovations, GAWU is confident that the industry can regain its profitable status in a short while.

Again, in this year, the industry has received financial support from the Government to cover part of its expenses. That support as stated in the 2014 Budget amounts to G$6B. This is a big allocation and we express our gratitude to the Government, and possibly the EU Accompanying Measures funds. This level of support makes it all the more urgent that the industry reach quickly a profitable performance level. There is no easy route to achieve this but it is neither beyond our capability.

The turnaround of the industry lies in the workers and management hands in the final analysis. A Board of Directors at the time when leadership is needed becomes urgent and we urge the authorities not to delay on this.

Though aggrieved over several matters, GAWU is facing the future of sugar with optimism. Several indicators, we are told, show that a silver lining is already beginning to appear. We are certainly overjoyed if this is so and with our collective efforts, hopefully, we can dispel, finally and totally, the dark clouds hovering over the industry in these recent years.

Local Situation

Comrades, sugar has brought home starkly that developments and their sustenance pose many challenges. Our region’s realities provide ample evidence of this also.

Over the past two (2) decades, Guyana has astutely tread the path of economic development and growth and we have seen benefits in wage increases, in the social sectors, infrastructure, better governance, improvements in the quality of life and other accomplishments. But as we measure our successes, we must also bear in mind that there are always and many issues demanding attention and resolution. Critical questions must yet be addressed if we are to take a place alongside the developed countries of the world.

While some issues like the holding of local government elections, long overdue, may be easily addressed, and which we hope will soon be, there are issues with far-reaching implications which will require, I am sure, more profound considerations and wide consultations. Clearly, there remains a great deal that must be done along the road to greater progress and prosperity. And, the national institution that we look up to for the relevant leadership and initiatives is our Parliament and its members.

Budget 2014

But once again there is a feeling that our people and country have been short-changed by the results stemming from the 2014 Budget considerations. The debate was generally good, but for the third consecutive year, the results were not. On one hand the government presented the biggest budget ever; on the other hand, the combined opposition made the biggest cut ever – some G$37.4B. Jobs, development projects, expansion of services, Amerindian and interior development projects are likely to go down the drain, as in 2012, as in 2013. So comrades, how is Guyana to go forward? What informs this urge to halt our development and thwart efforts to blaze a trail for a better future for our people and youth? If our Parliamentary gladiators want to give our nation a spectacle when Budget time comes around, they should know that the working people are certainly not amused. We do not want to stagnate economically and we do not want to suffocate by sterile excuses and hollow explanations for putting a brake on the wheels of progress.

Exploitation of Natural Resources

Similarly, we must call attention to the management of our national patrimony, especially of our non-renewable resources in our mining sector, as well as our land and forest resources. In this respect, an article by the General Secretary of the Union of South American States (UNASUR), Ali Rodriguez Araque, an organization to which Guyana belongs, is instructive. Writing on Natural Resources a couple of weeks ago he stated:-

“It is a sad irony that in the midst of this immense wealth, one hundred and thirty million South Americans live in a state of poverty, and among these, over sixty million in a situation of critical poverty.  Meanwhile, the lion’s share of much of the exploitation of resources is being taken away by huge global corporations that employ the same strategy and wield planetary control.”

Comrades, we still have poverty in our country and we have the resources that can go towards its eradication as well as to attend to the improvements of the life of Guyanese and also to contribute to the country’s development. Let us tread this path regarding our resources with care. Let us pay attention to our economic sovereignty. Let us ensure that we have relevant safeguards, that we receive optimum returns, that there is transparency even as we seek to stimulate investments in these sectors.

 Trade Union Unity

Comrades, unity at the Trade Union level continues to elude us. We well recognize that, 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.

The GAWU is fully supportive of a united Trade Union movement and would like to see one Trade Union centre to speak with one voice on behalf of the workers of 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. However, we remain hopeful that unity can be forged. Our division can only serve those who are enriched by the work done by workers. Unity, as history shows over and over again, serves the working class. We are committed to press for our unity which will certainly lift morale and strengthen our struggles for all-round development.

There are many concerns before us which require our voice and influence. There is, for instance, a much-needed tax reform and there is the question of growing inequality as measured by income and other factors. There is a crying need to assess where privatization is taking us now that we see the grim realities in Europe and North America particularly. Too many painful stories are heard from our Health Sector – private and public – in-as-much as advances have been made, and an assessment should be gone into. These are but some of our present concerns which we believe need to be addressed. 

Conclusion

Comrades, May Day 2014 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 present unity to be undermined. 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. We must be ever vigilant as the confidence tricksters and fraudsters still lurk in the shadows waiting for opportunities to fulfill their political agenda and ambitions.

As we celebrate May Day this year, let us bear in mind that there are two main threats to our planet and civilization. These are a third imperialist-instigated World War and an ecological catastrophe further affecting climate change. We hold the view that all national leaders and governments, weak or strong, and, all peoples, no matter how small, must take a stand and work to avoid their occurrence. This is a demand of our times; this is humanity’s call to us.

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 against wars and a capitalist order and for bread, justice, peace, democracy, independent development and progress.

Long live the workers of the World!

Our fight continues!

Long live May Day!

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