Comrades, this Rally being held under the theme “Unite for Continued Progress and Development” is indeed a significant national activity. It is being held jointly by our FITUG Unions representing thousands of unionised workers in our country. It is with pleasure, therefore, that I take the opportunity on behalf of GAWU to extend a hearty welcome to all members of our FITUG fraternity and, at this time, extend May Day greetings to all Guyanese, particularly to our workers’. Our FITUG collaborative action has been going on and has endured for a number of years now. It is a unity, we believe, that must be consolidated and which can be both an example and basis for the wider unity of the Guyanese working class.
Comrades, as you know the tradition of celebrating May Day has its origins in the struggle for the eight-hour working day. This struggle reached a high point in May 1886 with Chicago workers going on strike. The strike was met with police violence and brutality. Eight (8) trade unionists were arrested and put on trial. They were found guilty and were executed. Their sacrifices have earned them an honoured place in the history of the international working class movement. In 1889, the International Working Men’s Association at a conference in Paris decided that May 1 will become a day for the international working class to celebrate. This year, 2015, is the 126th time workers in many countries are observing May Day.
At the same time, May Day allows us the opportunity to honour all those workers who made great sacrifices, many with their lives, for the rights and betterment of the working class, for the abolition of the exploitation of man by man, and for a new just and progressive social and economic order
Comrades, this year our celebrations are taking place amidst challenging conditions internationally. Wars and conflicts are raging in several countries of the world. A US-supported, fascist-led coup took place in Ukraine, triggering a destructive civil war and recently highly provocative military exercises on Russia’s border, have raised the spectre of another World War.
In the Middle East, North Africa and other African countries, we see one devastating war after another, resulting in deaths, displacement, destruction and disaster affecting hundreds of thousands of people. Even as we meet, a small, poor Mid-East country called Yemen has become the latest victim of this war fever waged by allies and vassal states of US imperialism.
In South Asia, we are aware of efforts to contain and encircle China, a country which has grown into an Asian economic power house.
And, closer home in Latin America and the Caribbean, we see a somewhat contradictory approach in US Foreign Policy. On one hand, talks to normalise relations with Cuba are underway. Happily, we note that, Cuba had attended for the first time, the just concluded Summit of the Americas held in Panama. On the other hand, we see an order by US President Obama in which he unbelievably referred to Venezuela as a security threat and proceeded to impose on our Venezuelan neighbour certain sanctions. Clearly, comrades, we live in interesting times.
Today, as we ponder on the range of present day developments, we recall that in this May month seventy (70) years would have elapsed since the end of World War Two (2); since the defeat of German Nazism and fascism. But the fascist monster has again appeared on the European stage. A new danger therefore has appeared before the world’s working class. And as happened seventy (70) years ago, we today have a duty to stop fascism, to give our full solidarity to those who are in the front lines of the anti-fascist resistance in Europe and elsewhere.
Comrades, the financial/economic crisis of 2008 has brought severe hardships on workers and other groups worldwide. Oxfam, an international organization, tells us that inequality is on the rise and the gap between the rich and poor is ever wider. We are told that in 2014, the 80 richest multi-billionaires had as much wealth as the bottom 50 per cent of the world’s people and that by next year the richest 1 per cent will control more wealth than the bottom 99 per cent of the world’s peoples.
Everywhere, the working class is being reduced more and more to destitution as jobs are destroyed, wages slashed by corporations, exploitation ramped up and vital social services neglected by several governments which also impose other austerity measures on their peoples. In these conditions, the ILO has predicted that unemployment will increase over the next five (5) years worldwide by millions.
Comrades, our world continues to face many challenges and severe threats – man-made and natural – and those related to climate change are becoming more serious as the days go by. These are times that require our invigorated activism. We must rise to meet the challenges of our day.
For the GAWU, it is clear that our duty is to stand with the forces that seek to prevent wars, terror and worldwide conflagration. It is the historic duty of the working people to bring an end to a system of greed and exploitation and replace it with one whereby man to man is a friend, comrade and brother.
National and Regional Elections
Comrades, May Day this year finds us on the threshold of another National and Regional elections which are scheduled for May 11. We have arrived at this political juncture due to the results stemming from the 2011 elections. The outcome of those elections could be regarded as historic. New political experiences resulted. Three (3) years later, we can say that smooth governance was clearly affected; developmental projects stalled or discontinued and, no doubt, hundreds of jobs were denied to our unemployed because of injudicious budget cuts.
In ten (10) days’ time we will have another opportunity to vote for the Party of one’s choice. Hopefully, the experiences of these three (3) years, will guide us in making that choice. We need to return our country on the development and modernization path. We look forward to the continuation of pro-working people policies from the elected government.
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, and are conflict free and that the democracy which was returned in 1992 is not undermined. We recognize GECOM’s big responsibility to ensure this and urge that its staff observe, as in the past, all relevant rules and procedures.
Comrades, just over two (2) decades ago Guyana begun a new era of its history. The wheels of progress and development started to turn once more. Today we see the results in our rehabilitated infrastructure, in housing schemes, in potable water reaching more communities and homes, in the education sector with more schools and better results in the a network of medical facilities manned by Cuban-trained doctors and in the visible reduction of poverty. The quality of our lives have been raised. And, while there are still many challenges we believe with the right leadership a future of greater prosperity is assured.
Comrades, our sugar industry has attracted significant attention by the major political parties at this time. This is understandable and indeed, welcome. After all thousands of workers and their families rely on the industry which it is also crucial to the country’s economy. We hear talk that it is too big and important to fail. Let us note that the industry provides jobs to 17,000 workers, additionally it facilitates over 2,000 cane farmers and overall an estimated 120,000 Guyanese benefit from its operations. It is a nett foreign exchange earner and a significant proportion of the industry’s approximate G$30B in revenue, is circulated locally thus enhancing all businesses.
The GAWU believes that the answer to the industry’s plight is neither piece meal divestment of its best assets nor its privatisation. We think that an efficient management team can be pivotal in returning the sugar industry to profitability.
The low price sugar is fetching today is also a cause for concern and raises the need for greater diversity. Several possibilities can be looked into, for example, a distillery, a sugar refinery and co-generation plants. In this regard, the experiences of India and other Asian and African countries could prove useful. And, in the case of refined sugar our region offers a very promising market.
We from GAWU are pleased by President Donald Ramotar’s announcement that if the PPP/Civic is re-elected it will assist the industry with G$5B per year for the next five (5) years. We are confident that the industry can become viable. We will do our part and urge all stakeholders to do theirs to realize the industry’s viability.
Trade Union Unity
Comrades, it is most regrettable that another May Day is here and despite the assistance of two (2) prominent Caribbean trade unionists we have still not achieved Trade Union unity. We in FITUG see the need today for a strong, conscious, militant and responsible Trade Union movement.
Thus, we will pursue Trade Union unity more vigorously. In our continuing efforts, we are looking at the model in Trinidad and Tobago where the two (2) trade union umbrella bodies have formed a council and deal with mutually agreed upon labour issues and take common action where necessary.
We will work for FITUG and the GTUC to meet, to discuss and take concrete steps in this direction in the coming weeks in the interest of Trade Unionism.
Comrades, May Day 2015 has come with a mixture of good and bad news. However, one thing is clear, we cannot divert from struggles in defence of workers’ interests. Our present unity is crucial to success and should be safeguarded. Ahead are fresh battles, new challenges to face and militant actions, if necessary to defend our gains. We should acknowledge also the government’s contribution to bring economic projects, betterment and raise the quality of life of the people of the country.
We want to continue along the road of stability and progress.
On this May Day, while we send out greetings to all workers, farmers, pensioners, women, youth and the business community of Guyana. We also stretch out a hand of solidarity to workers and oppressed peoples the world over in their struggles against wars, occupation against a capitalist order and for an end to ecological degradation for bread, justice, peace, democracy, independent development and progress.
Our times demand that we too do our part to attain such ends.
Long live the workers of the World!
Our fight and struggles continue!
Long live May Day!