The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) has noted a news story which appeared in the January 06, 2016 edition of the Guyana Chronicle titled “GAWU pocketing millions to train sugar workers”. The Union, having reviewed the article, is of the view that it is misleading and an attempt to hoodwink and misguide its readership and the public.
The assertion that the Union received some $18M from GuySuCo for training of sugar workers at the GAWU Labour College between 2011 and August, 2015 is completely and utterly fallacious. The sum referred to, if correct, represent wages paid to employees who were granted paid-release to attend Union sponsored courses. This practice has been in existence for many decades now and is enshrined in the Collective Labour Agreement between the Union and the Corporation.
The article also asserts that the College’s curriculum has no bearing on the sugar industry. This too is furthest from the truth. In the short duration of a standard course, the Union in support of the sugar industry, has allotted GuySuCo six (6) sessions during each course in which the Corporation’s personnel have the opportunity to interface with participants to discuss the challenges and problems which face and confront the sugar industry.
It should be noted also that the paid-release of workers to attend Union sponsored courses, or other courses, is not peculiar to the sugar industry but indeed an activity embraced by all trade unions and entities whether publicly or privately owned and has been an invaluable practice that sustains healthy industrial relations in our society. GAWU calls to attention that the attendance of workers to our Union courses, conferences and similar educative activities, was won out of the struggles of the working-class and not without resistance from the owner-class circles and their collaborators. Today, such an activity has become, in a sense, part of the workers’ expectation and their work-life. Workers cherish this right dearly. It is a right to be steadfastly defended by the Trade Union Movement if there are attempts to rollback this hard-won gain.
The Chronicle story is not only a clear distortion of what is conveyed in the Commission of Inquiry Report but represents the latest attack on the right of sugar workers to benefit from Trade Union education and training. The story cannot be delinked from the other misinformation and other assaults which have been perpetuated in recent times against the workers and their primary organizations. Of course, the COI’s recommendation to discontinue payment for employees’ participation in courses run by the GAWU Labour College is not only difficult to fathom but provides a glimpse of what might be further assaults on workers’ gains and benefits.
Over several generations, the main value on the working-class by the owners of the means of production is for them to work and to produce profits for those owners. In this context, Trade Unions have a role to play in easing the burden of their exploitation. We also contend that Trade Unions generally and especially those with a strong progressive orientation have a duty to lift the class consciousness and class awareness of their membership. This we believe can only help in their being a more disciplined and responsible workforce, but also, importantly, will help them to recognize that their sustained well-being will come about in conditions of industrial democracy, economic justice, and social progress; in conditions where emphases are placed on people not profits.
Indeed, the GAWU strongly subscribes to the view that workers education, not only in the sugar industry, but for all workers be diligently pursued – better yet with the participation of those who handsomely benefit from the workers’ labour.