Allow me to congratulate the workers here and all workers of Guyana on this important red-letter day of the working-class. Millions today in about eighty (80) countries, on all continents are celebrating this International Workers Day and using the occasion to reflect on their struggles and victories, their setbacks and indeed the tasks and challenges ahead.
Let us comrades remember the origin of this workers day. It has its beginnings in the workers’ struggle of 1886 when 80,000 Chicagoans took to the streets demanding an eight (8) hour working-day. Their struggle was met with brutal force by the police who were directed by the powers-that-be. That struggle in Chicago, USA inspired the Second International, a socialist organization, at their Congress in 1887, to resolve that May 01, every year be observed as International Workers Day. That resolution, in the following years prompted Governments in many countries to approve May 01 as a National Holiday.
In 1930, the Father of Trade Unionism in Guyana, Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow, and his Union, the British Guiana Labour Union (BGLU), began to observe this day. However, it was not until 1958, that the then Government approved May 01 as a National Holiday.
Workers of Guyana have a proud and consistent record of being faithful to the memory of those who struggled and made sacrifices for a better life.
As we are aware, May Day is not only an occasion for workers to advance their demands but it is also a time when the spirit of solidarity permeates the activities of the working-class the world over.
Comrades, brothers and sisters, we live in troubled times. Since the turn of the century and under various pretext wars of aggression have laid waste several countries, uprooted and caused starvation to millions, resulted in widespread destruction and death to hundreds of thousands. The steady beat of war drums tell us more wars are in the making. Poverty is claiming numerous victims by the day. While in countries where it is rampant, their resources are looted. In Europe, particularly, unbearable burdens are piled onto the backs of the workers by their ruling-classes. Right-extremist forces have sprouted anew in some countries while, in others, we see the promotion, even imposition, of a breed of so-called leaders so subservient to the powers that be. And, on top of all this, nature is sending us its dire warnings that our planet and humanity faces severe threats.
It is instructive to note that the financial/economic crisis that has gripped world is still around. But, strangely, it is a crisis that has left the working peoples poorer and the ruling economic elites richer. Oxfam tells us that the fortunes of the world’s sixty-two (62) richest persons are as much as the poorest half of the world.
Comrades, we cannot fail to empathize with those who suffer, the poor, the victims of wars, conflicts and starvation. On this May Day let us extend a hand of solidarity to the exploited and the oppressed, to the working-class, and to the peace forces the world over. We express too a special solidarity to Socialist Cuba a dear friend of Guyana as well as the progressive and democratic forces of Brazil, Haiti, Venezuela, Argentina and other countries of our region who are pushing back against the intrigues and destablisation by reactionary forces.
Over the past two (2) decades, comrades, Guyana has astutely treaded the path of economic development and growth. We have seen benefits in wage increases, in the education, health and housing sectors, in infrastructure, in improvements in the quality of life and many other accomplishments.
While we are proud of those gains and achievements we cannot fail to express our concern and worry at same time too. In recent times we have seen policies being promoted that have not been helpful to the working-people, especially the increases and introducing of new taxes and spending sprees. The GAWU urges our economic planners to tread carefully and reflect on past experiences for similar situations had painful effects on the workers and their families.
Our Union shares the view that we need to develop a society where everyone has a right to share in the resources of the land and to live a secure, dignified and full life. Workers must play their part to bring such a society into being. We must demand to be involved in the making of decisions to ensure that our dreams and aspirations become a reality.
Local Government Elections
We take note that Local Government Elections were held at last and wish to congratulate the newly elected councillors and call on them to serve selflessly in the interest of their electors. There are many important tasks to attend to and we expect the best from them. Importantly, we also expect the early establishment of the Local Government Commission and full compliance with the Fiscal Transfers Act.
On this Workers Day, we must again emphasize our displeasure at the disrespect shown to Collective Bargaining, a revered Trade Union-Employer engagement, which was denied to the GAWU last year (2015). GuySuCo a few weeks ago unilaterally and bluntly told the Union “that at no time it would offer an increase for 2015”. The Government’s promise of Collective Bargaining with Unions in the public service after almost one (1) year has not been fulfilled. Collective Bargaining helps to establish healthy worker-employer relationships. From this Trade Union platform we urge the authorities to ensure that this commitment for Collective Bargaining is honoured.
National Minimum Wage
Comrades, when the National Minimum Wages was implemented in 2013, we heartily welcomed it. It meant that no worker would be paid less than $202 per hour. But the rising cost-of-living and increased taxes, among other things, justify adjustments and we call on the authorities to act accordingly.
Another vexing issue that is of concern to communities and people from all walks of life is the crime situation. Over recent weeks from media reports it seems that we have been experiencing yet another spike in criminal activities. This development and the violent dimensions and frequency of occurrences have raised concerns and anger at every level of society. We of GAWU believe the situation is very serious. We need assuring results and the relevant authorities need to regularly review their tactics to contain, reduce and eventually stamp out this menace from our midst.
Trade Union Unity
Comrades, today, it is pleasing to inform you that for the first time in many years the main trade union organisations in our country – the FITUG and the GTUC – are celebrating May Day and Labour Week under a united banner. As we speak the two (2) bodies are participating in a joint rally at the National Park. Our Union has always been supportive of measures towards engendering unity. We well recognize that unity among workers and their unions is essential to confront the challenges facing the working class in our country. Disunity 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’ immediate and long-term goals.
We remain optimistic that collaboration between the FITUG and the GTUC will continue, improve and expand in the future. The two (2) bodies have agreed to jointly represent and advocate issues where there is commonality. Thus, fertile ground now exists for the re-unification of the Trade Union movement.
Comrades, in a few days’ time our nation will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of our Independence and the 40th Anniversary of the sugar industry’s nationalisation. Expectedly, we will reflect on the journey we took as a nation as well as the sugar industry and its major role in our history. Against this backdrop, we feel peeved that the industry’s workers are now-a-days being treated in a disdainful manner.
It is lamentable that for the first time in over three (3) decades, the thousands of workers did not obtain a wage adjustment as GuySuCo refused to discuss pay rise for 2015 with the Union. Not only sugar workers but indeed all workers should express indignation over this development. Let us halt it before it spreads. Additionally, the GAWU believes that the State has a duty to ensure that its employees in sugar are reasonably compensated especially since other state employees have deservingly benefited from a rise in pay.
At this time, for the thousands of workers and others who are linked to Wales Sugar Estate the threat of joblessness, ruination and greater hardships hangs over their heads. The closure decision is a step in the wrong direction especially in the absence of any general impact assessment and the Sugar Commission of Inquiry explicit recommendation that no Estate be closed. Our Union urges the relevant authorities to act wisely and not proceed to close Wales Estate. We say:- Put the well-being of our working people foremost in your consideration. GAWU also urges that a similar assessment be done regarding LBI Estate where the consequences of closure there are also great.
Comrades, the sugar industry’s state of health and performance are, naturally, of great interest to us. We believe the challenges the industry faces are not insurmountable. Given today’s sugar trends, we believe that with good management, a satisfied labour force and innovations, the industry can certainly regain its profitable status in a short while.
Comrades, here on Essequibo the cultivation of paddy and production of rice are linked to the well-being of significant section of the population. It is, therefore, disappointing, like the sugar industry, that the rice industry is also facing significant challenges and troubles. The loss of the lucrative Venezuelan market has had a large impact and already we have seen a reduction in planting and investment within the industry. We are aware that many farmers are also facing severe financial difficulties on account of the low prices and delays in payment from millers. We also are aware of unfair price setting by some millers. The rice industry remains one of the pillars of our economy and sustenance to thousands. It is shortsighted to let it slide downwards. The authorities must pay greater attention to this industry so that it becomes vibrant once more and also work in a co-operative spirit with the RPA, the genuine farmers organization.
Comrades, as we celebrate May Day 2016, let us be mindful of the arduous path we travelled, our successes and the objectives before us. We still have many battles to fight. Today, bread and butter, security and democracy issues are of foremost concern. As workers we need to be more assertive in demanding our rights. We need to work with all, and particularly with our natural allies, the farmers, to achieve the tasks and attain the goals we have. We must be organised, militant and united if we are to score victories and expand on our gains.
Today’s conditions do not call for complacency but for struggles. Let us draw inspiration and join with the workers of the world to usher in a new day for mankind. The spirit of Chicago, 1886, lives on in our times. We too in Guyana must stand up and be counted. We seek a world order which is founded on peace, ecological responsibility, social and economic justice, and free of oppression and exploitation. Let us, comrades, strive for a society in Guyana where people not profits are of primary concern.
At this time we send May Day greetings to our members and all Guyanese.
Together, let us reaffirm our solidarity with the workers and the oppressed, the democratic, liberation and peace forces and climate activists world-wide.
Long live May Day!
Long live Proletarian Internationalism!