GAWU urges workers to keep on battle dress
By Chamanlall Naipaul
Guyana Chronicle
May 2, 2003

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The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) May Day rally yesterday attracted a large contingent of workers from all sectors where the union is the bargaining agent.

GAWU marched with the Guyana Trade Union Congress (TUC) up to Critchlow Labour College from where it proceeded to its own rally which was held at the National Insurance Scheme Sports Club Ground.

In recent years GAWU has been boycotting TUC rallies in protest against the manner in which the body is being administered, particularly on the issue of the method of allocation of delegates to the TUC annual conference, whereby small unions end up having more delegates than GAWU, despite it is the largest union in Guyana and the English-speaking Caribbean, with a membership of about 25,000 strong.

General Secretary of the union, Seepaul Narine who delivered the feature address declared: “Whether we recognise the origin of May Day as residing in the Chicago, USA Strike of 1886; the Haymarket Slaughter which resulted in 1887 of the Execution of eight American Trade Unionists, or the Congress of the Second International in Paris of 1889 which approved the First May Day as of 1890, May Day as a working class holiday evolved from the struggle, sweat and blood of workers. At the centre of those struggles was the law to limit the working day to eight hours. And local trade union history records that in February of 1958 - under the Cheddi Jagan Administration of ’57 to ’61 - Rupert Tello, then TUC General Secretary, succeeded in persuading the Legislative Council to declare, by law, that May Day be a national holiday in this country. It has been sustained to this day.”

He reassured the workers that the Union continues to discharge its momentous role as a premier workers’ Organisation. “Guided by a point of view that its bias must always be with workers and remembering Cheddi Jagan, its mentor, who always upheld the ideology of the working class, GAWU’s records for advancing the workers’ struggle to obtain better conditions and higher living standards have never been compromised,” he declared.

He added: “Today the employment cost in the sugar industry has reached almost 60 per cent of the revenues, and that is a significant demonstration of the Union and the workers’ advances.”

He urged the workers to never give up the battle to save the Demerara Estates from closure noting the existence of a plan to keep those estates functioning. He warned that should there be a closure there would be grave consequences and severe hardship for workers, with about 9,000 workers who would be losing their jobs.

Touching on the present state of affairs within the country Narine lamented the difficulties, stress and the threats to social stability the current crime wave is causing and called for expeditious collaboration between workers and employers to ensure the security and safety at worksites which is under severe threat.

“… last May Day found us bewildered by the unprecedented outbreak of crime which began with the suspicious jailbreak of February 23, 2002. For one year now, Guyana has been held victim by a criminal enterprise formerly unknown to us. Though the bulk of the incidents have been/are taking place in communities along the East Coast Demerara and in Georgetown, the robberies, kidnappings, murder and mayhem have affected all strata of our beleaguered society and no segment of our population feels secured. Besides businessmen, small shop-keepers, housewives, students, children, pensioners, labourers, sugar-workers, state security personnel have all been attacked, maimed or killed. Workers so often robbed at their work places including in the backdams are made to produce under fear of this climate spawned by criminals,” he charged.

As part of the national response to the current crime wave, beside the official reactions of programmes and campaigns by our Joint Services, Narine said GAWU is adamant that both employers and employees should sit down and plan their own personal and domestic security and protection - at the workplace and to and from work-sites. He urged that any respectful union worth its “salt” should also put their members’ protection on its agenda.

He accused short-sighted elements in the political opposition who are bent on obtaining political power of giving support to the criminal elements in the hope that it would help to realise their game-plan.

He noted too, that the police force has also been targeted and has suffered great loss. He welcomed the developments which seem to be moving in the direction of constructive engagements between President Jagdeo and the People’s National Congress/Reform leader Robert Corbin.

The General Secretary observed that the recent presidential initiatives at Linden demonstrated the positive outcome that co-operation and genuine concern for the interest of peoples can realise.

He also on behalf of his union paid tribute to the late veteran trade unionist, Joseph Henry Pollydore declaring: “On this May Day GAWU wishes to observe the passing since our last May Day of veteran trade unionist comrade Joseph Henry Pollydore, former General Secretary of the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC). GAWU has always held in high esteem the personality and principles of Comrade Pollydore as he superintended the work and role of the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) when the Union had to work with him and the organisation for the latter half of his more than six decades of commitment to the local labour movement. However sensitive the issues involving GAWU’s participation in the GTUC, whatever the disagreement, Polly’s principles of working-class unity superseded partisan political consideration. Little wonder that the movement avoided complete fragmentation when it was forced to confront certain challenges - especially in the 1980’s.”

Dealing with the impact of globalisation and the changes taking place in international trade and relations he observed: “In many countries workers are celebrating this important day. They are taking stock of their gains, assessing those issues and questions which impacted on their well-being and contemplating the steps that must be taken in pursuit of their aspirations. More importantly, through their rallies, demonstrations and celebrations, they unite themselves for their continuing struggles ahead.”

He added: “A cursory examination of today’s realities shows that inequality is growing; the gap between the haves and haves-not is widening; the working man continues to battle with their age-old problems while forced to contend with newer and more burdensome difficulties. Without question comrades, we are not living in a worker-friendly world. That reality obliges the world’s working-class to wage daily battles for a reasonable minimum wages; an acceptable standard of living; for fair and just returns for their labour-force expanded to keep the wheels of industry and production turning and for the creation of new social wealth.”

He charged that there is no doubt that these are very troubled times, pointing out that over the past five years, GAWU has called attention to the blatant disadvantages of globalisation, which he said is the term used for the processes the world has been experiencing, particularly after the end of the Cold War. “The realities are indeed stark. And the working-class and poor the world over, their plight and life conditions are worsening,” the General Secretary observed.

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