Addressing worker discontent
Guyana Chronicle
June 5, 2003

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Laments about the divisiveness of the trade union movement and the interest government and union express in giving each employee a bigger pay check underscore the enormity of addressing worker discontent and promoting trade union unity.

The trade union movement essentially operates along party lines. GAWU, from whose ranks the Jagans and other political leaders have emerged, has maintained an historical relationship with the PPP, mindful of the maintenance of its legacy of promoting working-class prosperity and national socioeconomic growth.

Some of the other trade unions, succumbing to coercion to align to the PNC at a time when that party’s “paramountcy” doctrine dictated government-union relations, have maintained that aura of union/union rivalry as part of the then-government’s strategy to dilute the strength of sugar industry support for GAWU and, consequentially, for the PPP.

Today, even though the leaderships of the PPP/C and the PNC/R are busily searching for ways to relent on their confrontational postures and forge an era of unprecedented bipartisanship in order to move Guyana forward, most of the unions in the Guyana Trades Union Congress remain essentially opposed to the government of the day.

That, obviously, isn’t the way to go. So Sunday’s call by President Jagdeo for the divided labour movement to unite for the benefit of the workers could not have come sooner.

The threats of globalization loom large. With the world being transformed into what politicians and economists are calling a “global village,” addressing worker discontent is essential if the nation’s workforce is to be geared, mentally, for the job of giving Guyana a competitive edge in the global marketplace.

But meeting the challenges of globalization requires more than the concern of unions for entrenching the rights of workers to join a trade union of their choice, as they did when they unanimously supported the passage of the Trade Union Recognition Bill in 1997, or for the right to strike in order to secure higher wages for workers.

Trade unions must be prepared to influence, not resist, the acceptance of innovation by workers. At the juncture of the country’s development when reducing production costs is a criterion for growth, union support for the maintenance of a bloated, unskilled workforce in the civil service and elsewhere must give way to acceptance of the principle of fewer (workers) for more (productivity).

Unions have traditionally seen innovation as an abridgement of their bargaining power and have therefore been unreceptive to change, arguing that workforce downsizing, even where this is desirable - as reform of the public service shows, is synonymous with discriminating against workers.

If we are to gear for the challenges of globalization, however, our trade unions must substitute cooperation for confrontation and see the acquisition of advanced human resource skills, and a change in worker behaviour, as directly relevant to creating an environment of cost-benefits and competitive advantage for Guyana.

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