Duncan must take TUC revamp views to executive council
-Lewis By Oscar P. Clarke
March 16, 2004
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Lewis, while lauding the idea of a restructured umbrella movement, said the best way to determine the way forward is to engage the EXCO since it is vested with the authority to re-organise the body.
Duncan in a recent exclusive interview with Stabroek News had pointed to the need for the GTUC to be restructured and proposed that a technocrat should head its administration.
The general secretary in an interview with Stabroek News on Friday however said that such an issue is not one for him to determine but rather one for the people who own the movement to address.
Duncan contacted later by this newspaper said he is not suggesting that the technocrat should not be a trade unionist or someone sympathetic to the movement but rather that the post holder must not be part of its EXCO.
He identified the example of the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) where he said the rules allow for its General Secretary to be appointed after applying for the position. That person then becomes a member of its staff whose main job is to carry out the policy of the movement, Duncan argued.
According to Duncan, with a technocrat as Chief Execu-tive Officer of the GTUC the organisation would be in a better position to ensure equity and unity in the entire movement and listen to all its members.
He saw Lewis' position as GS of the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union (GB&GWU) and performing a similar function at the GTUC as being a conflict of interest.
Duncan cited the case of Lewis' pronouncements with respect to economic genocide using the bauxite industry as an example as not auguring well for someone who purports to speak on behalf of the national body. According to the GTUC president, these comments would be more suited to his position as GS of GB&GWU rather than to a body whose affiliates have varying and diverse views as influenced by their members.
Duncan referring to the late trade union legend, Joseph Pollydore, said he once told him a few years ago that "things you say as head of the TUC got to be different from what you say as head of a union."
However, Lewis in his interview said while he takes the comments in the article very seriously, he is aware that the statements are to be considered as the offshoot of discussions at political levels.
Lewis said that apart from the restructuring issue, concerns of the GTUC about party politics determining its agenda should also be addressed. According to him, "all say that they believe in unity but it must not be used as a means of submerging the independence of the movement and their quest to defend trade unions and human rights."
However, Duncan questioned the possibility of the body's independence being destroyed by seeking unity, especially a movement guided by members who have diverse views.
Lewis in the wide-ranging interview also committed himself to fighting against any group or individual, whether as GS or an officer of another union, wanting to hand over the labour movement 'lock, stock and barrel' to politicians.
This conviction he said is deep and founded on the principle that the trade union movement preceded the political movement in the region and was at the forefront of internal self-government.
"It is this movement that made it possible for [former presidents Cheddi] Jagan and [Forbes] Burnham to be able to stand on the political platform in Guyana," Lewis said.
Lewis further highlighted the issue of the government addressing labour issues through the GTUC president although being aware that the Chief Executive Officer of the body is the GS. Encouraging the government to continue to do so is to undermine his office and by extension the GTUC, Lewis contended. To counter this, the EXCO two weeks ago insisted in a letter to government that unless it engaged the organisation via the office of the GS its advances may be ignored.
He pointed to the absence of members of the EXCO at a recent Office of the President engagement on the territorial issue.
Respect, Lewis said, is never earned by transgressing principles, rights and agreements but instead by upholding what the organisation stands for, and that includes honouring and protecting rights and principles.
Lewis also used the opportunity to clarify the issue of the waiver of dues, which he said occurred in year 2000 as a means of facilitating the return of the GPSU to the umbrella body.
The decision was then extended to include the Guyana Agriculture and General Workers Union (GAWU) and the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE) as an inducement for their return, Lewis said.
Lewis challenged Duncan's assertions about the GTUC doing nothing for his union by outlining its role as a macro-entity which deals with the political, economic and social conditions of the movement generally.
These include making sure that the rights of its affiliates are not being transgressed, addressing instances of anti-union policies by organisations, including government, and looking at the economic policies developed by government.
General Workers Union (GWU) President Norris Witter expressed the view that the pronouncements by Duncan were misplaced and an indictment of his leadership of the movement.
Witter who was replaced by Duncan as head of the movement called the statements a betrayal of the trust of the workers who voted for his elevation to the office, and dubbed them an admission of his own failures.
On the issue of the technocrat functioning as head of the body, Witter wondered whether the president was aware of the nature of the structure, role and function of the GTUC.
Meanwhile, GB&GWU Head Charles Sampson was equally disappointed with the statements attributed to Duncan and contended that he was not aware of similar entities headed by technocrats.
Technocrats, he said, should be involved in examining specific things, including specialised departments and wondered where the money would come from to pay such a person especially as Duncan had pointed to the financial situation of the movement. He said further the issue should have first engaged the body's EXCO.
However, Duncan said later that if Lewis felt he was destroying the movement, he would challenge him to a live television debate in full view of the public.
According to Duncan, Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow and Pollydore left something for them, but he wondered what they will have to leave for others if the movement is allowed to perish. He argued there was need to adopt new approaches as a means of achieving the same goals, rather than being cast in a mould which was quickly becoming outmoded.