May Day is Workers' Day
May 1, 2004
TODAY commemorates yet another May Day - the one time of year that employees break from their long schedules of work to reflect on themselves and the value of what they do.
Trade unionists also consider May Day a most opportune moment for workers - and for themselves. For it provides them, the trade unionists, with the forums - May Day rallies, and the audience - a broad spectrum of the workforce, to vent their entrenched grievances with employers whom they believe are the real sources of worker discontent.
Depending on the weather, one can expect large-scale trade union participation, a very large turnout of workers and, gauging from the TUC's response to the Government's 2004 budget, rhetoric depicting Government as an anti-worker employer.
But however justified critics may sound citing individual cases, antagonism toward the Government cannot detract from its pro-worker agenda.
Not only is the PPP/Civic administration signatory to the highest number of labour conventions in the history of governance in Guyana; it also adheres to the International Labor Organization Convention protecting workers' rights. The administration dons the distinction of raising workers' incomes above the rate of inflation, and of drafting and successfully getting Parliament in 1997 to pass the Trade Union Recognition Bill - cornerstone legislation that gives workers the right to join a union of their choice and that obligates all businesses operating in Guyana to recognize and collectively bargain with the trade union selected by a majority of its workers.
The Trade Union Recognition Act ended union recognition and recognition battles, major causes of labour strife in Guyana. Ironically, the Government's major critics in the trade union movement betray support for a regime whose history of rule includes the country's largest trade union, the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers' Union (GAWU), having had to stage a 13-week by sugar workers in 1975 to force the Burnham administration to commission a poll allowing sugar workers the freedom to choose GAWU as their bargaining agent.
It wasn't the first time a PPP government had sought recognition for trade unions, however. After it won a majority of the parliamentary seats contested in a 1953 general election and Dr. Cheddi Jagan was elected premier, the "PPP introduced and passed a Labor Relations Bill, providing for union recognition and for settling questions of union representation by tallying the votes of workers at the production point."(Radosh: 394).
Worker discontent is nothing new, either. In their book, "The Labour Movement Evolution, Intervention, Stagnation, Transition: Guyana," professor Gary N. Chaison and Tarique I. Nageer of Clark University Graduate School of Management professor recall that, "On November 28, 1905, the dock workers at the waterfront stopped working to protest poor working conditions and inadequate wages...
"On September 25, 1906 the dock workers at Bookers Wharf went on strike for three days. This action was met with replacement workers. On January 4, 1917 employers resisted a proposal from employees, which would reduce the workday from 12 hours to 11 hours. The ensuing strike ushered in the first form of collective action as a delegation headed by Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow, the father of trade unionism..."
We'd like to see union and employer use May Day 2004 to rationally and cordially address the necessity of working together to move the Guyana forward at a faster pace. The Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) should aim to reclaim its position as the holding organization for 22 affiliated unions with an aggregate membership surpassing 70,000 workers.
But reclaiming that position requires a selfless goal - that of serving workers, not partisan interests.