Rallying calls for unity at May Day observances
Guyana Chronicle
May 2, 2004

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`That we are marching on different roads to different destinations must delight some today. This must cease, and in the worker’s interest, we must bridge the gulf that separates, and heal the wounds that divide as we pursue a steadfast and united Trades Union Movement.” GTUC President, Carvil Duncan

AS WORKERS observed another Labour Day with a split among the unions, speakers at rallies throughout the country yesterday lamented the erosion of solidarity in the labour movement and called for workers’ unity to boost the nation’s development thrust.

While the workers, most attired in red tops and dark-coloured bottoms, and bearing placards, marched through the streets of Georgetown in the traditional May Day parade, they split and went to separate venues for rallies.

Workers who marched under the banner of The Guyana Agricultural Workers Union, proceeded to the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) Sports Club Ground on Carifesta Avenue, for a rally held under the theme `Towards Workers’ Security, Peace and Progress”. Those who marched with the umbrella body, Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC), went to the Critchlow Labour College. Workers represented by the Clerical and Commercial Workers Union (CCWU) ended up at the Union’s headquarters, Clerical House on Quamina Street.

GAWU has been boycotting GTUC rallies in protest against the manner in which the former is being administered, particularly on the issue of the method of allocation of delegates to the annual conference. Under the method in question, small unions field more delegates, despite the fact that GAWU is the largest union in Guyana and the English-speaking Caribbean. GAWU’s membership exceeds 25 000 workers.

“Can there be any joy in experiencing the erosion of solidarity in our local labour movement,” questioned Guyana Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU) President, Komal Chand.

In similar vein, GTUC President, Mr. Carvil Duncan charged that it is “high time” that the movement undertakes some introspection “to maintain the moral right to lead.
“That the unity of workers is sacrificed on the altar of expediency and mortgaged to political causes must alarm us. That all the sheep are not in the fold must concern us. We must, out of a duty and obligation, leave the ninety-and nine and go after those gone astray,’ Duncan said, pointing out that times have changed and “we must be untiring in our efforts to build a single and united trades union Movement”.

“In the process, we as a movement must display the required fortitude to be concessionary, to be reconciliatory, to be innovative, and to be inclusive as we call upon others to do the same. It may be in the interest of some to ensure that the disagreement in the Movement remain unresolved. There are those who are happy today in seeing their strategy of divide-and-rule succeed. That we are marching on different roads to different destinations must delight some today. This must cease and in the worker’s interest, we must bridge the gulf that separates, and heal the wounds that divide as we pursue a steadfast and united Trades Union Movement,” Duncan said.
And, pointing out that the youths are “confused” by the division in the movement, General Secretary of the Guyana Trades Union Youth Movement (TUYM) Franklin Wilson said: “Trade union unity is paramount, and the level of unity desired for sustained progress must be obtained through the same channels that brought the movement the services of leaders as Andrew Garnett, Lincoln Lewis, Carvil Duncan and other great leaders of the past.

“The TUYN believes this is an opportune time to display the level of unity that would inspire national unity and cohesion. It appears reasonable to accept that the likelihood of political unity is remote if it is elusive at the level of the trade unions. The correlation between trade union unity and political unity is indisputable in Guyana, despite the denials we may have from some.

“In the circumstances, the TUYM issues a call to leaders of the workers’ movement to work out and implement a sustainable strategy for genuine trade union unity,” Wilson said.
President of the CCWU, Grantley Culbard told the Chronicle yesterday that his union wanted to send a clear signal to the GTUC, and hence, did not participate in the latter’s rally.

“We have to learn from our past. TUC will break up again reflecting on the attitude of its leaders,” he warned.

Despite the obvious lack of unity, Chand took the opportunity yesterday to greet and salute “the thousands of union members and all workers throughout the length and breath of Guyana on this May Day or more precisely, the First of May, the international festival of the working class movement.”

Today, we are celebrating the First of May with hundreds of thousands of workers in the world in more than 100 countries (but) some countries due to the authoritarian rule, workers are not permitted to celebrate this day,” Chand told the gathering.
While noting that conditions of people throughout the world are under severe threat, Chand pointed out that political oppression and violation of sovereignty of nations have become the order of the day.

“We feel that political dialogue and constructive engagement to create constructive compromise and accommodation must always be welcomed between those who represent us, both in Government and Opposition,” he posited.

Noting that the structured consultations locally between President Bharrat Jagdeo and the Opposition Leader, Mr. Robert Corbin have been suspended, Chand urged that “we take heart in noting that the Opposition Leader has proposed widening the engagement to include other representatives and interests”.
“GAWU feels that, when properly structured, there may be hope in that suggestion,” he said. He, however, hastened to add that the unions hope “this is not another ruse to hoodwink the Guyanese people” since the “fits and starts that are associated with dialogue send their signals to us, workers, and raise questions but we will encourage the efforts at genuine dialogue as we see them as positive and beneficial to the well-being of our nation.”

The speakers at the different rallies also addressed issues of globalisation and the local economy, job creation and the scourge of HIV/AIDS. There were the usual after rally celebrations at various union halls and other venues, some of which President Bharrat Jagdeo attended.