Another May Day tomorrow, Ho-Hum Frankly Speaking…
By A.A. Fenty
Stabroek News
April 30, 2004

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So why is it, cynical as I am about the justified Workers Day as it is observed in Guyana these days, that I still bother to mention the annual event?

I suppose there are two reasons I allow myself: 1) I - and others interested - should comment on the significance, the promise and failure, of Labour Day as it developed, evolved and existed in Guyana and 2) I suppose I cling to some distant hope that the voice and body of local labour representation could really be, or become, a most influential, largely independent institution with the authority and status to command respect and inclusion enough to influence the very essence of national governance, however that is constituted or executed.

Alas, I, still a concerned member of the working-class here can recognise no "Labour Movement" these days. The Voice of Labour is, at best, muted or worse garbled with the sound of daily division. Why is this so? Simple.

Pure politics. Added to a stubborn resolve to hold on to an undesirable status quo wherein an Old Boys Club seeks to prevail to share some dwindling spoils.

As one unionist reminded us last year, "whether we recognize the origin of May Day as residing in the Chicago, USA Strike of 1886; the Haymarket Slaughter which resulted, in 1887, or 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".

But as with our more formal political history and development, so too with our Trade Union realities - especially since Independence. Ignoring the finest tradition of stalwart trade union pioneers like Thorne, Hubbard, Kawall, Edun and Critchlow, the post-Independence trade union movement saw the manipulation of certain leaders and the alliances of conveniences forged for mostly political objectives.

Then latter-day TUC stalwarts like Jackson, Carrington, Cambridge, Harrylall, Ramkarran, Tello, Blair, Ishmael and dozens of others were made to compromise pure trade union ideals in favour of political...

By the seventies, the TUC was in Forbes Burnham's pockets, the sugar workers endured a bitter struggle to be represented by the GAWU - a union with definite loyalty to Cheddi Jagan's PPP. (A longer, more detailed history and analysis will reveal that both Burnham and Jagan were trade unionists at one time - with Cheddi Jagan being one of the "Pioneers" of the early fifties.) During the '80s, a few union leaders of conscience rebelled against Burnham's harsh manipulation of the TUC - packed with paper-unions, party "affiliated" unions and yes-men who enjoyed trips to Geneva, the Caribbean and attachments to international movements - in both the East and West. In politics and trade unionism the splits were evident.

The Public Service Union, the teachers, the University representatives and a few other unions who chose themselves formed the alternative FITUG - a Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana. To me, two points are relevant to FITUG today: back then it represented the boldest step to oppose a benign dictatorship, though ultimately the Old Boys TUC regained its control of the spoils and secondly, the current re-incarnation of FITUG, ironically, has the same potential to oppose the Old Boys Descendants who, for example, see the regularisation of internal democratic rules as allowing the PPP-friendly GAWU to acquire much too much influence for their comfort.

So where are we today, in terms of a trade union movement? And what's to happen tomorrow - 2004 May Day?

The so-called movement is as fractured and fractious as ever. It is in internal disarray, broke, without a strong defined programme and characterised by break-aways, leaving a shell of an organisation superintended by sheer defiance. No attempt to call in dissidents, financial rectitude a casualty and involvement in aggressive political partisanship have all left this country with unorganised and disorganised labour.

Just listen to Carvil Duncan last year - the Head of the Union once headed by Forbes Burnham and Desmond Hoyte: "Mr. Chairman, trade unions also have a responsibility to be transparent, and accountable to their members. The law requires that our accounts be audited. We must comply.

It is our members' money and they must know how it is spent, in pursuing their interests. Moreover, if the accounts are audited, no employer, government, or other, can hold it like a Sword of Damocles over our heads. Transparency and accountability we demand from our government and other institutions. We cannot escape being accountable and transparent to our members."

And that's just one of the trade union illnesses that renders the TUC as less than exemplary - leading to what might be experienced tomorrow.

Sources from both sides of the political-trade union divide tell me that tomorrow, most likely will see two more still-significant unions joining GAWU, the GPSU and NAACIE by Not entering the National Park for the end-of-march rally! Why bother to march anyway? What "solidarity" is there? (Shades of the PNC's alternative Mashramani here - ironically.) Rumour had it, earlier this week, that the TUC is even furtive, hesitant about using the National Park tomorrow. Not many are expected. Ho-Hum. Where will they all sit?

1) Brace Yourself! Especially if you are fed up with National Holidays like I am. It is likely, just likely, that tomorrow, next Monday and Wednesday will be national holidays. Holidays fuh so!

2) Great, great gesture - to honour those Bourda groundsmen who made play possible two Sundays ago. I trust they also received substantial "frecks".

3) Remind me of this Government's policy towards the TUC.

3b) Now-now-now can't "Both sides" be accused of throwing the Channa-Bomb?

4) A Parthenote is a mammal that can be created without male help. Yes, Japanese and Korean scientists have just created a fatherless mouse! In effect, it was the first mammal created from same sex parents. Help! (Though I know many males who might welcome this recent breakthrough. Those mice of men!)

5) Level Two of the protests?

'Til next week!