Those still deep divisions
May 1, 2007
TODAY, May Day, a celebration of workers’ achievements and an occasion for unity and solidarity, again finds the local trade union movement divided.
Workers today will join with their unions in observing May Day against the backdrop of deep divisions within the movement. At the same time, however, the workers of Guyana can take consolation from the fact that they are part of an historic movement that has achieved a great deal for workers.
Unity has eluded the central trade union body, the Guyana Trades Union Congress for many years now. In 1989, there was actually a breakaway group that was formed which operated outside of the GTUC and which comprised some of the more powerful unions in Guyana. The situation is not very much different today.
This is no more striking than on May Day itself where individual unions will be hosting their own rallies alongside each other and that of the Guyana Trades Union Congress.
There seems no end in sight to the division. And yet it is the workers as a whole who suffer because of this elusive unity. There are a number of issues, including trade union recognition, which the local trade union movement should be agitating for as a collective body but which because of the disunity and fractures within the movement it is not doing.
Despite the lack of unity, individual unions and workers can still look upon May Day with pride. They can appreciate the fact that despite pressures to reduce the number of public holidays, May Day remains a holiday dedicated to the workers.
Workers can also take pride in the fact that despite the many pressures which unions face, Guyana still has a number of strong, vibrant unions which enjoy the support of their membership. The support that the workers have given to their unions not only strengthens their collective bargaining position but also ensures that the unions remain as strong entities to safeguard the interests of the workers.
Workers in Guyana can also take pride in the fact that their struggles have gained recognition. In fact, the man considered to be the Founder of Trade Unionism in Guyana, Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow was last year named one of our country’s national heroes, a fitting tribute to his lifelong contribution to the labour movement.
Every year also there is an annual observance of Enmore Martyrs, in honour of those sugar workers who were gunned down by colonial police, an incident that gave energy to the anti-colonial struggle.
However, by far the most valued aspect of workers pride has to be the direct and indirect benefits that they have secured over the years and the extent to which these have been protected. Today workers in Guyana can boast of being more hopeful about the wellbeing of their children than at any time in their history. They can look around and see the evidence of positive change within the country, knowing that their sacrifice and those of the workers before them have not been in vain.
May Day is therefore not just a celebration of what tangible gains have been achieved and what rights have been preserved; it is also a celebration of progress on all fronts because development outside of the workplace also impacts on the quality of life of all workers. Better schools for example, mean that there will be greater opportunities for the worker’s children.
At the same time, work is the means through which the human person fulfils himself or herself and thus work itself must become the means through which workers fulfil not only their material needs but also contribute to the creation of a better society.
We trust that on this May Day all workers of Guyana will commit towards ensuring that Guyana, the country of our birth fulfils its long elusive potential so that not only this generation but future generations can live in a society where there is peace, unity and opportunity.