Gordon Mortimer Todd: Unflinching labour stalwart remembered
By Chamanlall Naipaul
May 1, 2007
IT WOULD seem that one of Guyana’s giants of the progressive labour movement has gone into oblivion and forgotten even by his contemporaries who are still around.
Of course, many members of the younger generation probably never heard about him. Thanks to the lethargic efforts of the national labour movement to keep alive the history of his illustrious and indomitable trade union career.
This is very unfortunate and more so that nothing has even been named by the national labour movement in honour and memory of one of the icons of local trade unionism.
It brings to mind the question our own Dave Martins asks in his song “Where are your heroes, Caribbean?”
Gordon Mortimer Todd, the late President General of the Clerical and Commercial Workers Union (CCWU) and a former President of the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) who passed away in 1998, was one of those principled, fearless, unflinching and uncompromising advocates and leaders in the struggle of the working class, and indeed a true patriot and son of the soil.
Unlike many of his colleagues, he was not identified or could not be accused of being aligned with any political party and, perhaps, because of this, he could be referred to as one of the most independent-minded trade union leaders of his time.
That is not to say as trade union leader, he was devoid of political developments in the country. However, he never embraced any political party.
This is what he had to say at the 4th Biennial Delegates of the CCWU which coincided with its 50th anniversary on August 15, 1998:
“We remain pleased that the question of constitutional reform is again firmly on the legislative agenda. We must strengthen our democracy. If this political process is to be accelerated, then the political parties will be forced to remove from their otherwise dogmatic positions and re-shape themselves to meet new circumstances arising from constitutional changes and a progressive way forward to a Guyana for all Guyanese.”
Addressing the 1st Annual Delegates Conference (November 23, 1990) of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG) - a seven-member trade union grouping (now a four member grouping) which broke away from the GTUC, he declared:
“A quarter of a century of political independence has not yet brought the economic independence which the working class of this country had anticipated, even genuine democracy has eluded us during this period of time.”
He added: “The working class struggle for genuine democracy has however gained tremendous momentum recently and this realisation of free and fair elections without fear is now decidedly more clearly of the national agenda. The extensions to political democracy are numerous and a logical extension to the process is clearly the strengthening of industrial democracy. Therefore, working class people must have freedom to influence the political direction of this nation and to press for social reforms, and the upliftment of the standard of living of the depressed masses.”
Therefore, it is clear that while he had no political aspirations or ambitions, he was definitely concerned about the evolving political process and political direction of this country, which obviously would have a bearing on the labour movement.
In fact, he was very much immersed in helping to fight the dictatorial government in the 1970s and 1980s, his heydays as a trade union leader.
His battles were relentless and courageous in those periods when the wrath of the regime was lavishly and ruthlessly unleashed on workers as hundreds were arbitrarily dismissed, jailed and terrorised with their only “crimes” being their fight for bread and justice.
Attempts were made to break his combative spirit, as the increasingly repressive regime became fearful that he could play a pivotal role in uniting the working class which might have led to the ousting of the government.
But Gordon Todd was not a labour leader to be intimidated and deterred from his convictions and commitment towards improving the lives the working people.
And so even though he was abducted in 1979 by the security forces on the instructions of the then Prime Minister and taken in an aircraft and told to look down and beyond, which was an inference that he could be thrown from the aircraft to that down and beyond, he never flinched or retreated from the workers’ struggle. In fact, it made him more resolute and determined.
Despite such an ordeal, he was magnanimous and without any bitterness - the quality of a true leader.
“We in CCWU could not do less than protest by way of another national strike in August 1979. The harassment and open brutality showered on our members and my own abduction are matters that the historians at the appropriate time will pontificate on,” he declared at the 4th Biennial Delegates of the CCWU.
But Todd was not only concerned about local conditions; he also had the vision to foresee the adverse impact the changing global economic relations would have on the living standards of the working class.
He pointed out that economist Edward Goldsmith, in reference to globalisation and liberalisation of trade, argued that all these ideological principles about the same global economic model which “we are all advised to sign to amount to little more than rationalisation for a new kind of corporate colonialism visited upon poor countries and the poor in rich countries.”
He asserted that the imbalances in the world continue to be so obvious and the inequities so glaring that no self-respecting government, once it has the peoples’ interest first, would bow to the pressures for complete de-regulation.
“There are too many interest groups whose main objective is the total mortgage of this dear land,” he reiterated.
“The struggle for the upliftment of the poor and destitute and the struggle for bread, peace and social justice for all must still be on the front burner of the trade union activities as we strengthen the values of freedom and the strengthening of our fledgling democracy,” Todd exhorted the 4th Biennial Delegates Conference of the CCWU.
The passing of Todd, a true hero and champion of the working class, was an immense loss to the labour movement. Indeed, a very sad day in the history of trade unionism in Guyana.
Gordon Mortimer Todd was born on July 14, 1940 and received his formal education at Cornelius Moravian Primary School and Tutorial High School.
In 1957, he joined the Public Service but left in 1960 to work with Sandbach Parker and Company Limited.
He was elected President of the CCWU in 1968, previously serving as Branch Chairman (1961), Junior Vice-President (1966-1967) and Senior Vice-President 1967-1968).
He received his formal training in industrial and labour relations in the U.S. (1967) and the UK (1968) and in 1975, he attended New York School of Industrial and Labour Relations at Cornell University.
He distinguished himself both locally and internationally in trade unionism serving as 2nd Vice-President of the GTUC (1970), 1st Vice-President (1972) and in 1995 he was elected President of the GTUC. At the time of his death he was serving as Vice-President of the GTUC.
In 1979, he was elected hemispheric Vice–President of the International Federation of Clerical, Commercial, Technical and Professional Employees (FIET) and remained an executive member until his death.
In 1996 he was awarded the Cacique Crown of Honour (C.C.H) for sterling contribution to the labour movement.