THE MAY DAY PARADE
May 2, 2007
By Shirley Thomas
The 2007 Labour Day Workers’ march around the city of Georgetown came off with a good start yesterday, with thousands of workers smartly clad in the traditional colours of red, white and black, marching through the streets with swank and swagger.
The weather was bright and sunny, and workers used it to advantage. Around 9:15h the march moved off from the Independence Park on Middle Street with about 22 trade unions on parade.
FITUG was represented on the march by employees of the Guyana Labour Union (GLU); Guyana Agricultural Workers’ Union (GAWU); the Clerical and Commercial Workers’ Union (CCWU); the National Agricultural and Allied Commercial Employees (NAACIE) were a fine spectacle.
Throughout the parade, many of the messages on the picket cards and banners addressed common concerns such as better living wages for employees; criminal activities in the society; the reduction of taxes and the lifting of income tax threshold.
But even as the sounds of “Solidarity Forever” filled the air, and the workers picked up the tempo and marched behind the bands, the stark reality that surfaced was that the trade union movement in Guyana is more fragmented than it probably ever was.
The truth came out when, as the parade reached the junction of Woolford Avenue and Albert Street, workers on the march, very impressed that FITUG has made its first appearance on a Labour Day Rally since 1989, came to realize that all was still not well with FITUG and the GTUC. They were unaware that the GTUC was about to address a rally at the Critchlow Labour College and that FITUG would address theirs at the National Insurance Service Sports ground on Carifesta Avenue.
What spelt trouble was that key officials of the Guyana Labour Union apparently had allegiances to different umbrella unions. So too, had other key officers of the major trade unions.
Many of the workers on the march were not aware of this and so there was some confusion when they arrived at the junction, with near riot breaking out as a FITUG representative directed that the GLU banner be taken to the FITUG rally and a GLU official directed that it should go the GTUC Rally at the Critchlow Labour College.
For an instant pandemonium broke out on the parade route, as tempers flared and there was a virtual tug-o-war over the banner.
Many workers on the march became very disappointed, made statements of being ‘sold out’. Out of disgust, many either made independent decisions about which rally they should attend, or made their way home.
Meanwhile, rank and file members are unhappy and feel that for as long that ‘shared loyalties’ are entertained in the hierarchy of the Trade Union Movement, it will continue to be fragmented.
FITUG speakers lament rift in Trade Union Movement
By Chamanlal Naipaul
Labour Day yesterday was celebrated in the traditional style with Guyanese workers dressed in red and white and parading through the streets of Georgetown and proceeding to their respective destinations where their culminating rallies were held.
However, like in recent years, the anticipated rift between the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) and the break away grouping the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG), continued as they held their separate rallies and there was a fracas as the united parade separated into the divided labour groupings.
The FITUG grouping comprised the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), the National Association of Agricultural Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE), the Clerical and Commercial Workers Union (CCWU) and the Guyana Labour Union (GLU) which was founded by the father of trade unionism in Guyana, Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow.
The FITUG rally which culminated at the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) Sports Club Ground, Carifesta Avenue attracted a large gathering and all the speakers lamented the division in the labour movement, pledging to work towards trade union unity.
Chairman of the proceedings and General Secretary of the CCWU, Grantley Culbard, stressed that it was never the intention of FITUG to have a separate rally but circumstances forced such an outcome.
He recalled that on returning to Guyana in 2001 from his sojourn with the Caribbean Congress of Labour (CCL), he was a signatory to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) aimed at reuniting the labour movement after the pulling out of GAWU and NAACIE from the folds of the GTUC.
He said he affixed his signature to the document because he thought it was a step in the right direction, but the mediatory role intended by the CCWU to heal the wound of the labour movement did not work.
Nothing positive has happened as the leadership of the GTUC has been obstinate with respect to the issue, Culbard charged.
Culbard recalled that FITUG approved a resolution at its conference last year mandating its leadership to initiate discussions with the GTUC towards reunification of the labour movement.
However, two written requests to GTUC by FITUG to hold meetings aimed at ironing out differences were ignored by the latter and subsequently, GTUC leaders opined that they are not aware of any organisation known as FITUG, Culbard told the rally.
He indicated that he found this strange because FITUG is a registered trade union body comprising a union that is the largest in Guyana and the English-speaking Caribbean (GAWU), and FITUG cannot tolerate such a union being ignored by the GTUC.
He expressed the hope that the GTUC “gets the message loud and clear” with the large showing at the FITUG rally.
General Secretary of the GLU and executive member of FITUG, Carville Duncan declared that FITUG controls 52% of organised labour and as such there is a need to take control of the GTUC quickly as the present configuration of the GTUC has outlived its usefulness.
Duncan, whose union recently moved into the fold of FITUG, said his union has been accused of changing sides. However, he emphatically declared that the only side “we continue to know is that of the workers.”
President of GAWU, Komal Chand recalled that it is the first rally of FITUG since its earlier formation in 1989, and expressed his union’s concern with the services being provided by the utilities company in the water, electricity and communications sector.
He was particularly critical of the announcement to privatise the Guyana Power and Light (GPL) company in another five years, by which time it is anticipated that it will be returned to profitability.
Chand rhetorically questioned whether it is wise to privatise a profitable entity reminding the gathering of the previous experience of a UK-based consortium which managed the entity resulting in a deterioration of service to consumers and increased rates.
He cautioned that the government should be careful in its privatisation plans for the power utility.
He also recalled of the failed management of the Guyana Water Incorporation (GWI) by another UK-based company Severn Trent Ltd. which forced the government to terminate the contract of the company because of its dismal performance.
However, Chand acknowledged that there has been progress in the service provided by the utilities sector, but underscored the need for improvement.
Turning his attention to the crime situation he implored the trade union movement to be come involved in fighting crime, asserting that no representative organisation “is worth its salt” if it sits idly by and allows women and children to be exploited and subjected to criminal acts.
Chand, while alluding to the steady progress that has been achieved in recent years, stressed that simultaneously other issues have to be addressed, such as unemployment, the restoration of a firm economy, improved wages and the involvement of workers in the decision making process at all levels of the society.
He also so expressed his union’s support for the Skeldon Sugar Modernisation Project, describing this as a step in the right direction towards meeting challenges posed by the erosion of the preferential market.
Executive member of the GLU and FITUG, Ms. Irma Glenn, reminded workers that the freedom which Guyanese workers enjoy was won through hard struggles and they must not ever become complacent, for if they do, the very rights which they won could be lost.
She also implored the older generation to impart their knowledge of the struggles to the youths to inspire them to continue in the same vein.
General Secretary of both NAACIE and FITUG, Kenneth Joseph, reiterated the latter’s genuine interest in advancing the workers struggle and charged the current GTUC leadership with being interested only in maintaining their status quo and self aggrandisement.