FITUG speakers lament rift in Trade Union Movement
By Chamanlal Naipaul
Guyana Chronicle
May 2, 2007

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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.