Trade unionism, capitalism and structural adjustment
Freddie Kissoon column
May 1, 2007
Today is Labour Day. I will be in the TUC march because the UG trade union is part of the TUC and the TUC has been supportive of the UGWU in its permanent struggle with a heartless employer.
But there is another reason why I will be in the procession – labour is the life blood of any country. The industrial world that workers around the world possess, except in communist dictatorships, military governments, authoritarian systems (like those in the Arab world) were due not to the generosities of companies and wealthy owners but to the hard, dire struggles that trade unions have fought since the 19th century.
Third world people were indoctrinated in the concept that capitalism is a system that doesn't like trade unions. But look at trade unionism in Guyana and the Third World today. The labour movement is stronger under corporate capitalism than in the developing countries where trade unions helped in the fight against colonialism.
In the United States where capitalism is seen as the answer for every problem in life, trade unions are extremely effective. It was Francis Fukuyama, a leading social scientist in the US that wrote that history has ended now that democratic capitalism has triumphed over communism.
The human mind, according to Fukuyama , cannot conjure up any other social experiment that can be socially and philosophically superior to the western capitalist system. Fukuyama 's theory is immensely flawed to the point that its main arguments border on the incredible and the laughable. It is mentioned here however, in the relevant context that though there is no longer communism and that capitalism has won the battle for the hearts and minds of the people that lived in communist states, yet with its world wide domination, trade unions are active and respected in the capitalist world.
Not so in Guyana and many other post-colonial states. Guyana of course is always the exception among Caribbean countries when it comes to negative things. At this critical stage in the development of the state in Guyana , trade unions are at the crossroads.
Under Burnham's rule, trade unions were reduced to state organs. Those like NAACIE and GAWU were left to carry the fight. The relentless assault of industrial rights by Burnham led to the formation of FITUG with other entities like CCWU, UGWU and the bauxite organizations joining GAWU and FITUG.
It is convenient for the PPP leadership to forget, now that it is in power, that Lincoln Lewis was one of the most aggressive voices in FITUG. This is not what this writer read but what he knows from his involvement in FITUG. Strong support for FITUG and the role of trade unions was given by the PPP when it was in opposition.
Today in this country, those that saw the trade union movement as a priceless dimension in the struggle against the regime of Forbes Burnham have turned their back on that glorious epoch. Power is now in their laps and the trade union movement is seen as a hindrance and an enemy, just as in the Burnham days. It causes you to wonder what has changed in this country.
The trade union movement will not receive any recognition of its worth under a PPP Government for two reasons; one psychological, the other based on the nature of the economic system in Guyana . First, the ghost of the sixties lives inside Freedom House and in every PPP leader. The TUC was one of the planks the Americans used to destabilize the Cheddi Jagan Government. The story though is not as simple as that. Jagan's economics were far from realistic and his labour policies were far from being sensitive to the demands of the urban constituencies of British Guiana . Nevertheless the brutal fact is that for its own reason, the TUC in the sixties saw an ally in the Americans.
Given the paranoia that the PPP was born with during the Cold War and given its perceptions of the TUC, the PPP will not have a meaningful relationship with any trade union in this country, except GAWU. At the psychic level, the PPP leadership feels that the TUC is antithetical to the PPP.
Political observers sympathetic to the ruling party point to the Public Service Union's aggression, the uncompromising rhetoric of Lincoln Lewis and the presence of PNC leaders at TUC rally as the alienating factors. These are inconsequential frivolities. The PPP has a phobia about the trade union movement and will only relate to the TUC if its leadership comes from GAWU. No taming of the PSU or Lincoln Lewis will see a transformation.
This is one of the ghosts of the past that the PPP needs to exorcise from its psychological structure if Guyana is going to have social stability. Of course race complicates the situation.
The TUC and all the other trade unions in Guyana except GAWU and NAACIE are African-led (Seelo Baichan's small outfit is an exception). In a country where political power rests on racial insecurity, racial fear, racial patronage and racial protection, it will not be easy for the PPP to work with a TUC that it distrusts and a TUC that appears in the eyes of PPP leadership as coming from “the other side”
This explains the continued unofficial non-recognition of the existence of the TUC by the Government and also the exclusion of the TUC from any meaningful role in the amended Trade Union Recognition Bill.
Secondly, structural adjustment is anti-trade union. The subtle message in the IMF-imposed structural adjustment framework that informs the economic policies of this government is that trade unions will be a stumbling block to the smooth recovery process. One of the most amazing facts since the formation of the IMF since WWII, is that it cannot point to one single case where the IMF blueprint has worked and that a poor country, using IMF prescriptions has transformed its economy and has seen substantial growth that has allowed it to develop and leave poverty behind.
Yet since 1945, the IMF continues to sell its formula to the developing countries and the recipient nations have not moved out of impoverishment.
Singapore is a rich, post-colonial territory. The IMF played no role in its transformation. Trinidad has become wealthy not because it followed IMF guidelines but because it discovered oil. Why a country like Guyana remains happy to abide by the IMF edits is certainly a mystery that only Mr. Jagdeo and his colleagues can answer.
Finally, one hopes that the case of the dismissed six at Republic Bank acts as the catalyst for the unionization of employees at commercial and other business places. The trade union movement must reassert its importance to this country