Labour has been left in the backstreet
May 1, 2007
One of the sad things about the history of Guyana is the manner in which the urban working class responded to the late Dr. Cheddi Jagan, especially after 1992 when the PPP returned to political power. The coldness of organized labour, particularly in Georgetown , towards Cheddi Jagan, forced the PPP to come up with the excuse that they were handing back May Day to the workers.
They were not doing anything like that. They were avoiding situations of constant heckling, ridicule and disrespect that had come to characterize much of their encounters at May Day rallies in the city.
That small schism has however been overrun by a much larger rift, one that is ideological in nature, between the government and the labour movement, a situation not made any better by divisions with the movement itself.
Today I hope that the labour movement in Guyana (whatever is left of it) understand that they can longer with any degree of confidence and assuredness say that we have mass-based political parties wedded to the working class.
The propertied class - I prefer to refer to them as the bourgeoisie class rather than the capitalist class - has co-opted the ruling class of Guyana and the working class ideology of socialism is not being practiced or emphasized any longer.
The labour movement must wake up to the reality that almost all of the political parties are now embracing open societies and free market economies. There is not likely to be in the long-term in Guyana any talk about the dictatorship of the proletariat. Guyana is therefore not likely to turn back or even turn towards a political and economic system that emphasizes such things as workers' ownership of the means of production and workers' participation in management.
There are two reasons for this shift in ideology. The first has to do with the failed experiment known as cooperative socialism in Guyana . It not only failed; it destroyed this country and left us so indebted that under the present arrangements we have in place for debt relief we have pawned our future towards policies that are free-market in orientation. Even if a government comes up that is to all extent and purposes leftist in orientation, there is little that it can do. To reverse the existing policies that are in place will be in breach of our long-term obligations under debt relief terms and Guyana will experience financial problems again from which it will not be able to extricate itself.
The second reason for this ideological shift is because the bourgeoisie class has effectively penetrated both of the main political parties. This class was able to ingratiate itself within the PNCR prior to 1992 and later to institutionalize itself into that party.
In the case of the PPP, the party structure has remained impervious to such penetration but the leadership of the government has been wooed by the bourgeoisie class which has managed to preserve its interests by befriending key personalities within the government.
The first reality that the trade union movement must therefore accept is the permanence, at least for the next forty years, of a free-market economy in Guyana . Since Guyana is a poor country, one of the features that will flow from the neo-liberal model of development is obviously that things will get better for the employed working class but far much better for the bourgeoisie class.
The one major change that made a difference to the lives of Guyanese over the past fifteen years in Guyana has been the change in the political economy. Had we not moved towards an open economy, workers would have been worse off today
Not that the Peeper is saying that things are rosy; they are not, but certainly they are better than they would have been had cooperative socialism been around.
The problem that labour faces therefore is not so much the marginalization of the working class as it is the inherent flaw of free-market systems, inequality.
While the poor grow less poor as all ships are buoyed by the tidal flood of growth, the rich get richer under this swell caused by an open economy and liberalization. This is an established fact in almost every capitalist society.
The second reality that labour faces at this juncture of our history is simply that the laws which they have to contend with, including the common law concerning labour, are biased towards the bourgeoisie class.
The Peeper did not feel inclined to comment on the protests that the Trade Union Congress and the Guyana Human Rights Association have launched against the Republic Bank. I have not because I think that both of these bodies need to wake up and realize that the labour laws that we have in place, and the common law principles on matters of employment, dismissals and termination of employment, side with the bourgeoisie class.
This much advice I will give to the labour movement on May Day. You can protest all you want in front of Republic Bank. It is not going to make a difference in the bank's position because the bank knows that if there was an option of judicial redress to force reinstatement it would have already been pursued. The labour movement can walk its feet off in front of the offices of Republic Bank, it is not going to move the Bank to take back those dismissed.
The second reality that the labour movement must therefore face is that it has to reeducate the working class about this new dispensation, one in which security of tenure is tenuous, especially within the private sector; where the days are over when you joined a job and developed an expectation of obtaining a pension at the end of your working days. Those days are gone, gone forever, at least until history restarts and the capitalism is no more the dominant global system.
Today, labour is no longer at the cross roads. It has been left standing in the backstreets, left behind by the realities of a new world, one that if its wishes to survive it will have to work with rather than work against.