Labour’s lost love

first_imgContrary to the fears of some, the two factions of the labour movement, the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) and the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG) which marched in unison like a Red Sea on the way to the National Park on Labour Day, were not parted as in the past, before they reached their destination. And ironically it might have been because Moses Nagamootoo, acting as President of the Republic, was there to personify his APNU/AFC coalition government and face the uniformly trenchant criticisms of the labour movement.As we noted in our editorial of yesterday, “Workers of Guyana, unite”, the trade union movement in this country, which gave birth to the political movement, was gradually transformed into mobilisation vehicles for the latter during the struggle for independence. Their subsequent tactics, ostensibly to represent the interests of the workers were instead subsumed within a framework of lending legitimacy to the two major political forces in the country – the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and the People’s National Congress (PNC).With these two parties competing for national power, the trade union movement inevitably became bifurcated throughout the last 50 years, even when they were covered by one umbrella body, the Trade Union Congress. This unfolded in a shifting and fluid manner, based on leadership preferences as well as principled stances regarding workers’ rights. Thus in the 1960’s, the Public Service Unions supported the actions of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to remove the PPP from office and install the PNC, but by the 1980’s opposed the latter Government when it trampled on workers’ rights. Similarly, Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU) supported the PPP in the 1960’s but took contra stands on several issues during the first decade of the new millennium.In this year of “Jubilee” independence celebrations, the united march was therefore a very positive beginning to the necessary process of soul searching the trade union movement needs to undertake as it seeks to advance workers’ interests in a world that has changed radically since independence. Internally it is hoped the trade union movement recognises its support for any Government of the day cannot be reflexive. If for no other reason than those governments’ position on issues affecting workers are inevitably shaped by a wider concatenation of forces and interests. We see this unfolding in the sugar industry through the Government’s obdurate decision closure of Wales Estates to privatise it even though 1700 workers will be adversely affected. The unionists’ speeches showed cognition of “labour’s lost unrequited love” for politicians.The international environment has also been radically altered. At independence, the labour movement’s world was fractured down the line between those that supported the ideologies of the US or of the USSR in their Cold War. By the time the Berlin Wall came tumbling down in 1989 – representing the defeat of the USSR’s communist ideology – the “left” orientation of most unions in the developed world had been broken by the neo-liberal victory epitomised by Reagan in the US and Thatcher in the UK.In Guyana, the labour movement has to have a clearer conception of its role in representing labour in the present liberalised global economy. In a world without borders for global finance, no labour movement in any particular country can act in a vacuum. While, for instance, we may want our bauxite or sugar workers to have their salaries increased, trade unions have to be aware of the reality of the situation in the global markets for their products and adjust their demands based on that reality. Management of corporations, on the other hand, must follow the German example and have union representatives on their boards, so that the workers can have access to their real financial positions.In a nutshell, the old reflexively antagonistic stance of the unions to management must give way to one of “bargaining” with them so that the companies becomes more profitable and workers obtain their fair share of those profits.last_img read more

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