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Throughout this nation’s history the advancement of workers/citizens’ welfare requires political support. We could go as far back as slavery and note the importance of the abolitionists, joining with the resistance of the enslaved, agitating in the British Parliament to end the slave trade and chattel slavery. There was similar political participation in Britain, alongside the indentured, that brought an end to indentureship.
When Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow, the Father of Trade Unionism in the British Empire, began organising workers he knew the advancement of the workers’ cause also relied on political support. This recognition informed the Caribbean trade union leaders of the early 1900s moving to establish internal self-government with the formation of the British Guiana and West Indian Federation. For workers to live and operate in any environment that is humanistic, national policies, laws and programmes are important.
The rights and freedoms some may today take for granted were fought for by workers and realised through the support of political force(s) and government. Politicians are the ones that make the laws, implement and execute policies and programmes consistent with, thereby creating the enabling environment for labour to thrive. Labour on its own cannot realise laws nor enforce them though we can respect and fight for enforcement. Ultimately, enforcement is the responsibility of the government.
The Labour Movement in response to this reality in the early 1900s, 1926 to be exact, initiated and led the charge for one man one vote in the effort to influence a political system that would value and respect workers. Labour believes the universal right to vote will place in the workers’ hands the authorisation to determine their political representative who will agitate at that level on the workers’ behalf.
Labour and politics share a symbiotic relationship. This is why there is agitation for workers to hold politicians accountable to manage the affairs of state in the workers’ interest having been given their vote. Whereas the interest of labour remains permanent, and labour recognises the interest of politicians is fluid, labour is not independent of political support to achieve for workers progressive legislation, enforcement of laws, and the realisation of good economic policies and programmes. Labour relies on this support to advance its cause in the corridors of power.
And whereas symbiotic relationships ought not to make labour impotent, labour is weakened when it stands alone. This is the situation independent labour has been encountering in the post Robert Corbin era as Leader of the Opposition. Where in the past labour could have relied on Corbin, Desmond Hoyte as President and Leader of the Opposition, likewise Forbes Burnham and Cheddie Jagan, with their passing or retirement the industrial landscape has turned for the worse.
The current battle by the trade union to be respected as a constitutional entity, and the workers the right to join a union of choice and engage in collective bargaining, is akin to pushing water up a hill. The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) knows this and is exploiting the environment in furtherance of its self-interest. Rather than seek to foster a peaceful and harmonious society they are gambling that there is greater political gain trampling on workers’ rights and violating the Rule of Law because they feel there isn’t an equal or greater force to challenge their egregious conduct.
In the past ten years, instead of David Granger seeking to reverse this trend, moreso when he was elected President, he took the decision to leave Labour in the cold. As Leader of the Opposition, he made Labour feel he cares about the workers’ welfare. But his first act as President was to shut down the Ministry of Labour which could have only been intended to marginalise or decapitate the Labour Movement. The second act was his refusal to sit across the table with Labour as a stakeholder. Repeated calls by the Guyana Trades Union Congress to reverse these decisions went unheeded for the five years of his leadership.
Sections of Labour are having to face the hard cold fact that it is the first time in history, from slavery to post independent Guyana, there is not a strong political ally agitating in the corridors of power on their behalf. Labour will have to examine this new dispensation and craft a strategy to reverse the present situation.