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— there must be push back
Today is an important date on the world’s calendar. On this date, in 1838, Africans in the British Empire were emancipated from chattel slavery. It is incumbent to examine the African condition with regards to where the group stands today. Every person brings to this conversation his/her own experiences. My experiences as a trade unionist are guided by the tools that are used internationally in determining what is just, fair and right.
Whereas Africans are today in a better position than they were in 1838, they are not in the position of empowerment that they ought to be 183 years after Emancipation. In 2021 the state of the African economy has eroded and efforts at economic self-determination are being stymied. There is a studied move not only to trample the right to collective bargaining in workplaces where African labour is in the main, but the Ali/Jagdeo regime is glaring in its discriminatory practices, openly flaunting the protection of said right where East Indians dominate in a workplace or workers are represented by trade unions, they consider friendly or politically aligned.
There remains the 11-year dispute between the Bauxite Company Guyana Inc (BCGI) and the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers (GB&GWU), where all it requires is the enforcement of the Labour Law by the Ministry of Labour in declaring deadlock, and establish arbitration proceedings to bring about a decision binding on both parties. There is also refusal to negotiate wages/salaries and working conditions with the teachers and public service unions. Failure to respect collective bargaining constitutes an attack on the right to economic self-determination because collective bargaining is the process that determines the price one will sell their labour for and the conditions under which they will work.
The regime has also turned their attention to the cooperatives which has its genesis in building the post-slavery economy of the African community. From this economic philosophy plantations along the coast were purchased and converted to villages, which saw the establishment of the Village Movement and local government. In recognition of this important plank in our economy and the role it played in the nation’s historical development, this country is named the Cooperative Republic of Guyana.
Under the cooperative principle, institutions that were established such as the Guyana Agricultural and Industrial Bank (GAIBANK) and Guyana National Cooperative Bank (GNCB) were destroyed by the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C). These were destroyed not merely because they failed to deliver on the philosophy upon which they were founded, but because the policymakers never cared about the consequences that will befall those who stand to benefit from them, i.e., the African community and working class.
The cooperative society, collectively, has within its coffers more than three billion dollars in the commercial banks. As the major economic pillar of African empowerment when opportunities at the commercial banks are not readily available, this is the only avenue for borrowing left. This regime has a responsibility to work with these societies to ensure functionality and accountability, not issue threats or find excuses to “terminate” them.
This nation bears evidence of the PPP/C putting systems in place for their friends and cronies to confiscate African ancestral lands and undermine the cooperative movement. My family, the descendants of former slave Cudjoe McPherson, has had to ward off efforts at grabbing the Kingelly, West Coast Berbice lands he bought in 1851 at the instigation of one of their leading figures, immediately after they entered office last August. Reportedly other efforts are being made to possess lands that belong to those whose ancestors purchased them in the Village Movement era but did not leave a written will.
In the old African culture land was considered belonging to all, and expected to be shared among descendants, thus a written will was unnecessary. The Dutch land laws that Guyana follows say otherwise. We whose ancestors have not left a written will must seek to occupy and take possession of these lands under the laws lest we lose them and become further dispossessed.
The PPP is very deliberate in their targeting of Africans and their economy. African Guyanese have been disproportionately targeted for termination in the public sector and their reputation assaulted without evidence. Workers have been harassed by the police and their fundamental rights denied. Businessmen are being targeted, denied government contracts, or forced to cede lands they legitimately acquired.
Africans’ right to economic self-determination is under attack. There is a move to deprive in the hope that Africans would grovel and live on their knees. In many ways these attacks mirror those of the plantation owners to keep freed Africans on the plantation or economically dispossessed by flooding their villages and farmlands. It is happening in 2021, albeit in different forms. There must be push back.