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From its birth this publication has made it clear that it stands on the side of the working class, not because we are class warriors. Rather we endeavor to be true to the tradition from which our country emerged. From the plantation through the colonial order to our independence project ours has been a history of struggle to liberate labour from the brutal clutches of bondage. We subscribe to the ideological position that wealth is created by labour. It was our own musical philosopher. Brother Bob Marley who put our position in perspective:
I’n’I build a cabin;
I’n’I plant the corn;
Didn’t my people before me
Slave for this country?
Now you look me with that scorn,
Then you eat up all my corn.
In that stanza of the song “Crazy Baldheads” Marley advocates for the primacy of labor, draws attention to the unpaid labor during enslavement and ends with the indictment of those who unscrupulously appropriate the wealth created by labor. It is the latter rebuke that concerns us today as we react to the government’s announcement of a seven percent salary increase for public servants. We unreservedly characterize the offer as coming from a government that has total scorn for public servants—the scorn that Marley alluded to.
The scorn begins with the very announcement of the scheme-and we insist it is nothing more than a political scheme. The practice of giving workers so called “increases” behind the backs of the unions has now become normative in Guyana. But it is a gross violation of the core principle of industrial relations. It should be noted that this government has rebuffed every attempt by the unions in question to negotiate a livable wage for their members—this from the government of a party steeped in working class principles.
Now to the so-called offer of a 7% increase. We ask, seven percent of what? Public servants have not had a salary increase since 2019. Prices have risen since then—only a few weeks ago we learned that food prices have risen by 14 percent. It means that the workers’ dollar is of lesser value today than it was two years ago. When taxes are added to the so-called 7 percent, the announced increase is actually a decrease.
Marley asks, didn’t my people before me slave for this country? It is well known that our history has left a legacy of an ethicized labor landscape whereby the bulk of public servants are of African descent and Indian Guyanese are dominant in the sugar industry. It should therefore not surprise the government that its policies towards the two sectors would come under close scrutiny. In that regard its announcement of a hefty package worth $1.7B for sugar workers ( $250,000 each) far outstrips the miniscule offer it now makes to public servants. How does this square with the government’s repeated denial that it practices institutional racism?
Guyanese have every reason to be scared of what lies in store for our country if the PPP continues to govern in divisive ways. Indeed, one of the supporters of the PPP’s rise to power, Christopher Ram, was moved to conclude that the PPP is not interested in good governance. The PPP has shown its hand very early in the era of oil and gas. At the end of the day, it is expected that the returns from this new sector, however small, would contribute to the socio-economic development of all groups and communities. Does the PPP share that perspective?
The Guyana Public Service Union has called on its members to take action in protest against this latest action by the PPP. In the circumstances, it is a just call. Is the PPP listening? Does it care? Time will tell. We end with another of Bob Marley’s profound exhortations:
Them belly full, but we hungry;
A hungry mob is a angry mob.
Rain a-fall, but the dutty tough;
Pot a boil but the food no nough.