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My letter published in the Stabroek News and Village Voice under the captions, ” Tepid response from unions on gov’t failure to make budget allocations for public sector wages” and “Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow would be appalled at the state of the country’s trade unions” respectively elicited a response from Mr Lincoln Lewis. It was not my intention to offend the ego of any union leader or the President of the Guyana Trade Union Congress (GTUC). My observations and criticism of the unions, GTUC and the workers’ muted response to the budget was done in the context of struggle and fraternal criticism to push the union leaderships to a combative response to the historical betrayal of the working class, working people, and the poor and powerless that the budget represents in the context of the spending of oil money.
I respect and defend the right of Mr. Lincoln Lewis or any Guyanese to respond to what I put in the public space, whether or not they agree or disagree with my position on issues. Mr. Lewis in his column, “Eye on Guyana” -Village Voice, (Sunday, Feb, 20th -28 edition) captioned, ” A response to Ogunseye – Critchlow, Jagan, Burnham and Rodney will be disappointed in the society today” expressed his annoyance with my position on the state of the unions and the GTUC.
Objectively, his missive can be reduced to the following: (1) Critchlow’s activism took place in the period of the anti-colonial struggle and the country was united against the colonial power, and he had the political support of Jagan and Burnham; (2) The society and political parties have lost their direction; (3) an attack on the WPA; (4) GTUC and Lincoln Lewis speaking out on article 13 of the constitution. I will give brief responses to each of the above.
There is no denying that the worker’s struggle and Critchlow got the support of Jagan and Burnham and there was the unity of the people against the colonial power. What was the reason for Lewis raising this obvious point? To my mind it was inserted to counter pose his and the union’s situation with that of Critchlow to justify the present weak state of unions and the GTUC. No two historical periods are the same, and even when there are similarities, the challenge of leadership is to find answers/responses that are appropriate to improve workers conditions. Or are we to give a cynical interpretation to Mr. Lewis point on the society and political parties? Putting at the feet of the parties the sole responsibility for the state of unions is a futile exercise. Our history has been a complementary struggle between unions and political parties. In that cooperation unions correctly fought for independence from parties and the right to represent workers on industrial relations matters. Is Lewis abandoning these hard-won gains of workers? Is he giving up workers right to self-organization and independent action as weapons in the pursuit of legitimate goals and aspirations? His point that society and political parties have lost their direction, while true, is his excuse for unions’ failure to make an appropriate response to budget injustices. This is “scapegoating” and not responsible leadership. A leadership that can’t be self-critical at this juncture of the nation is an unwanted entity in the struggle. Is he saying that nation’s conduct prevents unions/GTUC from mobilizing its membership in a demonstration/protest against the budget? If the situation is that bad, what about organizing a spirited letter writing campaign and union statements in offering a visible demonstration of concerns with the budget? An observer of the media since the passing of the budget is hard-pressed to find visible coordinated rejection by unions and the GTUC of the budget. Here I am talking about optics. It is not sensible for Lewis to seek cover the way he is doing – and the government which presented such an anti-working class budget must be laughing at the silence of the unions and the content of Lewis’s defensive response to my letter.
Now to his attack on the WPA. Anyone reading my letter will not fail to see that it was my personal opinion and not a WPA statement. Yet the experienced Lewis offers up his obsession with the WPA and instead of restricting his venomous remarks to me, he chose to lambaste the WPA. Interestingly, he even accused the party of responsibility for matters that he is aware we had no control over. In the context of the intent and spirit of my previous letter and conscious of the need to avoid Lewis’s entrapment in counterproductive polemics, I will not expand on this issue. I will only ask him if he believes that his unceremonious departure/ban from the pages of the Guyana Chronicle had anything to do with the WPA?
Readers will note that nowhere in my letter did I refer to Lewis by name or any trade union leader or the President of the GTUC. And that was not incidental. I tried to avoid personalizing my criticisms and restricting them to union leaderships and workers. Despite my efforts, the experienced Lincoln Lewis allowed his ego to get the better of him and inserted himself personally in the discourse. He wrote, ” For more than two decades, “yours truly and the GTUC were the only voices calling for meaning to be given to a new form of governance as enshrined in Article 13 of the Constitution of Guyana”. His claim of ownership of the struggle to give meaning to article 13 is erroneous. My concern was with his personalizing my criticism to suit narrow interests.
I conclude by making the following points: The GTUC President exercising his right to disagree with me is welcome. However, in the context of my intent to drive unions/GTUC into battle in defense of their paying membership, working people and the poor and powerless, and his beating up on the WPA is a demonstration of cowardness and was unwanted. And hiding behind MP Roysdale Forde’s presentation on the budget speaks volumes! Is the GTUC President relinquishing his and the GTUC’s responsibility to speak for workers? Given the trends in his response his call for talks with the WPA is not “serious”.