Renewal of the Trade Union Movement

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Today is Labor Day—the day when workers of the world observe the centrality of labor in the productive process and by extension the Labor Movement. It is an entrenched tradition that has survived the rapid global changes in recent times. From Colonialism to Independence to Globalization, the observance of Labor Day has survived. For us in Guyana, this is especially true. As a post-colonial society, the primacy of labor continues to hold sway as an ideological outlook despite the genuflection of the leaders at the altar of Capital.

It is that duel between the two schools of economic thought that must be resolved in our contemporary Guyana. Is labor still indispensable to the production of wealth or is capital the primary generator? In Guyana as we herald the new Oil and Gas Economy, our government is busy rewarding capital while it continues to sideline labor. Indeed, it is a colossal failure of our Independence that successive governments have resisted calls to guarantee workers a living wage. It must be very frustrating for labor unions and workers to watch as three successive budgets by the current government fail to center labor.
Further, the current government continues the practice of stifling collective bargaining. They prefer to unilaterally impose meager wage increases on workers. This is a blatant disrespect for unions and workers. When one takes into consideration the seminal role played by trade unions in the independence movement, this disrespect is painful. It is direct act of weakening the labor movement; thus, weakening the resolve of workers to made just demands for better wages and working conditions.

In light of the above, this publication urges workers to use this Labor Day to launch a renewal of the Trade Union movement. Such a renewal must begin with an updating of the role of the trade union. This role cannot be confined to the traditional fight for better wages. There must be broadening of the meaning of collective bargaining to include the total welfare of workers. At a time when Guyana is poised to receive an unprecedented increase in revenues from Oil and Gas, trade unions must demand policies aimed at eliminating the scourge of poverty. Eliminating poverty is central to freeing workers from debt and destitution.

Trade Unions should also wage a fierce battle for polices aimed at blunting the growing reliance on private capital as the engine of development. There must be a bigger investment in labor in this regard. The optimum political economy is the one that balances investment in labor and promotion of in the private sector. The fact is that there is an accumulated debt to labor that must be settled. In a country blessed with lots of land, it is not out of place for government to consider allotting house lots to public servants with long service.
Finally, trade unions must put an end to government practice of ignoring collective bargaining. This can only be done through direct action by workers. But workers would not heed the call to action if they do not have confidence in their unions to stand up to the powers that be. In this regard, the unions must regain their fighting spirit of old. Protest has always been central to trade unionism. In short, the unions must find their voices again. They must stop begging and demand their due. And they must do so as a collective rather than as individual unions. Only then would the old battle cry of Labor ring true again-The union makes us strong.

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