May Day march shows Guyanese are now willing to engage in mass demonstrations in the streets

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Dear Editor,

On Sunday, May 1st the Guyana Trade Union Congress’s (GTUC) annual May/Labor Day march/ parade returned to the streets after two years of absence due to the Covid-19 pandemic and other restrictions.

In excellent weather, hundreds of the nation’s workers took to the streets with their banners and placards expressing their demands, including their social/political concerns. It was a welcome return to formal May Day activities, a demonstration of workers’ solidarity, despite the persisting divisions in the movement. The presence of workers and their union’s leadership on the streets augurs well for workers’ collective psychology and future struggles.

The May Day 2022 march and rally will take a “special” place in the country’s history due to the global pandemic and the government’s expenditure of $552.9 billion from oil revenues without any allocations for increases in workers’ wages and salaries. This recognition and concern are reflected in the theme, “Covid-19 Politics and the Working Class”.


I arrived at the Independence Park early (6.45 am) there were less than ten workers present. I make this point to enforce that what I write here is first-hand information. My participation ended when the rally at the Critchlow Labor College was over. I had a political interest in the Labor Day activity and to use it as a thermometer to test/measure the worker’s attitude to public mass demonstrations after the lifting of the Covid restrictions and the apparently receding pandemic. The march was the first major social/political event since the elections and the pandemic. It was a good litmus test: since it was self-mobilizing: with a history of its own. And support with sufficient resources, human, organizational and financial to be a success. In light of the above, its failure could only rest on two possible factors: workers’ alienation and reluctance to come in the streets given the covid experience. For me, it represented a “good” indicator that the Guyanese masses have gotten over the fears of the Covid pandemic and are now willing to engage in mass demonstrations in the streets. If my assessment is correct, we have or are returning to politics supported by mass mobilization. I am certain that the rulers did not miss the significance of this development.

I paid close attention to the Unions that assembled at Independence Park. Notably absent were the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) and the Guyana Agriculture and General Workers Union (GAWU). The Guyana Teachers Union, to their credit, had the largest contingent. Given their militancy in recent years, I chose to walk with them in recognition and support. Generally, workers’ spirits were high, and they demonstrated energy and a sense of purpose. As the march entered residential communities, people were out to support the workers. They were not disappointed since workers were vibrant as in previous years. A keen observer of the annual event is accustomed to seeing the Red Thread contingent with their banners, placards and handbills in support of the workers as they pass Cummings and Regent streets. Not so this year! The organization probably is not convinced that covid 19. has receded enough to justify the return to the streets.

While the parade/march was a success and a demonstration of a degree of unity, the same could not be said of the rally. As the march approached the Critchlow Labor College, it became apparent that the worker’s unity had ended. Some unions went in different directions.Some entered the college compound for the GTUC ‘s rally. Even the militant teacher’s union was fractured, with the majority heading to their union hall. Mr. Norris Witter, President of the General Workers Union (GWU) and Chairman of the rally frontally addressed the division. He expressed disgust and anger in stating, “After that majestic walk and having assembled here, some of our comrades choose to leave for whatever reason. We cannot win a struggle that way……” He continued, “If you are not prepared to struggle and to make sacrifice, get out of the business, get out of the business. Yes! I am annoyed and I have every right to be annoyed.”

During the rally, I was shown a press release, on a friend’s phone. It stated that President Irfaan Ali invited union leaders to an early morning breakfast and among the attendees was Patrick Yarde, President of the GPSU. While reading, I reflected on the theme of the May Day activities, particularly the part ” politics and the working class”. I pondered on the GPSU’s failure to participate in the march. Since these are worker’s matters, I refrain from offering my opinion on the GPSU actions, leaving that to the workers and their leadership.

All was not lost since the rally achieved most of its objectives. The GTUC leadership, the Leader of the Opposition and an invited speaker addressed the workers, offering their support and putting it into the “historic” record. Since what was said by speakers has been covered in the media, both print and electronic, there is no need here for details: except to state that the TUC and workers got the unquestionable support of the Opposition Leader Mr.Aubrey Norton in their struggle for their rights, inclusive of collective bargaining and social and material benefits.

I end by pointing readers to Mr. Lincoln Lewis’s lamentation a few days before the rally on Dr David Hinds’s Politics 101: that the labor movement doesn’t have a reliable political ally. Norton’s commitment to the workers in his first address as PNCR Leader and Chairman of the APNU. Head of APNU +AFC coalitions and Leader of the Opposition should give Mr. Lewis comfort and contribute to the TUC’s battle readiness in the future. All was not lost. I salute the workers.

Yours sincerely,
Tacuma Ogunseye

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