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The current imposition of wages and salaries cannot and must not be seen as just a departure from what is expected of a government or an employer. It has to be seen in a wider context that the intent is to break up trade unions. It is clear in too many instances that both the government together with the employer do not want the trade union to exist. It is against that backdrop that action has to be taken and that action has to be taken within the realms of the constitutional and political reality that we face.
In 1926, long before we had mass based political parties in this country, the trades union movement of Guyana under the leadership of Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow developed a broad base agenda for Caribbean labour. Among a vast number of issues were: one man one vote; Guyana and West Indies Federation; 8-hour workday; 40-hour work week; universal health care; primary education for all, and prison reform.
The trade union has worked over the years on the issue of the acquired 8-hours work, 40-hour work week and we have been able to some extent to acquire for some period free education from nursery to university.
The PPP came into fruition in 1950 as the first mass based political party. At this time the trade union shared its agenda with the PPP without putting caveats in place to ensure a number of things were done. That party entered into government in 1953 in our nation’s first election of adult suffrage, that is, “one man, one vote”. A number of leaders were elected, among them were Cheddi Jagan and Forbes Burnham who both gained the most political prominence in this country.
While that government was short-lived, the PPP came back into power subsequently and we have seen from then to now a steady decline in the representation given at the political level by politicians who came into power through the sweat, blood and tears of the workers of this country.
It is instructive to note that elections continue to be premised on the response of labour. These are represented as organised members of the trade union movement and workers in general- past, present and potential. On each occasion quite recently, we have found that the basic tenets that guide the relationship between the trade union and employers are being subverted for the interest of the government.
The tripartite relationship adumbrated by the International Labour Organisation Convention protecting labour’s interest and role is under constant attack as the government moves towards exclusion of labour from its constitutionally protected engagement as a social partner as enshrined in Articles 38 and 149C of the Constitution of Guyana.
Labour notes with much concern the support and power being granted to the Private Sector, to the extent that several operatives in this sector are becoming, in many instances, disrespectful of the rights of our vital human capital. They employ the workers, want to speak on their behalf on all issues of labour, but will not respect workers right for collective bargaining and improved working conditions consistent with internal laws and conventions.
Government is supporting the hoodwinking of workers and doing everything in its power to expand this thinking that the employer best represents their interest and that Unions are not important, are a thing of the past, save and except those which they control to serve their own political interest.
Long gone are the days of a “working class PPP Party and Government” and in its place lies an anti-working class, repressive government in so far as workers’ freedoms and right to self-determination are concerned. These values at the core of our independence and colonial struggles are being eroded daily as the spirit of resistance is being stifled and power is in the hand of the new profiteering, unconscionable class that places money above man, effectively using workers but yet at the same time not wanting to respect workers’ rights to have and / or make demands for a living wage, better, conditions of work and better living standards.