Support Village Voice News With a Donation of Your Choice.
National poet Martin Carter, in his poem, ‘Death of a Comrade’ wrote:-
“Death must not find us thinking that we die
Now, from the mourning vanguard moving on
dear Comrade, I salute you and I say
Death will not find us thinking that we die.”
Today the working class bid earthly farewell to trade union stalwart, Andrew Garnett, a dear brother and friend.
Andrew and I met in 1980 when he was an upcoming cadre in the Guyana Local Government Officers Union (GLGOU). Andrew was elected to the presidency of the GLGOU in 1983 and shepherded the union in that position until his retirement. The union’s property at Woolford Ave, in Georgetown, both the land and construction were acquired and completed under his leadership.
Andrew was one of the local trade unionists who had the opportunity of being trained at the George Meany Centre for Labour Studies, in Maryland, United States of America. He used that training to support local trade union education and training.
While the GLGOU comparatively is not as large as the Teachers Union and Public Service Union, the leadership he delivered in his union’s quest for integration and solidarity along with his presentation of self as a trade unionist of substance and significance, was no less outstanding. It is not surprising therefore that he subsequently became president of the GTUC in 2003
Andrew entered the leadership of Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) as an elected Committee Member, then moved through the elected ranks as Assistant Secretary, Organising Secretary, Principal Assistant Secretary and President. He was the first person from GLGOU to become president of the GTUC. Andrew’s quest to become President of the GTUC followed that of a previous GLGOU President Ovid Orderson’s in 1970 who was defeated by Richard Ishmael from the Man Power Citizens Association (MPCA).
As a unionist Andrew had a great grasp of issues that impacted the wellbeing of health workers, and workers in both traditional and semi-autonomous agencies, which helped to pilot the movement through challenging times.
Andrew was generally a cool, calm, soft spoken, well cultured and caring person who exuded finesse and dignity. He cared about workers, and cared about his fellow Guyanese. He was a proud African brother and a Pan Africanist. I observed his kindness and thoughtfulness as he interacted with persons and organisations soliciting his assistance. Whenever there was an opportunity to help, even if it required him going into his pocket, Andrew never failed to contribute to a cause.
Andrew proudly participated in African functions as he believed these were important to his identity and the collective African presence. For him these were opportunities for nurturing and moulding generational knowledge and understanding of African history and contributions to national and global development. He was overall supportive of opportunities for mentoring, nurturing the talents and bolstering the confidence of the African man and woman to value themselves as equal to not lesser than any other group.
Andrew had deep concerns and was intolerant of the politics of hate and division. He viewed this as counterproductive to the unity of the working class, development of every Guyanese and the nation. There were instances where persons sought to entice him with lucrative offers, both for positions and finance, that could have undermined the values he embraced, whilst placing him in a position supportive of what he referred to as “anti-nationalism.” Needless to say, Andrew rejected these opportunities and continued to uphold his trade union principles and personal dignity.
Andrew made numerous contributions to the trade union movement in Guyana and the wider Caribbean. Particularly remembered was his leading role in developing policies and programmes on Occupational Safety and Health, and HIV/AIDS.
He worked with the Caribbean Congress of Labour and the Commonwealth Trade Union Congress in developing a Safety Manual for trade unions in the Caribbean.
He served as Founder Member and Chairman of the National Committee on Occupational Safety and Health. He was also a member of the Administrative Committee of the Caribbean Congress of Labour and was the trade union representative on the Guyana Local Government Commission.
Andrew also acted as a Town Clerk of the Georgetown City Council.
To those who didn’t know Andrew personally, beneath the serious facial expression he wore, there was a man who could unwind, have fun and laugh a lot. As young men we would party, and Andrew would dance all night. He loved dancing and was considered a great dancer.
Andrew was great at socialising and making those in his presence feel comfortable. For instance, while he was not a lover of dominoes, if he attended an event where the sport was being played, he would fit right in with the competitors and onlookers, urging both sides on, and enjoying the competition.
For many years, Andrew, Norris Witter and myself worked very closely and shared ideas as we discussed the role of labour in our evolving socio-economic and political circumstances and the challenges with governments and employers, across the spectrum. Whilst Andrew retired from the public service and trade union leadership, down to his last days he was a trade unionist at heart.
Once a trade unionist, always a Trade Unionist, as the principles of trade unionism run deep to those who are committed to the causes of the working class. There was never a doubt where Andrew’s loyalty and commitment was. Whenever we interacted, having dispensed with the pleasantries we engaged in passionate discussion about the workers’ plight and future. I will remember those days. I will miss those days even more, since he has departed our earthly reaches.
Andrew was a comrade, a friend, a brother and ally for justice and fair play in society. During his last period in the movement, he expressed concern about the future and the seeming unwillingness of persons to take a stand in defence of their rights. Andrew bemoaned the avalanche of assault towards the working class that has built this nation with great personal and economic sacrifices. In his memory, I sincerely hope complacency will not be the workers’ downfall, particularly in light of escalating abuses and violations by an uncaring government. This was one of his greatest concerns. It remains relevant.
And whilst his work on earth is done and the Lord has called him home, Andrew shall forever be in my memory, and that of the trade union movement, for he has left an indelible mark. a legacy worthy of upholding. The triad of Andrew Garnet, Norris Witter and Lincoln Lewis is physically broken but what we shared, what remains, runs deep in the spirits and will live on far beyond all of us as an inspiration to others.
As we celebrate Andrew’s life, he would want us all to remember the words of “Solidarity” from which I highlight one verse.
” In our hands is placed a power greater than their hoarded gold
Greater than the might of atoms, magnified a thousand-fold
We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old
For the union makes us strong”
Solidarity! Solidarity! Sleep in peace, my brother.