THE PIPER: Retooling Unions

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Speaking to the Guyana Trades Union (TUC) fourth Triennial Delegates Conference, President David Granger pointed out some home truths on changes in the modern workforce and strongly advised the trade union movement that  they have to change with the times to retain their relevance. He claimed, for instance:  “In Guyana, fewer than 20 per cent of the workforce is unionised”
piperAlluding to the modus operandi of the Trade Union after providing them with a historical account of the development of their movement, he told the gathering that the “hammer and sickle” are not the tools of the working class any longer. This was a rejection of the old demographics of “working class” and the techniques of their struggle. The modern workforce has a variegated skill-set that encourages individual rather than collective effort. “Technology is making jobs redundant, leading to job losses. Globalisation has led to jobless growth. When China sneezes, the bauxite and timber industries in Guyana catch a cold,” the President emphasized. He also noted that “the trade union movement became an instrument for mobilising the working class for social change.”
President David Granger
President David Granger

However,  President of the TUC, Leslie Gonsalves reminded the President and the small audience of less than a hundred persons, even though it was buttressed by several Cabinet Ministers, of the “political interventions” that have caused divisions in the trade union movement. Thus while President Granger is absolutely correct to identify the role of the trade union movement in engendering “social change”,  he should also have noted its role as the incubator of the political parties in the pre-independence era.

At that time, the necessary social changes – such as, say, improvement in the working and living conditions of sugar workers –  needed representation in the political power structure. Unfortunately, when that political power was secured with independence, the political parties turned the tables of the Trade Union movement and through several maneuvers, secured control of them.  And this is what Gonsalves was referring to.
When President Granger pointed to the dwindling trade union membership and linked that to its  reduced “credibility” he should also concede that much of that “reduced credibility” has been derived from the continuing pressures political parties exerted on them, including the one he leads, the PNC.
Many persons, for instance, believe that Carvil Duncan earned the ire of the administration because as leader of the Guyana Labour Union – a union historically linked with the PNC – he gave support to PPP policies and became head of the breakaway TUC faction that called itself, Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG). While in the beginning of the trade union movement, credibility was lost because some of them became “company unions” – like the MPCA and the Sugar Producers – today it is because most of them have become “political aligned Unions”. We could not agree more with Gonsalves on this issue of the need for trade unions to be totally independent from political parties.
While the President’s caution on the need for trade unions to build a “new model” to deal with “Technology” and “globalization”  heading to “jobless growth”,  the independence of the unions is a condition precedent to any hope of success of such a model. At this stage of Guyana’s development, and with oil revenues in the offing to provide funding for a wider array of industries, it is vital that trade unions retool themselves for representing workers’ interest in the coming dispensation.

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