General Secretary of the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC), Lincoln Lewis, in delivering another candid address at this year’s May Day Rally held at the National Park on Monday, urged Government to re-establish the Labour Ministry and restore collective bargaining in its entirety.
Lewis said that ministry is important for shaping and executing labour policies that affect all Guyanese workers — past, present and potential.
The veteran trade unionist also called on President David Granger to restore collective bargaining in the public sector, and return the agency shop to public service unions.
“Our unified voices are today raised, calling for these changes to be manifest…Trust that these requests today will not be a challenge for the President, given his stated commitment…,” Lewis remarked.
Making reference to the outstanding matters between the Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BCGI) and the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union, the GTUC official urged the Government to take strident action to have both parties come to an amicable resolution.
“This is the longest running struggle where foreign force is being allowed to threaten the nation’s sovereignty when the laws so protect its citizens,” he lamented.
While acknowledging that the trade union movement does not exist in isolation but functions in an environment of politicians, Lewis said the movement must, at no time, be easily influenced by these individuals. He said, “We must, to a great extent, resist some of the negative influences that do not serve our best interest, and which seek to undermine the strength of the union and our ability to organize as a force for change.”
In demonstrating his resolve to continue speaking the truth, Lewis accused politicians from both sides of the divide of trying to advance the positions of labour only when they are in opposition; and then turn their backs on labour and go to great lengths in efforts to destroy the strength and organising capabilities of labour when in government.
“Those who find us as not relevant today are the same ones that would have found us relevant yesteryear; and the cycle continues as political seasons change,” he added.
Speaking on the issue of unity, the GTUC General Secretary said the trade union movement must be constant in its purpose, even as he urged union leaders to pursue unity regardless of who is in or out of power.
“We want unity when it comes to respecting our rights, the pursuit of good governance, the good of the trade union principles as against the good of the politicians; and we must remember the political good is not necessarily the trade union good,” he added.
Lewis urged workers to follow in the footsteps of those who have led the way for the establishment of trade union movements in Guyana, the Caribbean and around the world. He said unionists must not be timid in their commitment, but must stand up for their rights as Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow had done.
“History has proven (that) management/employer does not give you anything willingly, and this entails whether it is government or private sector; we have to fight for it,” he opined.
The trade union veteran also called on workers to remain constant in the recognition that theirs is a right to struggle, and to demand and ensure that all their achievements are safeguarded.
“We, the workers, must remain constant, regardless of who is in or out of power. We have to keep our voices united and resolutely on course. We have to keep our eyes on the prize. The politicians don’t grant us any favours. You elected them and they are entrusted with the responsibility to work for all, not only the elites at the top,” he ended.
Meanwhile, Coretta McDonald, who delivered her maiden speech as president of the GTUC, focused her address on the need for greater unity within the trade union movement; the need for labour unions to strengthen the base of that movement; and the need to continue to look out for workers’ interests.
McDonald said, “Too many times we push workers under the bus…and union business is no secret to members”. She also said she is “tired of the divide that politicians seek to create between us.”
Addressing the gathering on Monday also, president of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), Komal Chand, said conditions today call for the active engagement of workers in trade union activities.
Chand expressed concerns over the nation’s economic fortunes and the growing recognition that the economy is in a tailspin. He said official statistics indicate that nearly all of our productive sectors are seeing declining performances, and foreign exchange inflows are falling.
“In such situations, the working people and their families are the hardest hit victims. They experience, nowadays, increases often times steeped in the cost-of-living. There is the shuttering of businesses or the reduction of business activity, which have brought on retrenchments,” he remarked.
Addressing the state of the sugar industry, the GAWU leader said the challenges the industry faces are not insurmountable, and sugar’s success will redound to the benefit of the local economy. He deemed it heartening that officials of the Government have given assurances that the industry will not die, but he said the plans in place for the industry indicate the total opposite.
This May Day Rally and March was attended by several important figures, including former President, Donald Ramotar; former President and Prime Minister, Samuel Hinds; former Mayor of Georgetown, Hamilton Green; Opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira, Ministers of Government, and past and present trade union leaders among others.