THE WORKERS WILL NOT BE FOOLED
One of the main trade unions in Guyana recently warned sugar workers to be careful about the wolves that come in sheep’s clothing claiming to represent their interest. The union was concerned about the possibility of political parties manipulating its members.
It need not worry. The workers in Guyana have always been much smarter than the politicians who try to use them for their support. The workers are very adept at gaining advantages by playing their own brand of politics through putting parties against each other for the advantage of the workers.
In the early 1970s there was an industrial dispute within the bauxite belt. Burnham was outraged that these workers dared to have struck against his government. He therefore procrastinated in sending a representative to meet with the workers. He was hoping to send a signal to workers that his government would not bend over easy to their demands.
The workers, however, did not lose any sleep over Burnham. Instead they played him off against Jagan by threatening that if Burnham did not meet with them that they would engage the then leader of the opposition, Dr. Cheddi Jagan.
The workers were playing their own brand of industrial politics and were prepared to use the political parties as pawns for their interests rather than becoming pawns in the political contest between the political parties.
In the run up to the 2011 elections, the Guyana Sugar Corporation decided to close the Diamond factory. However, it indicated that it wished to retain the workers at other estates.
The workers however had their own interests. They wanted to be paid their termination benefits and were determined to eat their cake and have it too. They wanted to keep open the option of working for the company but they also wanted their terminal benefits.
The sugar company was however opposed to termination. As such the workers made their play to the AFC. No sooner had the AFC met the workers than the government acceded to the demands of the workers. The workers received their terminal benefits and still had the option of working for the corporation. With election in the air the workers had effectively played the government off with the AFC.
Just days before elections, sugar workers in Berbice began a protest. The then President himself rushed up to the area. The workers however were not in the mood to give in easily and signaled that ‘boat gone a falls already’, meaning it was too late for the government to appease them; they had made up their minds.
The evidence does not suggest that the AFC gained significantly in electoral support amongst Diamond sugar workers, nor does it suggest that the sugar workers who took to protest action in Berbice, days before the elections voted overwhelmingly for the AFC. What they did do was to signal that they would not be taken for granted or be treated as political pawns.
GAWU, therefore, does not need to worry about the AFC penetrating its membership. The workers have their heads on; they understand when and why they are being courted.
Their reading of the present situation in the country will instruct them that the AFC cannot be entrusted with safeguarding their interests. The workers have their eyes open. They have seen what the AFC stands for. They have witnessed for themselves the assault that the combined opposition led by the AFC launched against the working class through their Budget cuts earlier this year.
They are therefore going to use the AFC to their advantage but they know that the AFC is not about the working class, it is an ALL FOR CAPITALISTS party that is prepared to accept the suffering of workers as collateral damage.
There was no reason for the AFC to have jeopardized the jobs of workers of the Ethnic Relations Commission. Even if there was a problem with the composition of the Commission, there was no need to place workers on the breadline by cutting the ERC Budget to $1.
By making these cuts, the combined opposition effectively took bread out of the mouths of workers. When asked about this, the AFC shamelessly expressed no remorse, saying that it was all part of the collateral damage.
Workers have a long memory. Sixty four years later they still recall what happened to the Enmore Martyrs. And one hundred years from now, they will recall the onslaught of the APNU/ AFC Budget cuts on workers in 2012. There was no need for these cuts.
One representative of APNU has said on public television that the ERC Budget was cut because it was being treated as a NGO in the estimates. Is this a credible reason for placing workers on the breadline? Is this reason for making workers collateral damage?
Why instead of cutting the budget of the ERC could the opposition, which is now so keen to move motions, not have passed a motion asking for the funds to be properly assigned? Why instead of voting down the subvention to the ERC could it not have been reclassified?
The workers are not going to be fooled. They know that the only reason why these things were not done was because the cuts were not rational but were about making a point and in the process using the workers as collateral.