Jul 25, 2010 News
“I am prepared to give my life in pursuance of rights for the proletariat.”
By Michael Benjamin
He measures more than six feet tall and walks with a purposeful gait. He appears to be a most unassuming fellow yet one senses a fiery purpose in his demeanour, one that comes alive when his opinion on trade unionism is solicited. This is an issue` so close to his breast that he can spend hours discussing the intricacies of the topic. He professes to love his country and is prepared to lay down his life in his mission to secure a fair cut of the national pie for every Guyanese. He is Lincoln Lewis, trade unionist extraordinaire.
Born under the zodiac sign Virgo, Lewis became an active trade unionist some thirty years ago. He needed no prompting from his peers; it was a vocation that blended with his disposition. He felt as though he was married to trade unionism from the very onset of his adolescence years.
“I was inspired by that inner conviction that persons occupying public office inexplicably developed a belief that they have the support of establishment to use the authority vested upon them to exploit and transgress the rights of other individuals,” he extrapolated.
He has notched up more than thirty years of advocacy for, and representation of, the less privileged but what are the indications that his life’s work has been impacting?
“I am confident that at this juncture of my career I have been able to very clearly crystallize my mission and bring to the attention of the citizens of this country the abuse that has been committed on them by the chief public servant, which for some reason has gone unnoticed and unchallenged over the years,” Lewis affirms.
As one listens to Lincoln Lewis speak, you get the impression that you are interacting with an accomplished demagogue. The avid Trade Unionist even admits that he holds a secret admiration for two activists that were so tarred. They are renowned civil rights activist, the late Martin Luther King and his firebrand opposite, Malcolm X.
“Yes! I may be juxtaposed with these two great men because the fundamental element of what I struggled for is the upholding of rights and the rule of law which to my mind are fundamental tenets of any civilized and democratic society and were those of the two American leaders under scrutiny,” he adumbrates.
Notwithstanding his firm stance, Lewis views himself, not as a political activist but as a fair-minded individual whose involvement in trade unionism places him in a unique position to represent the proletariat in the preservation of their rights.
“The Trade Union Movement has a responsibility to influence and regulate social, economic and political life in society,” he believes.
But doesn’t this view necessitate the adoption of a stance that could be interpreted as political in nature?
He admits that the interpretation has some soundness but he does not regard his role as that of a politician. “We need to draw the line between a trade unionist and a political activist,” he implores. He describes his role as a trade unionist as one bent on creating an environment where the rights of workers are respected.
“Which places you on a collision path with the politicians,” I suggested. This statement seemed to have touched him to the core.
“Listen to me, Mike, when the Labour Movement was registered, Guyana’s two most renowned politicians were mere babes in the cradle. As a matter of fact, Cheddi (Jagan) was in diapers and (Forbes) Burnham was not yet born,” he says.
Lewis uses this fact as rationale to segregate Trade Unionism from political advocacy.
“The Trade Union Movement preceded the political movement in Guyana,” he says. Then he draws a distinct line between the two levels of activity. “Trade Unionism is a class movement that influences political, economic and social life in society and while the same could be said of politics, it is the checks and balances that trade union advocates provide that distinguishes the former from the latter.’
It was the late leader, Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham who advocated that the ‘small man is the real man.’ Since then, many persons have redefined the statement and substituted the word ‘smart’ for ‘small.’ Lewis subscribes to the remodeled version of Burnham’s statement that the ‘smart man is the real man.’
“No trade unionist worth his salt can remain silent while the small man is being trampled upon,” he says. Over the many years of activism, the astute Trade Unionist said that he has observed the devious and unscrupulous disposition of some employers who exploited their workers. The mere thought of this raises his ire and he experiences an inner rage.
“These employers cream off the organization while depriving the common workers of their fundamental rights.” While such occurrences are bad in principle, it is the concomitant results that anger him.
“When these big bosses are finished plundering the organization, it compromises the firm’s existence and that very firm naturally develops financial woes. When this happens, the common workers suffer the most and are often unceremoniously displaced and placed on the breadline,” he said
Incidents of this nature ignite a raging fire in Lewis’s breast and keep him focused in the fight for workers’ rights. But are there noticeable results from his method of advocacy? Are the workers better off because of it?
“I believe so!” he says. He recounted one such instance in 1992 when he tabled a redundancy proposal on behalf of the workers and submitted the document to the administrators of the bauxite industry. He labeled this as a hallmark achievement since it regulated the policy for workers whose jobs were made redundant, forcing their dismissal without the requisite benefits. “I clinched an agreement where the affected workers received six weeks pay for each year of service – a feat that some Unions are still struggling to achieve.” Lewis said he derived much satisfaction from his input into this deal, especially since the agreement preceded those currently enshrined in law.
The line between trade union activism and politics is so thin, it is almost non-existent. This fact became even more apparent when Lewis, in his bid to create favourable changes for workers, staged a picket in front of the office of the Commissioner of Police and other strategic points around Georgetown. He was joined by two other activists and his core purpose for staging the demonstration was, as he put it, ‘protect the rights of the citizens.’
“Picketing and street marches are aged old ploys used by Trade Unionists and social activists worldwide to highlight the many ills within a society with an aim of seeking redress,” Lewis posits.
Unfortunately, his mode of advocacy was frowned upon by the hierarchy of the Guyana Police Force, the related result landing him in the lockups for a night.
“I am prepared to give my life in pursuance of rights for the proletariat,” Lewis emphatically advocates. His unorthodox mode of advocacy saw him walking into a dirty trench as the law enforcement officers attempted to place him in custody. He was totally oblivious to the risks to his health and well being. One wonders if it was worth the effort to place his health at risk and his freedom on the line.
“I received many calls where friends and supporters quietly commended my actions but they were afraid to overtly come out in support. Of course you know why,” he said. “You see, the issue was not to dirty my skin but to enforce my belief that I have rights in my country of birth and I refuse to have those rights trampled upon,” he concluded.
Where does such advocacy place Lincoln Lewis?
“This is my mission in life; my contribution to peace and stability in my beloved country,” he insists. The fiery Trade Unionist is, as indicated earlier, inspired by the work of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, two social advocates who fought one battle but with different applications. “I am energized by the work of these two great leaders. “We witness two contrasting applications to one cause, Lewis pointed out.
Which one of these applications most inspires you?” I asked.
He pondered deeply then cagily responded, “I’m not pragmatic; I’m driven by principles that are grounded in history.”
Therein lies the distinction between political activism and trade union advocacy. Therein also lies the difference between a common man and someone of special qualities. Lincoln Lewis admirably fits the bill of the latter.
Only 20% of apprentices remain after contract ends
Only 20% of apprentices remain after contract ends
Major challenge facing GuySuCo…
Despite spending millions of dollars to train apprentices for the industry every year, the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) is facing a huge challenge with only 20% of them remaining after their contract time would have ended.
Additionally, another problem is that curriculum is not doing enough to cater for the new technologies being used in the sugar industries.
This is all facing changes now, GuySuCo officials said Friday, as 43 new apprentices graduated at the Port Mourant Training Centre after a four-year programme.
Graduating at the top of the class was Ruel Jagroop who gained distinctions and a credit in Electronics and Instrument Repair Mechanics. Also awarded were Mike David, Best Performance in Fitting and Machining; Daniel Persaud, Electrical and Instruments; Biram Seeram, Agricultural Mechanic and Auto and Subaschand Mohabir in, Instrument Repair Mechanics.
Among the officials attending the 49th graduation ceremony at the Centre were Minister of Agriculture, Robert Persaud and GuySuCo’s Chief Executive Officer, Paul Bhim.
According to Persaud, in a government release, for this batch to be the ‘torch bearers of change’, they must view their future with optimism, as it is a necessity in the sugar industry at this time.
Despite the current challenges being faced, there have been many positive steps made that all within the industry can be proud of.
The Minister described the current sugar situation in Guyana as “exciting times”, and urged the graduates not to look upon them with trepidation, but with confidence.
However, he warned that while the areas in which the apprentices excelled are necessary to the viability of the industry, an adjustment to the current academic curriculum was needed to lift industry standards.
This was also echoed by the newly appointed Bhim who believes that the only way in which the corporation can truly compete is to automate, mechanise and to raise the profile of its apprentices to deal appropriately with technological advancements.
According to Bhim, the introduction of training in computer aided design software (AUTOCAD) technology is a step in the right direction.
A challenge, Bhim noted, is the inability of the company to keep the apprentices in its employ after the period of industrial attachment would have been completed. Currently, less than 20% of apprentices remain in GuySuCo’s employ.
Notwithstanding, Bhim said, the more than $100M annual budget, should more than demonstrate GuySuCo’s unstinted support and investment in its current and future employees.
Newly appointed manager of the training facility, Lall Persaud – himself a GuySuCo training school apprentice and instructor – also signaled intentions to implement major upgrades to the curriculum.
Already, there are plans to upgrade the workshop and classroom facilities; there is a new computer lab with computers donated by the Norris Brothers; there will be the introduction of electronic libraries, and training for instructors on new aspects of the curriculum.
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