With the way things are at this time sometimes laughter is the best way to forget the woes. Today is Labour Day and workers across Guyana and even further afield. They will sing ‘The International’ having marched through the streets decked in red and white.
In Guyana with its divided labour movement will continue the tradition of assembling as a unified movement, marching as a solid labour movement but branching off for independent rallies to be addressed by people whose political views would be as diverse the labour movements they address.
This year, the Labour Day rallies would not hear enough about which group has the workers’ interests at heart. Just a week earlier, parliamentarians were debating the budget. The government insisted that the budget was tailored to suit the needs of the workers; the opposition insisted that the budget was not worker-friendly.
In the end the opposition voted to lop some money from the budget. The government then made political hay of the situation by accusing the opposition of being anti-worker; and of creating a situation that would lead to the unemployment of some workers. There were the protests even before the cuts and after the budget cuts these protests were intensified.
Today, the nation would be regaled from the National Park about the anti-worker nature of the political opposition. The banners would be there proclaiming the anti-worker nature. Those attached to the state media would be out in force and they would shout and chant in support of the every statement that addresses the budget cuts directed at their institution.
At the other rally the converse would be the case. Speaker after speaker, all of them supporters of the political opposition, would make speeches justifying the budget cuts. Again there would be the chants of support for the cuts. The media would report on the rallies and the nation would be none the different because the society already has firm views on the situation—those views having been formed by political affiliation.
The representatives of the political opposition are going to make their political pitch about corruption and an uncaring government. Today will see charges and counter charges. In the end the workers would leave the rallies and assemble at the various union headquarters for the traditional after-rally parties.
There will be smiles and laughter at the end of rallies.
There was a time when there was one rally, one labour movement. Those were the days when the employer would prefer to deal without the union and enjoy paying any wage he feels was adequate. Those were the days when the workers recognized that in unity that is strength. Those days are long gone. The unions appear to have been emasculated and are increasingly becoming useless.
The lone exception these days seems to be the union in the sugar industry—the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union. Sugar is crucial to the economy and the sugar industry is hurting and has been ever since the European Union slashed the preferential price it paid.
To compound the situation the Skeldon Sugar factory which was intended to boost production to unprecedented levels is in fact operating in a manner that is seeing declining production. The result is that the workers can really hurt the industry that the government wants so much to succeed. No other industry holds such pride of place.
The public servants have been made to believe that they are better off relying on the government than on their unions. Some of them have seen their unions take legal action only to have those actions shelved or placed in some corner of the judicial system to be called years later.
Despite the various bargaining agreements the public servants know that any pay out they get would come from a government determination and they have been accepting this for years and are not likely to stop doing so now.
So, today would be a continuation of what has been happening for a very long time with pro-government workers and anti-government workers rather than mere workers striving to ensure that each other enjoys the best for their blood, sweat and even tears.
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