It has become customary to have persons seek after cooperation and collaboration, and calling for the eschewing of confrontation when on the receiving side. This attitude has become a craft, honed to the level of apparent sophistry, which is often felt to be a convenient tool used to avoid being held to account.
The most recent call for collaboration and cooperation, not confrontation, occurred on May 1st when President David Granger visited the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU)’s Hall where he was met by the teachers, some of whom were vocal in their disappointment with his administration’s slothfulness in implementing recommendations made in a comprehensive Report from a Committee that comprised representatives from the Government and GTU. Some of the workers greeted the President with placards and chants of “pay the teachers now.”
To say that our teachers are overworked, underpaid and working under conditions that cry for improvement will not be an understatement. This notwithstanding, before we can examine whether the call for cooperation, in this instance, has justification, we must first examine what has led to the teachers seeing the need to confront the President on The Workers’ Day.
Teachers, like other workers, are conscious that on 1st May 2015, the APNU+AFC Coalition in its campaign to secure the seat of Government, and on Their Day, entered into a communiqué (i.e. pact) with the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC), of which the GTU is an affiliate. This pact included the Coalition’s commitment to respect workers’ rights and the law.
There was the clairvoyant commitment by Prime Ministerial candidate Moses Nagamootoo and Presidential candidate David Granger that a coalition government would respect workers and uphold the right to Collective Bargaining. With much enthusiasm, workers were told, ‘there will no more small piece, no more freck….collective bargaining will be restored and respected!’ Teachers were also told by Mr. Granger that they will be the highest paid public servants. Three years since, there remains salary imposition and the workers continue to catch hell.
One of the first things the Coalition Government did was to discard the Ministry of Labour. Since 1953, this Ministry gave recognition to the role and welfare of the workers in this society, and aided in shaping government’s policies, programmes and laws to such effect. This ominous act was followed by yearly imposition of wages/salary on public servants, along with continuous reduction of the bonus paid to workers of the Disciplined Services. Workers represented by the GTU have fared no less. These issues have created uneasiness among workers.
The sense that trust has been betrayed and the 1st May 2015 communiqué was a ploy to get into office are strong perceptions. By the coalition’s continuous act, rather than allay, it has increased the workers’ reservations, which inevitably will be met with confrontation.
The trade union is the institution that is named the most in the Guyana Constitution, yet workers continue to see efforts being made to marginalise their representatives’ voice, undermine their rights and freedoms, and duty to have a seat at decision-making table.
Confrontation has its place in society, more so when used as a mean to empower and develop as against destroy and deprive. Our history proves were it not for our forebears’ confrontational tactics and strategies, slavery, indentureship and colonialism would not have been abolished. Had we cooperated and collaborated with those who sought to deprive and deny us what is duly ours, we would have remained shackled or by now decimated.
Each and every generation faces its own challenges as man treks the journey for full attainment. Ipso facto, in this pursuit man will confront the other when such is deprived. President Granger is not unaware of the benefits of confrontation, for he is on record acknowledging the GTU and Government will work together to confront any challenges which may arise. Hence, there is concern with his call that “We have passed through the age of confrontation. We are now in the age of cooperation and collaboration.”
The trade union has valid reasons for confronting government and employer when their actions are not in concert with the desires of workers/citizens and society. As Opposition Leader, Mr. Granger shared such sentiments when he engaged in and led many confrontational acts against the PPP/C government in the National Assembly and on the streets, with the support of workers.
The trade union movement was birthed out of confrontation. Had the workers not confronted the merchant class and Crown they would not have come to the bargaining table to negotiate conditions of work and living. There would not have been benefits and rights such as the eight-hour work day, 40-hour work week, paid sick and vacation leave, public education and health care, voting, freedom of association, collective bargaining, protection from being discriminated against, etc.
Those who today sit in the seat of Government, the Executive and Opposition, are all beneficiaries of confrontational actions and processes that brought about the recognition for and the instituting of universal adult suffrage and internal self-government. Workers did not confront for this attainment to now be expected to cooperate and collaborate with acts that militate against their interest.
Thanks to public confrontation about the Cybercrime Bill – that has the obnoxious sedition clause – it has now been referred to Cabinet for further deliberation. In opposition, the coalition forces joined with masses to confront the PPP/C government’s excesses, disregard for citizens and the laws. They should likewise expect confrontation from the people, should they continue along the path rejected by the people.
It may be easier to decry confrontation when it’s directed at the source rather than seek to examine the merit for the action. At the same time, though collaboration and cooperation are essential elements in forging relations and building society, they are buttressed by acts of good governance.
Where there is disregard for the role, rights and function of individuals, groups and institutions, confrontation is inevitable. For the trade union it’s a primary weapon in our arsenal, with the right reserved – once we operate within the confines of universally acceptable standards and laws- to use it as deemed fit.
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