The teachers’ just demand to have their rights be addressed through the process of Collective Bargaining has attracted various responses. Most notable is President David Granger’s. What the Head of State and Government says is of significance to the country, its people and the world, for given the office, he sets the tone how we are seen, how we ought to treat with each other, and how the world views us and treats with us.
What struck me, not for the first time, is the President’s pronouncement of not wanting “confrontation” from the trade unions, proposing as he did last Labour Day-1st May- in his walkabout to the trade union centres, that this is not the path the trade union must continue to pursue. This is an alarming signal being sent to workers, for it carries implications in building on Labour’s history and achievements, and workers’ response to issues that adversely affect us.
It is not lost on me in expressing the aforesaid further ostracisation will be experienced from those who benefited from the trade union’s militancy for good governance and history of confrontation. Further, the now bandied propaganda that I was silent or asleep during successive PPP/C governments, but now find voice, shall not deter my right as a citizen, role and responsibility as a trade unionist in the fight for the creating of a just society.
In this politically ultrasensitive and immature environment, any view that differs from the status quo is seen as anti-government and taken personal. Such thinking breeds intolerance to the fundamental that the pursuit and maintenance of good governance is respecting the right to freely express, including critique and alternative views. Where intolerance exists problems escalate.
In civilian-led societies confrontation is a natural and acceptable occurrence to secure and safeguard rights and freedoms, as it helps to draw attention to grievances. Bringing about or ensuring justice requires confrontation. Ours is a society where every achievement in the pursuit of humanity, respect, has been marked by confrontation. It’s a feature we should be proud of, celebrate and embrace, where and when necessary. Were our ancestors engaging in avoidance, we would have still be shackled and on the plantations, brutalised, deprived and violated.
The benefit we enjoy in the right to vote, elect representatives and government of choice, came through confrontation by the trade union movement that is being told today not to confront. People died for the vote, gave their lives for the vote to bring about respect, including through the representation of those who walk in the corridors of power. Yet some feel they are better than those who elected them or feel no obligation to dutifully serve them.
As beneficiary of workers’ confrontation, and given the history of its application, when workers today pursue similar tactic they are not being irresponsible nor are they mad. Workers are demanding the employer treat them with respect consistent with the Guyana Constitution, Laws, international and time-honoured principles. Where civility cannot accept this, the inevitable route to secure it is through confrontation.
In fact, Article 147 ( i.e. right to collective bargaining, freedom of association, and strike) guarantees protection should workers face any employer perceived to be uncaring and/or brutish. Workers across the country – be they teachers, public servants, bauxite, sugar, etc.- know this.
It is the height of irresponsibility when any individual or group feels threatened or is demanding respect to be complicit or compliant to the process of their exclusion, deprivation and disrespect. Nothing was given to workers without a fight. Every benefit enjoyed today came through struggles and sacrifices, because these represent the natural course of action in securing respect and being accepted as equal and participating members of society.
Some historical experiences are being reiterated lest we forget, grow complacent, or become intolerant for others who see the need to confront to address their grievances. From 1997 to 1998 workers/citizens, led by Desmond Hoyte, marched through the streets of this country, confronting the PPP/C administration that was first elected to office (1992) on the promise that it was “Time for a Change” and there will be no recrimination or discrimination.
In the presence of mounting government overreach and the targeting of groups and sections for marginalisation and discrimination, this nation witnessed a frontal confrontation to ensure respect for all by upholding the tenets of good governance. This action led to Constitutional Reform, notable of which is the expressly stated approach to governance, outlined in Article 13.
Granger’s presence in active politics from 2011 has been one marked with several confrontations with the Donald Ramotar Government. For weeks he and others confronted that government, via physical protests, demanding the upholding of Article 13, i.e. “inclusionary democracy.”
Scenes in the National Assembly were no different. For instance, as Leader of the Opposition, with a parliamentary majority, he led the charge against aspects of the National Budget – which were slashed on claims the Opposition was not consulted/had no input in its preparation, and funding was inappropriately or undeservedly allocated.
It was this level of confrontation and the promise of the APNU+AFC coalition to respect Article 13, workers’ rights, such as Collective Bargaining, etc., that caused the workers/citizens to fire the PPP/C and hire them.
Were it not for the application of the confrontational process, this government would not have been in office. It follows that should government renege on its commitment to workers or be contemptuous of workers’ protected rights and freedoms they will in like manner, as they confronted the PPP/C government with the workers/citizens’ support, be equally confronted by workers/citizens.
The then Opposition argument that the majority of the people were excluded from decision-making that impacted their wellbeing and that the PPP/C Government was not receptive to sitting at the table and engaging other stakeholders was of merit. Equally there is merit that the privilege of the majority to govern does not come at the expense of transgressing the right of the minority or other stakeholders to be included, and sit across the table. Workers have the same concerns today as yesteryear.
Workers know more than most that theirs is a history of struggle and sacrifice, and everything they received came through confrontation. Confrontation is functional. It’s in the DNA of the ordinary man and woman who wants to aspire, achieve and be respected. Our history has shown it is only through this process we have ever achieved anything. Confront.
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