The trade union movement has reached its apogee. The sun has long set on the trade union movement but the leadership does not seem to recognize this.
Trade unions are on the decline, not just in Guyana but also worldwide. There will be no second coming for the trade union movement.
The trade union movement is now just a symbolic shell with nothing to offer workers, other than vacuous statements and free beer, rum and food on May Day.
The majority of workers at today’s May Day rally will be more interested in rum, beer and food than they would be about listening to the speeches of their leaders. May Day has been reduced to a series of sporting events. Workers are celebrating their day by getting drunk and having a good time.
This is a deserving fate to the disunity which has characterized the trade union movement in Guyana.
Very few unions can today call a successful strike, long the traditional weapon of unions. When workers lose their main strike force – the withdrawal of labour, they are virtually helpless.
This is the state in which workers find themselves. This is no better illustrated by the impotence of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU), the largest union in Guyana. GAWU called many strikes during the time of the PNC and the PPP. But it has failed to prevent more than 5,000 of its membership from being dismissed by the APNU+AFC.
The façade of unity was exposed last May Day. The TUC and FITUG came together for a rally, but this was all they did, because the speakers at that rally spoke to virtually empty stands.
The trade union movement has been accused of having fossilized leadership. But the real problem is not the leadership. The leadership of trade unions in Guyana is only a microcosm of the divisions in the wider society. The trade union movement is divided politically. Political loyalty is more important than trade union militancy, and this has been the historic downfall of labour.
If tomorrow, the APNU+AFC government cuts workers’ salaries by half, the workers within the public service will take it, because the majority of workers in the public service support the government. GAWU cannot do anything for sugar workers, yet the workers in the sugar belt will not break with GAWU because the majority of them see GAWU as an opposition union.
For years, the unions which supported the PNC connived to ensure that the leadership of the Trade Union Movement did not fall into unfriendly hands. GAWU, the largest trade union in Guyana, has never had the distinction of leading the Guyana Trades Union Congress. The rules have always been stacked against GAWU.
All the pleas for the democratization of the TUC have fallen on deaf ears. This ultimately led to the formation of a parallel trade union grouping, the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG). These days, people are questioning whether FITUG is truly independent.
There was a time when the PNC government induced workers to participate in May Day rallies by offering them free food and drinks. Many went because they were afraid that if they did not, they would be dismissed.
May Day parades are now a shadow of what they used to be in the days of forced participation. But the beer and rum drinking and the food are still there in abundance. Workers have turned May Day into a day to get drunk and have a good time. Workers are poking fun at the impotence of their unions by turning May Day into a big ‘sport’
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