In a column of Saturday, April 24, 2010 captioned, “Law and Class Struggle,” I wrote the following; “The first essays I read as a freshman at UG was an article with the above caption by Alan Hunt in a magazine titled, “Marxism Today.” That composition will remain in my mind forever, because it was the first analysis I read to write my first assignment as a new entrant to university. But there is another reason for the permanent presence of that item in my mind. That piece of political commentary had a profound effect on me.
There are things that we encounter in our evolution as a person that subliminally effect in ways we may never know. I was young when I entered UG and saw myself as a radical youth fighting for the rights of the poorer classes because I came from that stratum of the Guyanese society and I knew how the pangs of poverty could bite.
In the midst of that kind of thinking, I read Alan Hunt’s brilliant research. Hunt contends that laws were designed intentionally and specifically to benefit those with wealth and prestige because they were drafted by people with property, money and power. He looks at a wide range of legal rules from company law to taxation to divorce and he shows where these edicts run against the interests of the working people and women.”
I now return to law and class struggle, eight years after my first look at the subject. I was tempted to write this essay after reading in the newspaper that a cashier I would talk to when I buy at the supermarket has been charged with theft from his employer. Ricardo Singh was charged with stealing $150,000 from Parshuram Arjune, owner of the Sheriff Street branch of Survival Supermarket. He is a mere lad – 20 years. For $150,000, he was put on $70,000 bail by Magistrate Sherdel Isaacs-Marcus. That is about half the amount of what he is accused of stealing.
Years ago, I went directly to Mr. Arjune and I conveyed what his staff complained to me about. They were given a day off every two weeks. The law stipulates a day off in each week. I was told that Mr. Arjune has conformed to what the law stated. Do you know what would have happened if Arjune’s employees went to the police. Every school kid knows what the police would have said – we cannot do anything about that; go to the Labour Ministry. But the police charged Arjune’s employee for stealing from him.
I took Giftland Mall to the Labour Ministry, and here is where law and class struggle come in. Marvin Ruhoman was dismissed and he alleged that Giftland Mall did not follow the legal procedure. Marvin claimed monies owed to him. Before I go on to tell you more about the drama, readers must bear in mind that we have two fighters for the working class high up in government – Drs. Rupert Roopnaraine and Clive Thomas. They tried to overthrow the Burnham Government in the seventies (read their description of their revolutionary action against Burnham in the book, “Walter Rodney: A Promise of Revolution.” But today, they support a government that is more oppressive of low income families than when Burnham ruled.
Chief Labour Officer Charles Ogle summoned his legal advisor, and in his presence, all hell broke loose. The lawyer told Marvin and me that she could not proceed with an investigation since I would be writing on the subject in the press. I was smothered with rage. What did my writing have to do with the alleged violation of Marvin’s rights? I implored Minister Keith Scott for his direct intervention. He took over the matter. Giftland eventually settled with Marvin.
So what is the relevance of the Giftland situation to the Survival Supermarket case? On complaining to the Labour Ministry, no police visited Giftland. It was not a police matter. But Marvin would have been arrested immediately if he had got angry and gone back to Giftland and picked up an item out of revenge.
What is the moral here? The Law favours the employer. It is not a criminal offence if you work an employee beyond the contracted, stipulated requirement of eight hours. But it is a criminal offence if you steal from the employer as a matter of revenge for your exploitation.
The TUC sent a 19-point memorandum to the government, but nothing was included on reshaping the Labour Office. Maybe Roopnaraine and Thomas will do that soon. Don’t forget; Thomas popularized the term we often use – “the poor and powerless in Guyana.” Don’t forget too that Marx is dead.
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