The Trade Union Movement must honour and draw strength from its ground-breaking and empowering strides that have helped to shape this nation and human development, thanks to the blood, sweat and tears of the workers. For us in the movement, it is a matter of principle, duty and obligation, why we continue to struggle to ensure the state functions in the interest of all the people, more so its working class.
Everything we have achieved, came with recognition and acceptance that ours is a right to have a seat at the decision-making table.
Since 1905 we have fought for a seat at the table, challenging the merchant class, the Governor, the Government, the employer, ruthless landlords or others who disregard the true value and worth of a nation’s most valued resource – its workers. Along the way there have been achievements and setbacks, but it is a mistake to think either will deter or make us complacent. In fact, both propel and reinforce why we continue to shoulder on, and at the same time cannot afford to forget or let anyone make us forget.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
A significant achievement of the Labour Movement is the right to freedom of association (1919). It is this right that allows you to determine who are your friends and associates, those with whom you congregate and have alliance, including the trade union, religious and political organisations. It simply means that any employer, any government in an environment of organised labour, should not arbitrarily impose wages and salaries and shall satisfy certain basic conditions of work, such as hours of work, leave with pay, maternity leave, annual leave, etc. These achievements are enshrined in the Guyana Constitution, Article 147.
Older generations can recount stories of being denied the right to openly practice and belong to a religion of choice and not be discriminated against, looked down on or thought lesser of. In this society, some religious practices were either made illegal or not considered mainstream or acceptable. Social and economic ascension were also hinged to this.
It was not until 1950 that Guyana had what can be considered its first mass-based political party, the People’s Progressive Party, coming decades after the trade union. Where the working class laid the foundation for citizens to vote, a fight initiated in 1926 and the right attained in 1953 with the support of others, elected representatives and appointed officials must function. They must function consistent with the institutions such as laws, conventions and universal declarations this country associates with.
Representatives of the trade union or government – the groups of my attention in this instance – must remember to whom they own their strength, from whence their mandate came, and to whom they have an obligation to serve, treat with dignity and respect.
MATERNAL LEAVE, OTHER CONDITIONS OF WORK, OSH AND NIS
Many might be too young to know, but none too old to forget, the days when women in the public service, teaching and nursing could not get pregnant because they would lose their jobs and livelihood. The trade union fought for the right to maternity benefit, Occupational Safety and Health, free education, and the creation of a social security net that led to the formation of the National Insurance Scheme (NIS), that gives to workers the dignity of an income and social protection when they are unable to work and earn through sickness, injury, maternal conditions and retirement. We are on record calling for universal health.
HOUSING AND COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT
The Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC), in collaboration with the earlier post-independent governments, has been involved in the housing development drive, starting with TUCville in Georgetown and TUCberg in Berbice. Other housing schemes that were conceptualised and developed by affiliates include Stevedore Scheme by the Guyana Labour Union (GLU), the Postal and Telecommunications Scheme, Amelia’s Ward self-help by the mining unions, the Guyana Mine Workers’ Union (GMWU) and Guyana Bauxite & General Workers’ Union (GB&GWU).
Trade unions associated with the housing projects are being called on to put their brand/stamp up in those areas, for some are conveniently forgetting and some are unaware, un-interested or seek to deny our contributions to the development of this country, our struggles and gains in the realm of social justice.
Identification with these projects is also to remind those who seek to relegate us to speak only of wages and salaries, and forget the importance of social justice to the well-being of workers, their family and a productive society. The GTUC will engage in an exercise to identify its association with the communities it built.
LABOUR’S DISTINGUISHED CONTRIBUTION AND STRUGGLES
We the Labour Movement of Guyana can proudly proclaim, without hesitation or doubt, that more than any other institution outside of government, organised labour built this nation and laid the foundation for social justice for all. We built it at a time, despite differences, despite moments of conflict, government was more friendly, respectful and inclusion of social partners with a vision for national development.
Over the past years, labour has found itself struggling in an environment of greed, lawlessness, corruption, vindictiveness, forgetfulness, absence of vision and inclusion, and disrespect for the value of human capital in the productive processes of this country.
We have been struggling to do what we have done historically and what we do best, that is, engage in relationships to create a better environment for all, holding politicians accountable to deliver in a nation divided by race and politics, and where our people are losing commitment to national development, the collective good, and a higher purpose outside of self.
Labour was seen as a strategic social partner to the extent where our role is enshrined in the Constitution of Guyana at Articles 38 and 149C. As a force we must not be hesitant to ensure governmental concurrence.
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