The trade union world in Guyana has been thrown into a state of mourning with the passing yesterday morning of Komal Chand.
Chand, 75, the President of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU), had been receiving treatment in Cuba.
According to the GAWU – the country’s largest sugar workers’ body – at the time of his demise, Chand had served with distinction and pride.
His passing would come as sugar remains in deep trouble, with four estates closed in the last five years by the Coalition because of poor performance.
“Cde. Komal, as he was fondly known, joined the GAWU in 1975 as the union’s Organising
Secretary. At that time, the almost three-decade struggle for our union’s recognition on
behalf of the field and factory workers in the sugar industry reached a high point.
It was on Old Year’s Day 1975 that a poll was held, and at which the GAWU roundly defeated the incumbent MPCA (Manpower Citizens’ Association) to become the bargaining agent of the thousands of sugar workers who toiled in the fields and factories of the sugar estates,” the GAWU remembered.
Chand, the union disclosed, is credited to be among those who on February 26, 1976, appended the Recognition and the Avoidance and Settlement of Disputes Agreement with the then Sugar Producers’ Association (SPA), the forerunner to GuySuCo.
“Cde Komal was most committed to his work and tasks and for that he enjoyed the respect of the workers. It was his dedication that saw him rising to become the Union’s General Secretary and later its President. He was, in our view, an outstanding trade unionist and very much committed to the upliftment and advancement of the working-class in our country and even beyond.”
Outside of the GAWU, Chand served as the Vice President of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG) and a member of the Presidential Council of the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU).
“Cde Komal was also deeply admired by those who worked along and together. It was from
this vantage point that many of us got an opportunity to see up close how deeply he cared for the workers and more so the working-people and their families. He always embraced and espoused policies and initiatives aimed at improving the standard-of-living and well-being of the ordinary people.”
GAWU said that the official displayed great fearlessness and was never afraid to stand up to authority.
“He also recognized too that for the workers to advance they must have a seat at the decision-making table. It was in this context that he entered the world of politics and became a Member of Parliament where he served from 1992 until the dissolution of the 11th Parliament in December, 2019. In the August house, he stood with and advocated on the workers behalf as he used his voice to promote pro-workers policies and strategies.”
According to the GAWU, Chand also encouraged education for the people.
“At times, he went out of his way, to lend his support to ensure that union comrades could grasp at opportunities. Apart from that, he always was willing to offer comrades his advice and lend a listening ear. It was those, among other qualities, that endeared him to many. The GAWU indeed has lost a great leader and the trade union movement and the workers of Guyana have lost an outstanding and dedicated comrade. He was not only an outstanding comrade but an icon and will be deeply missed by the union and the members of GAWU.”
The union said that it is much stronger and better for his efforts and his contributions, not only to GAWU, but the trade union movement as a whole.
Meanwhile, Chand’s party – the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) – disclosed that the union leader served in various capacities, inclusive of being a long-standing member of the Central and Executive Committees.
“He also represented the PPP and the PPP/C in Parliament for over 20 years. But his most notable contribution was as the head of GAWU, the country’s largest trade union. His contributions to protecting the rights of sugar workers, fisherfolks, and forestry sectors employees, among others are well recognized across our country and will be remembered by generations to come. Also, his efforts to unify the labour movement are unparalleled and this led to the formation of FITUG.”
The Opposition party, however, opined that the “brutality meted out to thousands of our sugar workers by the APNU+AFC during the past five years” would have taken a severe toll on his well-being.
“But to the end, he remained undaunted and steadfast in his struggles to protect workers and defend their rights. Comrade Komal Chand left a rich legacy of hard work, sacrifice and life-long commitment to the working people of Guyana. The party wishes to express its deepest condolences to his family, the trade union fraternity and the working people of Guyana to whom he showed immense devotion.”
Chand leaves to mourn three children, grand-children, and other loved ones.
Meanwhile, former Prime Minister, Moses Nagamootoo, who once served with Chand in the PPP/C, noted that the trade unionist had received in recognition of his role as a foremost labour leader, the third highest national award – the Cacique Crown of Honour (CCH).
He said that his relationship with Chand went back to the mid-60s when they both served in the Progressive Youth Organisation (PYO) and, later, in the PPP’s leadership.
“For over 50 years, Komal has been a consistent fighter for political and industrial democracy and for social rights of working people. He has always advocated trade union and national unity, and inclusive governance. He stood tall and courageous against corruption and mismanagement, even when he had courted the disfavour of his own comrades,” Nagamootoo said.
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