Lincoln Lewis’ talk of “ludicrousness” is rather unfortunate

Dear Editor,
The GAWU cannot fail to address the several contentions raised by Mr Lincoln Lewis in his letters on September 6 titled “I remain steadfast in my commitment, regardless of political season or leadership”, “Accountability must not be selective”, and “It was the Jagdeo Gov’t that initiated the closure of Diamond, LBI sugar fields” as he sought to offer a response to our letter which appeared in several sections of the media on September 5, 2019.
Mr Lewis begins by charging that we are engaged in deception. We wonder how such a charge can be levelled in the first place. All we have done is merely point the relevant facts in order to bring clarity to issues raised by Mr Lewis in the first place. The apparent admonishment, in our view, is misplaced and certainly has no basis.
We are told by the letter writer that the closure of the Diamond factory in 1985 did not, as a consequence, mean that the estate was closed. It appears to us, however, that Mr Lewis did not carefully consider our letter. We evidently pointed out that, apart from the factory closure, a significant section of the then Diamond Estate cultivation was abandoned as all the canes could not have been processed at the next closest factory located at LBI. What essentially remained in the post-1985 period was a shell of the former Diamond Estate. The GAWU hastens to point out too that we did not say we endorsed the decision to close the remaining section of Diamond Estate.
Turning to LBI, the GAWU shared in its letter the circumstances which led to the decision to close the LBI factory. If we, or anyone for that matter, are to go by Mr Lewis’ logic, the closure of the factory ought not to be indicative of the closure of the estate. Recall, the letter writer posited that the estate is comprised of several elements of which the factory is one. In the instance of LBI, this was indeed the case. The former GuySuCo Human Resources Director, Jairam Petam, who was a central figure in the process, in a letter appearing in the April 27, 2016, issue of Kaieteur News pointed out that “…discussions with the Unions [GAWU and NAACIE] was restricted to the mergers of the LBI and Enmore factories”. Mr Petam went on to say “…meetings… focused on the redeployment of workers from LBI to Enmore, criteria for early retirement, payment of holiday with pay for LBI workers and the interviewing process with each employee”. Clearly, as Mr Petam pointed out, the intention was solely regarding the closure of the LBI factory.
Thus, the argument that closure of the factory was the precursor to the closure of the LBI Estate holds little water and credence for that matter. It is clear as day that the sole and only intention in 2011 regarded the factory. As Mr Petam said in his letter, the Union was assured “…that only the [LBI] factory will be affected by the merger…” Moreover, the cultivation and other operations at LBI remained intact until 2016 when the Corporation decided that it needed to “consolidate” LBI and Enmore’s operations. Of course the so-called ‘consolidation’ was short-lived as Enmore Estate was closed just a year later and thousands put on the breadline.
Again, Mr Lewis contended that if the Union had engaged Minister Ramjattan, as a consequence, it was the workers engaging the erstwhile gentleman as well. However, the reality is that Minister Ramjattan was not engaged by the GAWU; it was Senior Counsel Ashton Chase who acted on the Union and workers’ behalf. It would have been hypocritical, if not asinine, for the Union to engage the now Minister. At that time, the GAWU had taken the now Minister before the courts regarding untrue statements he made about the Union while on television. Minister Ramjattan’s involvement was rather stoked by what we deemed his rank opportunism. While he did commit to some workers of Diamond that he would represent their case, he did not fulfil that commitment. As we pointed out previously, he confessed to us that he couldn’t have seen the relevant section in the law to buttress the workers’ right to severance. Mr Lewis’ talk of ludicrousness is rather unfortunate.
We did not, at any time, fail to acknowledge Mr Lewis’ support to the recent struggles of the sugar workers. We and the workers are very appreciative for his stance and support as we, like him, seek to build workers and union solidarity. GAWU, as the writer well knows, has been steadfastly calling for and support of all efforts regarding closer worker/union collaboration and co-operation. At the same time, we cannot ignore the reality that different approaches to the sugar workers’ plight have been taken. We too cannot fail to point out that our Union and the workers together with their families went to great lengths and suffered great pains to ensure that their lawful rights were respected and to ensure that justice was served. In calling for accountability we must be fearless in calling a spade a spade and reading the obvious tea leaves.
Mr Lewis, who seems to describe himself as a man for all seasons, has charged us of seeking to absolve our so-called “masters”. As he well knows, we serve no master and we have stood and are standing with the workers, whose interest we must protect and advance. Certainly, in defence of their interest, we cannot idly stand by nor meekly countenance any wrong notwithstanding the perpetrator. It is, undoubtedly, our bounden duty to speak up and speak out regarding decisions or actions which violate the meaning and spirit of our Constitution or any other law for that matter as they affect the well-being and welfare of the Guyanese people, who are largely comprised of the working people and their families. Finally, Mr Lewis is also well aware of our stance regarding exploitation of workers, protection of the environment and exploitation of our natural resources. We have not changed, our commitment to workers remains firm.

Yours faithfully,
Seepaul Narine
General Secretary