May Day Parade 2024: Remove politics, think of workers first – trade unionist urges

Scores of workers gathered across the city, decked out in their red ensembles, as they marched for betterment as part of Labour Day celebrations in Guyana.
Apart from delving into issues affecting workers, trade unionists used the opportunity to call for unity among the various workers’ unions.
Scenes from the May Day march, led by the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG), a union umbrella organisation comprising several unions including the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU). This march commenced at Bank of Guyana and made its way to the National Park for the annual May Day rally.

Guyana Labour Union (GLU) President Carvil Duncan

Trade unions with different views on national issues, falling under the umbrella body of the Guyana Public Service Union, held their separate parade and rally, culminating at the Guyana Teachers’ Union headquarters.
In recent history, it was only during the period 2016-2019 that all of the trade unions in Guyana presented themselves in unity for Labour Day, with a united parade and rally.
However, despite the existing tension among unions, unity messages were aplenty, with trade union leaders echoing all too familiar sentiments: the need to combine forces and use one resounding voice to call attention to the desperate need for better recognition, value and honour for the working-class people in society.
Among them was the Guyana Labour Union (GLU) President Carvil Duncan, who expressed hope of seeing a united movement going forward in addressing workers’ issues and upholding workers’ rights.
“I was proposing to speak on unity today because divided we stand together, separated we collapse together and therefore persons must try to remove themselves from parties and politics and think of the interest of the worker first,” Duncan said.
Meanwhile, commenting on the divide, Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton emphasised that much needs to be done so that trade unions have operate in harmony.
According to Norton, the discourse is ancient history and not recent issues, however, he noted that they can be addressed.
“You know at one stage it was divided, FITUG (the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana) move in its own direction, the Public Service Union (PSU) has its own position. It will take a lot of time and work to bring the trade union movement together, not forgetting that the trade union movement is a reflection of the wider society,” Norton said.

History of May Day
The origins of May Day trace back to the late 19th century when workers worldwide stood united, demanding better working conditions and fair treatment.
In the 1880s, labour movements in the United States advocated for an eight-hour workday, culminating in the infamous Haymarket affair in Chicago, where workers were met with violence as they protested for their rights.
From these tumultuous beginnings, May Day emerged as a symbol of workers’ resilience and determination to secure their rights.
In 1958, Guyana declared May 1 a national holiday, and this was spearheaded by the then Minister of Labour, Janet Jagan. Since that time, workers in Guyana have celebrated this day with marches through the streets of Georgetown and elsewhere, along with rallies addressed mainly by union leaders and other individuals.
However, prior to this, there were many strikes and labour protests against employers. The state generally took the side of the employers and this was clearly seen in the sugar strikes in the 1940s and 1950s and these workers’ struggles in the sugar industry form an epic chapter in the Trade Union history of Guyana.
Though the worker struggles for better wages and working conditions have essentially the same characteristics in all countries, each country has its own peculiar manifestation of such struggles.
For example, Labour Unions united on May 1 2022 for a ‘livable minimum wage’ for the public servants. (G1)