…moments later trade unionist/politicians clash over workers’ rights
By Devina Samaroo
Heavy downpours on an early Sunday morning did nothing to stop scores of workers from leaving the comfort of their homes to participate in the historic Labour Day Rally, during which the two main trade union bodies finally put aside their differences and gyrated in one accord through the streets of Georgetown to soca and chutney tunes – a Guyanese pastime.
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.
Decked in red, with umbrellas in hand and colourful banners held high, hundreds of workers gathered at Parade Ground where the march commenced, before making their way onto Main Street then onto the Avenue of the Republic, straight into D’urban Street and then all the way to the National Park for the unity rally, where Government Ministers and representatives of the parliamentary Opposition were also present.
Kenneth Joseph, General Secretary of both the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG) and the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE) told Guyana Times that it is quite satisfying that there is at last unity among the trade unions.
“This is what we were fighting for all the time. We always knew that the workers of the country were never disunited, there was disunity among the labour leaders… Now the two labour organisations can meet and discuss matters of interest to the entire nation,” he stated.
Guyana Labour Union (GLU) President Carvil Duncan, whose long serving position has disgruntled some workers, expressed hope of seeing a united movement going forward in addressing workers’ issues and upholding workers’ rights.
“It is a wonderful thing and the beginning of unity in the trade union movement and I hope that we can use this May Day celebration when we come together as a catalyst to move forward so we can unite in everything. I want to see a united movement where we can have issues affecting the workers discussed, for example, the teachers have an issue; the mining workers have an issue; the public service has an issue, where they have not gotten an increase in salary yet; those things will be echoed at today’s rally but that is not enough, we need to get together and unite our forces to ensure that we achieve something for our workers,” he stated.
Long standing President of the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) Patrick Yarde noted that Labour Day is an exceptionably important day in the life of any conscientious worker.
“Labour Day should be a kind of beacon for solidarity of our working people. It is a day when they should all forget differences and strive for the alternative which is unity among working people. Today is also a day when we reflect on the challenges ahead and there are many challenges ahead and we have got to find ways of overcoming them. We believe power resides in the people and the majority of people are workers and therefore the only thing preventing us from ceasing control of our destiny is disunity, which we must correct,” he stated.
Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) President Mark Lytle boasted of his organisation’s contingent being the largest participants in the road march, however, he lamented that despite this fact, teachers are still not being given the priority they deserve.
“We’ve always been a Union that celebrates Labour Day but we are of course disappointed that many of the issues we’ve had haven’t been resolved, but we are confident that with a showing like this today, it will also indicate to our employers and Government that you will have to address our issues,” he posited.
Additionally, a representative of the Guyana Local Government Officers Union who identified herself as Cathy Fowler emphasised that while Guyana has come a long way in the trade union movement, not much is being done to honour the achievements which Nathaniel Hubert Critchlow fought for.
“Today is a day where workers look forward for unity. We want strength, we want togetherness as workers, we want to know that as workers, we can achieve. In my view, we are only receiving a portion of what Critchlow has done for us because there are so many indifferences going on and I am really disturbed over it,” she expressed.
Particularly, the worker noted that workers’ rights are still being flouted by management – a practice she urged to reach an immediate halt.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo and Junior Social Protection Minister with responsibility for labour Keith Scott, along with other Government members participated in the parade.