Unions have to be creative in survival fight

Guyanese management consultant Dr Aubrey Armstrong says trade unions have to be creative in the fight to sustain themselves and he slammed the government over the withdrawal of the subvention of the Critchlow Labour College (CLC) noting that CLC had given many a second chance when the formal system failed them.

Armstrong also said that the government’s withdrawal of state advertising from the Stabroek News (SN) was a result of “backward and backyard politics” which “was mired in malicious compliance” at the political level and within the trade union movement itself.

Delivering the feature address at the opening of the Second Triennial Delegates Conference of the Guyana Trades Union Congress at the CLC on Woolford Avenue last evening, Armstrong said that the withdrawal of the ads from SN was going to hurt President Bharrat Jagdeo “unless he gives way for what it is worth.”

Stating that a government may boast about being democratic and make the point that there was freedom of expression because of the availability of newsprint, he said, “let me make this point about the Stabroek News. It is going to hurt Jagdeo. You hear what I’m saying. It is already hurting him in the region because everybody understands that you cannot kill an idea,” not in today’s world when there is blogging and communication made easy by way of the internet.

Contending that the issue was already known worldwide and all expatriate Guyanese know about it, he said that the Stabroek News and the CLC should go to the Guyanese abroad, who contribute some 20% of the GDP to this country and start “a systematic campaign to get support and shame those who would see these close you down.”

Arguing that Guyanese politics at various levels was mired in the past and in pettiness, the Barbados-based Armstrong said that on visiting the country, he would hear about who is not talking to who in the trade unions.

He said that leadership has to do with understanding, generosity and maturity and there has to be a change in the “backyard” and “backward politics” which is also mired in what he called “malicious compliance.”

He said that the withdrawal of the ads from the Stabroek News was “malicious compliance” and he illustrated this through a passenger complaining very vociferously to a counter-clerk at an international airport who just kept on replying “yes ma’am”. However when approached by a Guyanese about how very professional she behaved the counter clerk replied, “Don’t worry. She’s going to Hong Kong and her luggage is going to New Zealand.”

On the way forward for the trade union movement, Armstrong said that the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) has to get back into the fold of the GTUC. When there is tension or bad blood in any family or organization, he said there is need for serious introspection to see where things would have gone wrong. In this instance it means that it is not business as usual and it becomes necessary to sit down and work out the problems and possibilities and put them into a plan of action for moving beyond the problems by pulling together a programme and people.

In Guyana, he noted the need to move beyond segregation in the interest of the future generations, forgetting the issue of petty politics. The issue “is not about the government or which race gets credit,” he said, “it is about the children and what you have to do and where you want to go.”

Some issues on Guyana, which he highlighted must be on the front burner for trade unions in particular, include the modernisation of the state, the modernisation of the public service, adequate compensation for workers, the operationalising of the appellate tribunal, maintaining the concept of the rule of law, the vicious cycle of crime (which he said has to be watched very carefully since there was a perception outside that the Guyanese society was harbouring criminal enterprises), discrimination against women, the issue of family values, accountability and transparency.

The issue of survival and sustainability of the trade union in Guyana, he said, was also crucial in view of the fact that the government has withdrawn the subventions from the GTUC and the CLC more recently.

He urged the trade union movement not to depend on the government but to find ways and means of sustaining the trade unions and gave the example of how the waterfront workers union in Trinidad and Tobago invested in their properties, while rebuilding the union little by little.

On the issue of CLC and drawing a parallel with the Cipriani Labour College in T&T, he noted that Cipriani started after the CLC and has forged ahead offering three bachelor’s degrees in labour, and it offers associate degrees as well as grooms students for a second chance at a secondary education. “I can’t see why we can’t do it here at Critchlow Labour College,” he said.

Noting that many trade unions in Guyana have properties such as sport clubs, headquarters and sports grounds, he said there is need for them to sit down and think of creative ways of assuring their sustainability and viability by using their assets.

On the issue of leadership and globalisation, he said that the Guyana trade union movement has friends abroad on whom they could call to help including the CLC hooking up with the Cipriani College to expand its programmes.

He said that among leadership qualities required today are vision, competence, online skills, critical thinking skills, honesty, management ability, humility and magnanimity “so that personal crap could be left behind.”

There was also need to introduce plurality of centres to replace the maximum leader. “The day of maximum leader is over,” he said, opining that in every walk of life there is need to develop leaders.

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