TUC General Secretary Lincoln Lewis says the labour movement has to be more militant, vocal and aggressive on issues affecting it and he argued that there were increasing signs of an elected dictatorship, a charge that the ruling party yesterday slapped down.
In his address to the Second Triennial Delegates Conference at the Critchlow Labour College on Thursday, Lewis said that it was a false assumption that labour should stay out of politics when it was the labour movement that fought the colonial authorities for internal self-government and was at the forefront advancing the cause for independence.
“This is a false assumption and we should resist outright anyone telling us this in order to make us silent and helpless in the face of political mismanagement and wrongdoing,” Lewis declared, adding that “Politics is integral and important to the struggles and well-being of the workers and their families and the labour movement has a responsibility to ensure that decisions made at the political level are pro-workers.”
He noted that the 40-hour work week, stipulated overtime rates, one man-one vote, education and heath care for all, among others, were all a result of labour’s struggle and now at the height of escalating mismanagement and anti-worker policies labour cannot stay away from politics.
Stating that labour has not achieved anything significant over the past three years, he said that the government refuses to respect the rights of workers and engage the labour movement in any deliberation that would realize the advancement of the cause of the working class. He charged that politicians across the spectrum refuse to adhere to campaign promises and serve the interests of those who elected them “to advance and safeguard their interests.”
“We are today in a political culture of inactivity, managed through denial and finger-pointing. We are seeing the increasing manifestation of an elected-dictatorship and strong leanings to a one-party state as distinct from shared governance, which is assisted by the lacklustre and impotent opposition,” he argued.
Lewis contended that the leaders today have become armchair generals who feel secure in managing the welfare of their constituents through press releases, columns and letters to the media.
The only parliamentary political party that is working, he said, is the ruling PPP but he charged that they are not working in labour’s interest.
Responding to these charges yesterday, PPP General Secretary, Donald Ramotar told Stabroek News that he could not see the wisdom in any of Lewis’s statements given the achievements the country has seen under the leadership of the PPP since the party took office in 1992. He feels that Lewis is blinded by his prejudice against the PPP.
Ramotar said there were contradictions in the statement Lewis made as regards “elected dictatorship”, since dictatorship and elections do not go hand-in-hand. Nevertheless, he said that he was going to respond in full to the statements Lewis made in his address.
On the leadership of the labour movement, Lewis said that it was “confused” as some labour leaders shamelessly engage in double standards, hiding behind trumped up charges and trading the well-being of workers for their self-interests.
Some, he said, have abandoned the struggles and were quite content to be faithful servants, “carrying tales on their brothers and sisters and cow-towing in this new massa/servant environment.”
The time has come, he said, to put in place a programme to expose leaders who use their position to divide and undermine the trade union movement. “There shall be no sacred cows when it comes to the transgression and violation of workers rights” he said.
Referring to daily reports about the Value Added Tax (VAT), he said that necessary items have now become luxuries as people have to make choices whether they would drink milk, eat meat or vegetables. While there is much on the shelves and in the markets “the purchasing power is weak or almost non-existent,” he said.
Noting that Guyana received US$466 million in remittances last year, Lewis said that workers’ dependence on overseas remittances to make ends meet was an indictment of the government.
On the issue of trade union unity, Lewis reiterated as still relevant, former TUC President Carvil Duncan’s remarks in 2004 that unity in the trade union movement has remained an elusive dream despite numerous efforts and several concessions by the GTUC. At that time, Duncan was part of the TUC unity committee that had been set up.
Speaking of efforts to win back GAWU and NAACIE to the fold Duncan had then said “The closer they seem to have come to a solution and a sense of achievement, a bigger burden seemed to develop. A new pyramid was set and the goalposts that were once there have shifted in a new direction. The TUC has tried its utmost; we have bent backwards as a means of being accommodating, but that did not influence the results of the meetings.” Duncan has now taken his own union, the Guyana Labour Union (GLU) into the breakaway grouping of FITUG which includes NAACIE and GAWU and others. The GLU is still also a part of the TUC.
Lewis noted, too, the remarks of President of FITUG, Grantley Culbard under whose leadership he said in 2004 the discord in the labour movement was said to be based solely on political considerations. Culbard, also a member of the unity committee, had said in 2003 that the PPP administration pays lip service to trade union unity. Culbard’s union, the CCWU is also a prime member of FITUG.
Lewis therefore advised anyone asking questions on the disunity in the movement to direct their questions to Culbard and Duncan in their capacities as members of the unity committee.
Responding to accusations about him being solely responsible for the government’s behaviour to the GTUC, Lewis said that he stood up against the PNC government on what was wrong then and he takes a stand against the wrongs of the PPP/C government.
It was the PPP, he said, who “walked” with labour in the pre-1992 era and joined in the excesses of the PNC; advocated for the role of free media as the pillar of democracy; condemned the imposition of wages under the PNC administration; and condemned police brutality and extra-judicial killings.
He said the PPP joined with labour in 1980 to 1992 in calling on the PNC government to change the structure of governance to make it inclusive so that every group could have a say in the management and decision-making of the country.
Recalling the PPP campaign for a free press as a pillar of democracy, Lewis told his audience to talk with some private media owners and “they will tell you they catching hell, with threats of the Broadcasting Commission suspending or taking away their licences, withdrawal of advertisements, no advertisements, refusal of licence and so forth.”
Now, he said the PPP wants to dictate to the labour movement trying to silence them “by taking away the (TUC) subvention – our tax dollars.”
“This government is running riot on us, trampling on people’s rights and engaging in actions inimical to the country and our well being and they want silence,” he said, adding that “some of our trade union comrades are supporting these wrongdoings with their silence and feeble excuses.”
Stating that the government does not want to be held accountable for its behaviour, Lewis said that, “they feel they should not account nor have responsibility to us, the workers and taxpayers of this country.
But democracy is government of the people for the people and when government is not working for all the people, those who are affected have a moral responsibility to speak out and do what is in their power to right the wrongs.”