By now even Stevie Wonder can see the government’s commitment to destroy the Guyana Trades Union Congress (TUC). The angst with the TUC dates back to the 1963 eighty-day strike. Dr Cheddi Jagan blamed this strike for the PPP’s 28 years in the political wilderness.
The PPP returned to power in October 1992. The PPP unions, GAWU and NAACIE, were part of the 1989-1992 Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG) which opposed the PNC’s influence in the TUC. In 1993 FITUG and the TUC reunited. This reunification was based in part on the TUC’s rejection of political control. In hindsight the PPP never wanted political independence of the TUC; it just did not want the PNC having influence, or the TUC independent of its influence.
The relationship between the TUC and new PPP government did not get off to a harmonious start, the result of Dr Jagan’s direct interference in the GPSU and suspension of former Comptroller of Customs Clarence Chue and other customs officers.
The relationship worsened in 1999 with the public servants’ wages dispute and strike. Then President Janet Jagan and Minster of Public Service George Fung-On’s refusal to resolve the dispute through arbitration led to a fifty-five day strike. In this strike public servants were shot by the police and the TUC responded with a three-day protest strike. The 1999 public servants’ strike was supported by the TUC, its affiliates, and the PNC.
By then the PPP had enough of the TUC. Two major strikes, one in 1963 and the other in 1999, could not be ignored by a party known for its intolerance to opposition. The PPP got its unions, GAWU and NAACIE, to leave the TUC and resuscitate FITUG. This allowed the PPP the necessary space to execute its next manoeuvre. The government picked fights with the TUC and stopped consultations. Agency shop from the GPSU was taken away forcing them to leave the TUC. Next the yearly subventions given to the TUC and its college were taken away. In the meanwhile the PPP controls FITUG, gives it and friendly unions money, and finances its May Day Rallies.
In 2006 the PPP/C tried passing the Trade Union Recognition Bill. This bill would have made the TUC ineffective. The bill failed due to stiff opposition from the TUC and political parties. The bill was re-introduced in 2008. Minister Nadir disregards the fact the TUC is recognised by the International Labour Organisation and International Federation of Trade Unions as Guyana’s legitimate federation. The PPP/C’s explanation for silencing the TUC is the claim that FITUG is the federation with the most members. Nadir would not publicly admit that the trump card the party was waiting for was given to them on a platter by Mr Robert Corbin.
FITUG comprises CCWU, GAWU, NAACIE and GLU. The CCWU leadership has an affinity to the PPP/C but remains in the TUC. The GLU which was historically aligned to the PNC left the TUC. At various times the TUC has been a thorn to both PNC and PPP. Together the PPP and the PNC seem united in a strategy to crush the TUC. This is the first time the PNC’s GLU is supporting the PPP against the TUC; the first time the TUC is without a political partner. Again at a crossroads, though this time deserted, it is left to be seen whether the TUC survives or succumbs in this battle.