It would be by no means an exaggeration to state that this week’s hasty backing away by the sugar corporation from its threat to de-recognize the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) was a demeaning and undignified experience for the leadership of the company. For the Board of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) or at least those who were associated with the letter to GAWU, it was also a sharp lesson in realpolitik.
Dr Nanda Gopaul’s we really didn’t mean it reaction to the political firestorm that followed the issuance of the de-recognition letter, was, seemingly, an acknowledgement of his own complicity in its issuance. In that respect and while it may have seemed to him that he was acting in the interest of the sugar industry, he is, in effect, guilty of a surprising political blunder, given his experience as a student of industrial relations and his understanding of the politics of the sugar industry.
Whether the blunder reposes in the issuance of the letter in the first place or in the sheepish withdrawal of the de-recognition threat after the political heavyweights in the PPP had clinically shot down the very idea, depends, of course, on which side of the fence you sit.
One is inclined to take Dr Gopaul at his word that the de-recognition letter was a “tactic” rather than a serious threat. However, he of all people ought to be aware of GAWU’s clout with an administration that regards sugar workers as a huge chunk of its political bread and butter. Moreover, he ought to have known that the leadership of the PPP would not have found the gesture funny. Moreover, the more doctrinaire PPP leaders would not have missed the opportunity to reiterate the bonds that bind GAWU to the party. In other words it was a tactic that was very likely to backfire. If the GuySuCo Board didn’t mean it they shouldn’t have done it.
At another level the de-recognition threat may well have been an act of brinkmanship by GuySuCo, reflective of its obvious and extreme frustration with a nightmarish industrial relations climate that is further weakening an already hobbled sugar industry. Two hundred and forty-nine strikes in one year is simply more than the ailing sugar industry could possibly bear and what Dr Gopaul and the GuySuCo Board were perhaps seeking to do was to send a message to both government and the union that the industry could endure it no longer. That too backfired.
In a sense, one understands GAWU’s description of the person/s who issued the ‘offending’ letter as “muddle-headed”. Here, the issue is not so much whether or not the de-recognition letter was intended to be taken seriously or otherwise, but whether or not anyone in their right mind would actually believe that the government would simply run the political risk of allowing GAWU to be cut loose by GuySuCo with general elections now certainly less than a year away.
GAWU’s response to GuySuCo’s political “tactic” suggests that it now wishes to have the political howitzers trained squarely on GuySuCo’s top brass any of whom are regarded by the union as no more than a clutch of super-salaried bureaucrats whose contribution to the recovery of the industry is questionable. More than that, the union has proven that with its particular political circumstances it is possibly the only trade union in Guyana that can look the employer in the eye without blinking. The real question that arises has to do with the implications of this state of affairs for the future of the sugar industry.