May Day 2010 is fast approaching. Workers will be expected to march through the streets with their respective unions and assemble, sadly, at separate locations to listen to their respective local leaders speak to them about the significance of workers’ rights, the history of trade unionism and the glorious future that lies ahead for workers in Guyana.
Apparently this year the Federation for Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG) intends to pay homage to two legendary trade unionists, Mr Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow and Dr Cheddi Jagan. In another time, perhaps, I would have lauded any organization attempting to pay homage to these two great sons of Guyana. History shows that Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow is the father of Caribbean trade unionism. The young Critchlow toiled unrelentingly for the rights of workers in Guyana and set the standard for workers’ rights and trade union recognition throughout the anglophone Caribbean of colonial times.
Dr Cheddi Jagan also made sterling contributions to the advancement of workers’ rights in both colonial and post-colonial Guyana. Some of his notable achievements were made for the betterment of working conditions and pay for sugar workers in Guyana.
The Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union (GB&GWU) has been engag-ed in an ongoing impasse with the Bauxite Company Guyana Inc. (BCGI) for the last few months. The Ministry of Labour seems to be unable to bring the issue to an amicable end. The rights of the bauxite workers are being trampled upon by the BCGI while the Ministry of Labour plays the role of spectator. To date no actions have been taken by the ministry to end this impasse.
The bauxite workers will continue their struggle as May Day 2010 approaches. Other workers and trade unionists, especially those that seek to pay homage to two former stalwarts who fought for workers’ rights, need to ask themselves these questions: What would have been the reaction of Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow had he been alive today witnessing the bauxite workers’ struggle? What lengths would have Dr Cheddi Jagan gone to, had the rights of sugar workers been so blatantly trampled upon?
The workers’ song that is sung on May Day speaks of solidarity. The bauxite workers are showing their solidarity as together they hold firm and wrestle for their rights.
When the procession is done and ‘Solidarity Forever’ with the line “…the union makes us strong” is sung, the division in our trade union fabric will be visible as workers head to two different ‘main’ venues for further assembly.
This May Day as the marching takes place, as the rhetoric and rum overflows, workers must ask themselves and their leaders what really is the future of trade unionism in Guyana. Will the trade unions aligned with the government of the day stand to benefit more than the others who seem to be comprised of opposition factions?
I must say that it is truly heartening that FITUG has chosen to pay homage to Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow. Critchlow’s statute still stands proudly in the Parliament Building grounds for persons to look at and remember the extraordinary human being he was. But sadly the Critchlow Labour College is bereft of the substantial government subvention it once enjoyed. The college has faded into academic oblivion.
But yes, May Day is here again. ‘Solidarity Forever’ will be sung. As workers sing the second to last verse below, they should ponder deeply on the present state of affairs in Guyana and ask themselves how many more rights workers have today as against 20 years ago?
“They have taken untold millions that they never toiled to earn,
But without our brain and muscle not a single wheel can turn.
We can break their haughty power, gain our freedom when we learn
That the union makes us strong.” – Ralph Chaplin, 1914