Sugar workers were not the vanguard

Dear Editor,

The current group  of sugar workers have made and continue to make contributions to Guyana, but it does more harm than good when those contributions are misrepresented, especially given the fact that persons are generally au fait with the struggles and political intricacies of sugar from slavery to now. Reference is made to Mr Moses Nagamootoo’s letter, ‘I dissociate myself from what seems a state-party alliance in sledge-hammering GAWU’ (SN, December 20). In his effort to show support for the current group of sugar workers he became culpable of some of the attributes he pinned on the PPP and 

GuySuCo. Contrary to what he stated the sugar workers were not, “the vanguard of the working class movement in Guyana.” If Mr Nagamootoo is talking about organized labour then that recognition is given to waterfront workers who in 1905, under the leadership of Mr Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow, staged the first mass protest against workers exploitation and in 1919 formally established the Guyana Labour Union, which is also the British Commonwealth’s oldest trade union.

It is also incorrect to say “sugar workers have been the bedrock of the anti-colonial struggles for independence from Great Britain.” Were one to cursorily revisit history, one would find that workers across the industrial and institutional spectrums joined together in the anti-colonial struggle. It is true, however, that Dr Cheddi Jagan did court the sugar workers on his return to Guyana in the 1940s and was successful in contextualizing and giving meaning to the 1948 Enmore Martyrs struggle as a political one, which became a yearly national commemorative event from 1976 onwards.

From the beginning the conditions for workers have been harsh in this industry, and it has been a hotbed of contestation and struggle. Persons are, however, concerned that in the 21st century with improved mechanization sugar workers are still being transported and are working under conditions reminiscent of earlier times.  This is deserving of some explanation.

Mr Nagamootoo said “for 28 years (1964-1992) [sugar workers] were in the front trenches for the restoration of democratic rule in Guyana.” There is no denying their role and the realization of the choice government.

However, there is a marked difference between Mr Nagamootoo’s belief that such efforts resulted in the “restoration of democratic rule in Guyana,” because were it so GAWU and sugar workers would not have to live with the threat hanging over their heads that their right to organize could be taken away from them by the very party they helped put into government.
 Neither too would other unions and people have to live in fear that if they do not toe the line there will be dire consequences.

Why would the PPP government work with the state-owned GuySuCo to threaten GAWU, fully aware that GAWU’s president Komal Chand is a PPP Central Executive Member and Member of Parliament? Is there a turf war happening in the PPP and sugar workers are once again being used as weapons to defeat the enemy or show who has the power? Has Mr Nagamootoo smelt an injured shark in the water and thought it was to his advantage to move in now for the kill? Will he succeed?

Attention is drawn to his referred familial association with sugar, its struggle and his working class roots. It would be good to hear from him why he is only now speaking out against the threatened de-recognition of GAWU when he has failed to do same for the Guyana Bauxite and General Worker Union (GB&GWU)which over  the past year has been struggling against de-recognition. Does he see bauxite workers as unimportant to Guyana? An opportunity had presented itself in the National Assembly via the motion brought against Labour Minister Manzoor Nadir, but he left.

Mr Nagamootoo is asking “as we observe Christmas, ‘Light a Candle’ for our sugar workers.” His call is supported, but he is also asked to ‘Light a Candle’ for all the workers of Guyana who over the years have been ill treated by the government he supports. It is hoped that now the nation will hear more from him on the injustices meted out to workers across the spectrum, including calling for a reduction in VAT, a fairer PAYE system, and eliminating the burdens the working class is forced to shoulder by an anti-working class government. Will he be the working class vanguard for the PPP ruling elites?

Yours faithfully,
M A Bacchus 

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