GAWU is the real champion of sugar workers

Dear Editor,

In a letter entitled ‘What about the rights of workers?’ published in the Guyana Chronicle of December 21, 2010, someone claiming to be Mr Ganesh Singh made a number of malicious accusations about my role in GAWU and the struggle of the sugar workers.

I do not generally pay much attention to lies peddled about me. Time has been my best defender. I have even ignored attacks which appeared to be well orchestrated to undermine me politically. But I cannot turn a blind eye when the orchestration is aimed beyond me to undermine a dedicated trade union organisation and the legitimate struggle of its members.

The first attempt at mischief is contained in the assertion, “GAWU’s misrepresentation of workers’ rights took a new twist following the dismissal of Navin Chandarpal from Office of the President and his employment with GAWU.”

By that assertion, the ‘Ganesh Singh’ wants the sugar workers and the nation as a whole to believe two lies:

-that GAWU is no longer representing workers’ rights and

-that I, Navin Chandarpal, am responsible for a change in GAWU and the workers’ behaviour.

The reality is that GAWU has been from its formation and continues to this day to be the real champion of the sugar workers. There has been no change. The accusers would have liked GAWU to excuse the failures of the Board and the management of GuySuCo and to condition the workers to feel guilty and unreasonable if they ask for any wage increase. By standing firmly on the workers’ side, GAWU is accused of misrepresentation of workers’ rights and of misleading workers.

Secondly, to feel that I can cause a change in GAWU’s approach is to fail to understand how GAWU works. GAWU is not a one man show. But maybe ‘Ganesh Singh’ assumes that a one-man show is a norm because they have grown accustomed to it. GAWU is a democratic union. The General Council makes decisions for GAWU. Branch members are consulted regularly. I am not a member of the General Council of GAWU, but I admire and have full confidence in the leadership demonstrated by Cdes Komal Chand, Seepaul Narine and other members of the General Council.  Their history of militancy and commitment to the welfare of GAWU’s members long preceeds my employment by GAWU.

What ‘Ganesh Singh’ wishes to ignore is the fact that at the time when I joined the staff of GAWU at the beginning of 2010, sugar workers were still very bitter at the meagre 3 per cent wage increase for 2009 when others got 6 per cent.  As one sugar worker declared: “Sugar workers feel half satisfied.”   They were hoping for better treatment in 2010. Lo and behold GuySuCo comes up with a zero offer. Any bitterness and aggressiveness among sugar workers was generated by none other than GuySuCo itself.

To shift the focus from the genuine industrial dispute, ‘Ganesh Singh’ has invoked a political agenda by the assertion, “However, GAWU in recent months, being influenced by certain elements, seeks to disregard workers’ welfare and the entire sugar industry and now is on a campaign to support presidential ambitions.”

Whose ambitions?  This clearly does not apply to me. I have nowhere indicated any such interest. But perhaps they are uncertain because of their knowledge that many inside and outside of the sugar industry have been suggesting that I do. But what I know for certain is that they are concerned about the strong influence that the vote of sugar workers and those close to them can have on the outcome of the final elections.

They know that sugar workers will be looking towards a candidate who is not hostile to GAWU and who has demonstrated support for the struggle of sugar workers. The only way that any hopeful with presidential ambitions can become acceptable to sugar workers is to stand up unequivocally for the workers and dissociate themselves from the assault on workers carried out by GuySuCo. It’s not me that they should be worried about. It’s the advanced political knowledge of the majority of sugar workers that they have to be fearful of.

To cream off the litany of lies ‘Ganesh Singh’ attempts to portray me as being given an “exhorbitant salary” by GAWU. Those who know me well, will remember that I worked for many years at Freedom House at a salary well below what my colleagues in the teaching profession with the same qualification were getting. I turned down a scholarship for further studies because our Leader Comrade Cheddi Jagan asked me to stay with the PYO after the defection of some key party and PYO leaders in 1976.

I worked for the reduced salary because the salary scheme at Freedom House was a modest one in keeping with the nature of our party, and I was comfortable earning a salary within that framework. When GAWU invited me to accept the position of Principal of GAWU Labour College, I willingly agreed to work within the union salary framework just as I did at Freedom House because of my belief in and commitment to the cause of GAWU and the working class. I can assure whoever is interested that my salary at GAWU is many bands below what I would have earned as principal of a secondary school in Guyana.

Its seems that the existence of the GAWU Labour College and my role as the Principal serve to irritate ‘Ganesh Singh.’ I have long been associated with workers’ education programmes and feel the need now more than ever for workers to be properly educated in terms of working class ideology and the global, national and work environment in which they operate. This is the objective of the GAWU Labour College in keeping with the legacy of the late Honorary President of GAWU and President of Guyana, Comrade Cheddi Jagan. I know that reference to Comrade Cheddi’s legacy is also a source of irritation to ‘Ganesh Singh.’ Unfortunately for ‘him,’ I, like GAWU, will proudly uphold and promote that legacy.

In closing, I wish to say that I have no apologies for my commitment and support to the cause of GAWU, the sugar workers and indeed the entire working class. To Mr ‘Ganesh Singh’ and creators I ask in the spirit of the working class movement, “Whose side are you on?”

Yours faithfully,
Navin Chandarpal

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