The Government of Guyana in early 2006 believed that the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) was planning to disrupt the country with the aid of the “Buxton resistance group” according to former US Ambassador Roland Bullen.
In a February 15, 2006 cable to Washington, titled ‘Labour struggles to unify as GOG seizes initiative,’ Bullen said the information was provided to the embassy by high ranking officials in the Office of the President.
Bullen, describing the prevailing labour issues that existed at that time, said that underlying those issues was a political context of “suspicion and division within the labor movement in Guyana, much of it deeply personal.”
At that time the GPSU was in an ongoing struggle for government salary arbitration, although Bullen noted that government condemned the union’s actions as politically motivated.
“[Name of the official] provided EconOff a briefing paper ostensibly based on information received from dissident members of the GPSU that alleges that union is planning to disrupt the country with the support of ‘the Buxton resistance group’ in the coming months,” Bullen said in the cable.
The statement provided by the official also alleged that the US Diaspora was “financing arrangements in the hopes that the GPSU can act along the lines of the political strikes of the 1960s.”
“While the credibility of such claims is uncertain, this sentiment is indicative of the long history of suspicion that clouds labour unions in Guyana,” Bullen noted.
He said during the meeting with embassy officials, the OP official also insisted that the GPSU missed a “golden opportunity” for compromise 18 months before, when its President Patrick Yarde apparently undermined negotiations with the Office of the President by blasting President Bharrat Jagdeo on an a television talk show.
For his part, Yarde, Bullen said, accused the government of heavy-handedness in its handling of the union’s demonstrations to date. Yarde labeled the heavy police presence along the GPSU’s February 8, 2005 march route as a “blatant act of intimidation” and blamed it for the low turnout. Yarde also insisted that he received word from private sector sources that President Jagdeo had said he would just as soon eliminate the GPSU if he could find a way to do so.
At the time GPSU had announced a second lunchtime march planned for the same route on February 15, 2005. Yarde had stated his commitment to non-violent industrial action, and the prospects of major civil disruption seemed unlikely to Bullen for several reasons.
“First, the low turnout at the previous march, be it due to intimidation or a lack of coordination within the public service union, suggests the mandate for major industrial action on the part of the PSU’s membership is weak,” he said
Bullen felt at the time that the wage increase seemed to have “undercut the union’s efforts to mobilize its sagging membership.”
Yarde had observed that resource constraints may limit the GPSU’s ability to sustain action along the lines of the 57-day strike in 1999, after which the union lost its ability to automatically collect membership dues as an agency shop.