The GPSU’s leadership has failed to realize that increasingly they stand alone

Dear Editor,

I write in relation to the article captioned ‘GPSU’s leadership cupboard bare’ in the July 19, 2011 edition of the Stabroek News.

In my view, the GPSU’s leadership failed to recognise and adapt accordingly to the changes that have occurred internationally since the 1980s. As a result, the GPSU stuck to the outdated strategy of the 1960s, confrontation with the government, which worked in the early years of the Jadgeo presidency, but which proved to be totally unproductive over the long term, leaving this once powerful union struggling for its survival.

In the 1980s leaders of the world’s two most prominent democracies were able to effectively curb the power of public sector unions. In August 1981, US President Ronald Reagan fired thousands of unionized air-traffic controllers for illegally going on strike. Reagan, in making the announcement, recounted that he was a life-long member of an affiliated union of the AFL-CIO (equivalent of Guyana’s TUC) and that its president had once called a strike. However, he noted “we cannot compare labor-management relations in the private sector with government. Government cannot close down the assembly line.”

In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher saw the passage of the Employment Act of 1980 which required 80% approval of the workers to establish a closed shop, a workplace where union membership was mandatory. It also restricted sympathy strikes, strikes that workers held in support of other workers on strike and limited picketing to the workers’ place of employment. Next came The Employment Act of 1982 which made sympathy strikes virtually illegal. These were then followed by The Trade Union and Employment Acts of 1988 under which workers could no longer be disciplined for not participating in an official strike. Most importantly, unions could be sued for damages if the majority of the workers had not agreed to strike.
Reagan and Thatcher not only set the standard for government-public sector union relations in their own countries, but set the example for all democratic governments to follow, without fear of condemnation. Concurrent with these changes, governments in most industrialized countries started to downsize, devolve, and privatize operations. Consequently, public service unions in these countries were being weakened through lay-offs, buy-outs, and the creation of new entities which were not bound by the same old rules. This was the environment into which Mr Yarde came on the scene, an environment in which GPSU’s union allies abroad were themselves under attack by their governments which in the past would have been critical of the PPP.

Whereas in the 1960s the predecessor of the GPSU was able to call on and get tangible help from Public Service International (PSI) and the American Federation of States and Municipal Employees (AFSME) in its fight with the PPP, after 1992 the GPSU’s leadership failed to realize that increasingly they stand alone. Times have changed. Earlier this year, it was reported that in the USA, Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker “succeeded in taking away nearly all of the collective bargaining rights from the vast majority of the state’s public employees, delivering an epic blow to the labour movement.” Neither the PSI nor AFSME or, for that matter, the AFL-CIO (another player in the fight against the PPP in the 1960s) could stop the Governor.

As GPSU’s members look to the future, they may wish to compare how well they have done in relation to the other public sector unions in the country, eg the teacher’s union. At the national level Guyana’s constitution limits the president to two terms in office.

The membership of the GPSU may wish to consider if a term limit should not be in place for the president of their union.

Yours faithfully,
Harry Hergash

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