The struggle of the bauxite workers continues

Dear Editor,

A government that abrogates its side of the social contract with the people is no longer a government of the people and loses the moral authority to govern.  Almost two years into the struggle for justice and fair play by bauxite workers employed at the Bauxite Company of Guyana Inc (BCGI), and millions of dollars denied in income that would have contributed to personal and national development, the PPP has the gall to ask the people of this nation to re-elect them.

The struggle of the bauxite workers to ensure their constitutional right to work, strike, freedom of association and collective bargaining affects all of us, because “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr). Further, the commonality of these struggles has been one to secure equality, dignity and respect. The fact that the Minister of Labour and his responsible ministry have refused to respect the rights of workers by enforcing the laws they have drawn a clear line in the sand wherein ours become the responsibility to ensure history does not repeat itself.

The Ministry of Labour summoned a meeting with the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union (GB&GWU) and BCGI for September 21. The union turned up but the company refused to attend and the meeting was rescheduled for the next day. The next day BCGI turned up, spoke with the ministry and refused to engage the union which was present for the meeting. There is absolutely no rational reason for this company’s continued refusal to respect the laws of this sovereign nation unless it has the support of the governing PPP.

Another meeting is scheduled for October 6, and it is to be seen what will happen.

When government whose authority is premised on protecting the people, ensuring their rights are respected and their resources properly managed engages in acts by itself or in collusion with others to transgress these tenets it clearly speaks to an attack on the people. Evidently this is no industrial dispute or class struggle but open antagonism and discrimination against workers.

We recall at the beginning of the dispute, Minister Manzoor Nadir in responding to a question on his input to resolve the matter, told this nation, “We should let this festive season of goodwill take its course and hopefully both parties will exercise more generosity towards each other” (SN,

January 2, 2010). The fact that the minister expects “generosity” in the face of a transgression of rights offers insight into the thinking of those given the privilege to serve us. He in effect has communicated to workers that he will abrogate his constitutional responsibility and deny them justice. A similar message was transmitted to others whose economic sustenance is also reliant on the purchasing power of bauxite workers.

The PPP and Minister are fully aware of the principle, justice delayed is justice denied, and a third Christmas cometh with the matter unresolved. In other societies where rights, the rule of law and accountability are respected as pillars for development this Minister would have lost his job and mounting pressure would have been applied on the government to enforce the laws. But where fear stalks the land, as in ours, immobilising many in our midst, such standards are thwarted. Be reminded the only thing to fear is fear itself, since ours is the right to demand what’s rightly ours.

Today there are men and women with wives, husbands and school-age children who are deliberately being denied. Though our foreparents fought against practices of discrimination, divide and rule, and the rulers enriching themselves on the backs of the workers, these retrogressive behaviours have returned with a vengeance. But having inherited the indomitable spirit to be treated as human beings, born in equality, ours becomes the responsibility to continue the struggle, for as long as it takes, until justice prevails.

Bauxite workers are said to be the country’s most skilled artisans. To their legacy in 1976 they built the world’s longest dragline, putting this country on the map and winning the admiration of others. They are the first to negotiate a redundancy package, advancing the well-being of the country’s workers and improving industrial relations, which today forms the foundation for the Termination and Severance Pay Act. These workers toil for 10 to 12 hours a day, removing thousands of tonnes of overburden, under arduous conditions, and still maintain perfect attendance. Collectively in the 1980s they negotiated a package which saw them making upfront sacrifices to acquire necessities. They have also through struggle negotiated tax-free overtime, a benefit extended to sugar workers and later taken away from them under the PPP administration, even as it remains in sugar.

Bauxite revenue paid the salaries of teachers and public servants and funded national development projects. Here is a group of workers who over the years have taken pride in the adage, ‘By the sweat of thy brow thou shall eat bread.‘ These workers have laboured unceasingly, made sacrifices when needed, significantly contributed to their development, that of others and this country and seek no handouts but demand what’s justly theirs. Yet the PPP actively targets them for abuse and denial.

Today I say to Donald Ramotar, Bharrat Jagdeo and Manzoor Nadir – the architects behind these injustices – the longest rope has an end. Their policies to deny a people what’s justly theirs will not succeed. For however long it takes there will no retreat or surrender for we vow to die fighting on our feet than live on our knees. And as day follows night we shall overcome.

Yours faithfully,
Lincoln Lewis

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