It does no harm for the labour movement to get the occasional reminder about its threatened drift into irrelevance even though fears that it sometimes interprets those reminders quite incorrectly. Labour in principle is altogether relevant, particularly in these days when threats to workers rights appear to be an ever present danger. The question is whether or not the labour movement, in its current debilitated condition is appropriately equipped to bear that burner and if it is not whether it might not be best advised to seriously contemplate such criticism as comes its way.
The labour movement appears to have become stricken with an acute paranoia that compels some of its leaders to lash out at anything remotely resembling public criticism of its record as protectors of the workers’ rights. The most recent example, a robust if decidedly misguided response by the General Secretary of what remains of the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) Lincoln Lewis to an editorial published in the Stabroek News earlier this year demonstrates just how unfocussed the movement has become.
Ironically, the GTUC General Secretary who, himself, is never indifferent about making his feelings known on issues which he considers to be important, strikes a distinct posture of intolerance in his response to the editorial. The whole style of his response appeared to suggest that he was rather more interested in ‘jumping on’ the newspaper than on sifting through and trying to systematically ‘shoot down’ the points raised in the editorial.
Pity indeed the the local labour movement appears to have become afflicted by such an acute sense of paranoia that it now feels constrained to throw a tantrum over what it perceives to be even the most honest criticism of its present condition.
However labour might feel about the admittedly unacceptable collusion between the Chinese contractors and local officials to put together an all Chinese team to build the Marriot, its lack of any real constituency and its consequent inability to mobilize an effective protest meant that it could not, on its own, do much about the Marriot situation.
The second substantive point made in the newspaper editorial was that the GTUC would do well to pay some attention to what might be some important emerging opportunities for unionizing a sizeable section of the local work force and it is nothing short of arrant nonsense to suggest that in the matter of unionizing workers the GTUC has no real role or at best a peripheral one.
What clearly takes the cake, however, is the suggestion in the General Secretary’s missive that the suggestion in the editorial that it is high time that the old guard move over and make way for younger leaders is, somehow, an attack on the right of the current leaders to work. Surely, it can be no feather in labour’s cap that more than half of its current leaders have been in office for at least 20 years and that there is no evidence whatsoever of a younger tier of leaders on the horizon.
The assertion that labour is drifting, that it may, these days, have no legs to stand is neither far-fetched nor is it intended to heap ridicule on the movement. The truth of the matter is that it does appear quite rudderless and no amount of verbally violent responses to honest and altogether justifiable criticism will alter that reality.