“Every single day, there is a problem in this country. Will we ever get out of the problems? Yes we will get out of the problems when we have a unified trade union movement,” Granger said to the applause of the workers during his address at the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) rally at the Critchlow Labour College.
Granger urged all workers to focus on unity, calling on them to “get back into your unions.” This year should be used to “redouble our efforts to combine, to strengthen, to reinforce our solidarity,” he further said, while adding that this must be the year in which the success and the solidarity of the trade union movement must be foremost and ahead of personality conflicts and politics. Workers, he stressed, must be put first.
According to Granger, all workers across the country are facing problems. “Indian workers in the sugar union, African workers, Amerindian workers, we all know the struggles that we face and this must be the year Guyanese of any ethnicity or any labour union must receive the top priority from the trade union movement,” he said.
For another year both umbrella bodies—the GTUC and the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG)—hosted separate rallies at the conclusion of the annual May Day march.
Workers from the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) and the Guyana Postal and Telecommunica-tions Workers Union (GPTWU), participated under the GTUC banner, as did members of main opposition APNU.
Braving the morning rains, which delayed the start for the parade, workers dressed in customary red marched into the compound of Critchlow Labour College, where Granger urged them to remember Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow’s fight for the rights of workers.
“We must not forget that we have to keep on struggling. We have to keep on keeping on,” he said, while adding that “the battle is not over and victory has not been won.”
The opposition leader noted that while APNU wants workers who are skilled, trained and who will be guaranteed employment, the working people are in “turmoil” as evident in their continuous picketing outside the National Assembly.
He lambasted the government over the budget, saying it contained nothing for the working people, the young and the old. “We asked for a salary increase across-the-board for working people, we didn’t get it… what we got instead was a cut-and-paste budget,” he said.
According to Granger, the small increase in old age pension and the 3% reduction in income tax are inadequate as they cannot be used to develop the country.
“This budget does not contain enough for your young people. Every single day, young people are dropping out of school… migrating… going on the streets looking for work,” he stressed.
Granger, in a reference to disputes between unions and multinational corporations operating in Guyana, also said that while all should welcome foreign investments, local workers should be respected and the “guests” must learn to observe the laws. He added that APNU will stand behind the labour movements to make sure all workers are protected.
In a short address before he took his leave, Labour Minister Dr Nanda Gopaul endorsed the call for unity in the trade union movement, while saying a strengthened body would help in resolving the problems affecting workers everywhere.
“I am not happy when workers’ rights are trampled upon and the Ministry of Labour has seen many cases during the last 12 months where dozens of workers have had their services terminated or were dismissed without benefits…,” he said, while adding that as a result of the ministry’s intervention, millions of dollars in benefits were brought to the workers.
He said that what he has outlined is only a fraction of cases of exploitation and “a strong movement” can put a halt to that.
“A strong movement can organise workers and ensure representation even in smaller industries,” he added.
He noted that the labour movement has come a far way, especially as it relates to an agreement on a national minimum wage. He said the order for the minimum wage is being prepared and it is hoped that that will be issued shortly.
Gopaul, who is a former union leader, observed that in every society leaders in government will have to be on their heels and advocates for labour will have to ensure that they put the pressure on to ensure that working people benefit and have their concerns addressed.
“I find it a joy to work with colleagues from the labour movement over the last 12 months and to have had the support from the labour movement and they pushed me along… what has happened in labour for labour was as a result of the input from the labour movement, workers from the GTUC as well as FITUG,” he noted.
He also praised the opposition Shadow Labour Minister Basil Williams, for advocating labour issues in the National Assembly and also asking “searching questions.” He said too that workers’ interests must not be compromised, before affirming that he would give 100% support to them. “I pledge to you that I will do everything in the interest of the working people as I hold the office as Minister of Labour. I came from the labour movement,” he said.
Meanwhile, GTUC President Norris Witter told the gathering that they have “serious challenges” ahead of them.
Referring to disunity in the labour movement, he accused the PPP/C government of engineering it and he singled out former president Bharrat Jagdeo as being the “architect of the division” in the movement.”
Witter attacked the independence of FITUG, saying its leaders “are sitting at the seat of the masters.” He also said that during the parade, FITUG was “jostling” to be ahead of the GTUC because they were afraid to walk behind the GTUC and more so behind the leader of the opposition and members of the AFC, who were also present.
In the middle of Witter’s speech, Prime Minister Samuel Hinds arrived. Following the playing of the national anthem to mark Hinds’s arrival, Witter turned his attention to him. “I appreciate the fact that you stood and I believe not because of his coming but out of respect for the national anthem.
I must speak the truth because while I respect him as a human being, I disrespect him for his collusion with evil people, to visit us with evil,” he said to loud applause.
Also addressing workers was GTUC General Secretary Lincoln Lewis, who focused on the country’s young people and the issues affecting them.
Lewis called for young people to be given the requisite skills to be able to enter the field of work. Lewis spoke also of youth leaving the country and not given a second chance in achieving the productive lives they were unable to get in the first instance.
“The youths are the future,” he stressed, while adding that the future needs to be something that they are eager to look forward to.