It is with a great deal of sadness that I read in your Saturday edition of the passing of veteran trade unionist Leslie Melville in the USA. Leslie Melville was a fully fledged trade unionist and a friend of the workers in every respect. He took pride in his leadership role, friendship and strong solidarity with the workers in Guyana. I can never forget his enthusiasm for the May Day rally, as he would be among the first to arrive at the Parade Ground distributing placards and red shirts to the workers for their May Day march.
Cde Leslie Melville’s intellectual ability was not limited to his tutoring of workers at the Critchlow Labour College, but extended into practical fields of research. One of his most memorable investigations was in 1987 when prices in the parallel market reigned supreme. Leslie Melville compared the cost of the basket of goods offered to slaves during slavery with the minimum wage in Guyana. He found that the minimum wage paid to workers in that year purchased far less food at current prices than what was offered to slaves under forced labour. This simple thought-provoking and complete analysis justified Marx’s argument that workers are paid not the value of social product they create but a subsistence called wages.
In the past I purused the notes of the discussions of the Annual Meeting of the then Trade Union Congress and found Melville’s contribution to be right on target. He became the General Secretary of the Guyana Public Service Union at a critical juncture of its history, as young and militant George Daniels became the President of the TUC and the GPSU broke from the TUC along with the sugar, bauxite, clerical and university unions to form FITUG in 1988. He was no easy pushover and stood strongly for his principles. In 1989 he was asked by a group in the union to retract a remark about the then head of state, Mr Desmond Hoyte; he refused, and he bravely faced the consequences.
Leslie Melville was also
vociferous on the privatization of state-owned assets at fire sale prices, beginning with the telephone company in 1990. He made presentations at many seminars, and famous among those was the discussion on the McIntyre Report at the large lecture theatre at the University of Guyana in 1990. Some time in the late ’70s attempts were made to politicize the trade union movement by the ruling elite. Dr Harold Lutchman then a leader in the university union, in a hard-hitting address to the TUC argued that the “TUC cannot afford to have permanent allies but only prominent interests.” In this regard Leslie Melville has always been there for the welfare of the workers. His simplicity and approachability was second to none. Despite his radical and militant stance he was able to balance between was economically feasible and what was just for the worker.
Finally, Leslie Melville walked in the hall of Guyana’s famous trade unionists like Joesph Pollydore, Boysie Ramkarran and Gordon Todd, and was fired by a passion for destiny.
He was a home-grown hero of the workers; a role model of a rich history in the trade union movement.
Farewell to the fallen warrior. May his soul rest in peace.