The Alliance For Change (AFC) yesterday launched a scathing attack on the union GAWU, accusing it of decades of sabotage of the sugar industry and not genuinely representing the interests of its workers.
Coming two days after a meeting between the APNU+AFC government and GAWU and NAACIE at the Ministry of the Presidency on the future of the sugar industry, the AFC column in yesterday’s Kaieteur News will raise eyebrows and questions about who is making decisions in the party.
In its column entitled `The chickens have come home to roost in the sugar industry’, the AFC said that as the governing coalition attempts to address the problem-plagued sugar sector, “the destructive role of the union over the years cannot escape scrutiny.”
Describing the union as the labour arm of the PPP, the column said that in the 1970s GuySuCo regularly reported annual production figures above 300,000 tonnes of sugar and that this allowed the country to easily meet its export commitments.
“But as the PPP stepped up the fight to weaken and remove the PNC from office in the late ‘80s, GAWU lost all pretence of being a genuine labour union, fighting for the betterment of the thousands of sugar workers that it represented”, the AFC column asserted.
The column said that no one could forget the numerous times when GAWU called out its members on strike to build pressure on the PNC, ignoring the damage it wrought on the economy and GuySuCo in particular.
“So hark back to the 1989-90 period. This period is very politically significant in that general elections were due in 1990, five years after the last were held in 1985. PPP leaders were patrolling the world telling everyone who would listen that Guyana had no democracy, and that only free and fair elections in 1990 would restore such. “But as we all know, the elections were postponed until October 1992. The PPP won and the rest as they say is history”, the column said.
This section of the column appeared to cast doubt on whether Guyana had been a victim of rigged elections during the 1985-1990 period.
Two of the AFC’s senior leaders, Khemraj Ramjattan and Moses Nagamootoo were members of the PPP at that time and subscribed to view that elections had been rigged then and earlier.
The AFC column went on to say that “GAWU used its power and influence in sugar in 1989 and 1990 to such devastating effects that sugar production was so low that GuySuCo fell short of its lifeline and crucial export target to the European Union by 35,000 tonnes in 1989 and by 13,000 tonnes in 1990, the year when general elections were originally to be held.
“In fact, in 1989, GuySuCo made 129,000 tonnes, compared to last year’s figure which was less than 140,000. GAWU also had let it be known publicly that any target the then PNC administration had set for sugar, that it (GAWU) was able to ensure that such target was not met. The efforts at reaching the target were sabotaged by the union.
“That very low figure of 129,000 tonnes in an era famous for figures of about 270-280,000 was an embarrassment to the administration and GuySuCo. Had enough of us been paying keen attention, it would have occurred to us that GAWU is and was a union that was not that willing to fight for workers’ rights as it was willing to do whatever it could politically to bring the industry to a near halt to support the PPP and its political endeavours”, the AFC column said.
The 129,000 tonnes referred to by the AFC column was produced in 1990, not 1989. Moreover the low production figures during that period were not attributed to sabotage by GAWU – even though arson in sugar fields had been an ongoing problem – it was attributed mainly to poor management by GuySuCo and shoddy upkeep of sugar cultivations. Indeed, in 1990, the then PNC government decided to hire Booker Tate to manage GuySuCo and production began increasing progressively thereafter until 2005.
The AFC column added “Today, a union that collects millions in union dues alone every month, is making the loudest noises, demanding that Government finds the money by hook or crook to pay its members full severance, despite the fact that the union has worked over the decades to ensure that GuySuCo never had a chance to function properly and efficiently.
“Thousands of man hours and days were lost to strikes, industrial sit-ins and other forms of protests for the flimsiest of reasons. GuySuCo lost millions in missed production, workers missed out millions in earned wages and salaries, and export targets suffered”.
The AFC column further said that the 1990s saw such an exponential rise in strikes and sick days that the media hardly reported these. It said that today the industry is being kept alive only because authorities are “wise and fearless enough to take the tough decision to close estates which need to stop producing because of inefficiencies and high production costs.”
In his column in yesterday’s Guyana Chronicle, Prime Minister Nagamootoo referred to the meeting with the sugar unions on Friday and described the President of GAWU, Komal Chand as “one of the most outstanding Guyanese labour leaders.”
Chand was the leader of GAWU through the period referred to in the AFC column and the column would therefore appear to be severely at odds with the PM’s description of the GAWU leader.
In a column in Stabroek News last November, political commentator Dr Henry Jeffrey opined that the AFC had been “hijacked” by the pro-PNC faction in its executive.