Statistics throw cold water on AFC’s attack on GAWU

Dear Editor,

The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) has noted the contents of the Alliance for Change (AFC) column titled `The chickens have come home to roost in the sugar industry’ which appeared in the January 21, 2018 Kaieteur News. Several aspects of that column we recognised also appeared in an article which was published in the January 22, 2018 Stabroek News as well. The column which came just about 48 hours after we engaged a high-ranking Ministerial delegation that comprised several AFC leaders where our organisation heard several complimentary statements about our work and history has us wondering whether the AFC is suffering from a “Jekyll and

Hyde” syndrome.

Having examined the column, our Union is of the view that the AFC obviously is upset by our militant and strong action as we stood up and opposed the decisions in the sugar industry which have affected thousands of Guyanese and which decisions from all appearances were supported with open arms by that political grouping. The AFC, no doubt, with an eye on its waning political fortunes has decided to launch what clearly is a jaundiced, biased and misinformed view of our Union’s proud history.

The AFC columnist(s) has sought, unashamedly, to castigate our Union for the sorrowful state the sugar industry finds itself today. This simply is hogwash emanating from the AFC. During the AFC’s short, and one can say destructive, excursion in which the sugar industry is under the direct responsibility of an AFC Minister, sugar production has fallen from 231,071 tonnes in 2015 to 137,297 tonnes in 2017, a decline of 93,774 tonnes or 40.58 per cent. The AFC should be the last to talk.

The Party’s column goes on contending that our Union was engaged in political strikes during the 1989-1991 period. This again is a figment of the AFC’s imagination. Strike data for that period indicated that strike man days fell by approximately 66 per cent between 1989 and 1990 and a further 51 per cent between 1990 and 1991. Certainly, the statistics throw cold water on the AFC’s maligned contention.

The AFC also failed to recognise that during the latter 1980s when the country’s economy sunk to its lowest ebb, all workers faced trying and difficult times. That situation was made worse by the harsh structural adjustment measures which by the stroke of a pen wiped away the little wealth workers had accrued over the years through their hard work.

Undoubtedly, any rational person, given the circumstances, would have been upset and used every opportunity to express their dismay. GAWU, as a responsible organization, had a duty to its members and provided principled leadership as the workers saw all they worked for being snatched away. We have no qualms about our work in that period and would not change a thing should history repeat itself as it now seemingly is.

The columnist(s) then goes on saying that the industry produced 129,000 tonnes sugar in 1989, when page four (4) of the GuySuCo 1989 Annual Report says clearly 164,800 tonnes sugar was produced. Clearly the AFC columnist(s) did not do proper research and is pulling things out of the air and seeking to pass them off as factual. But, for the AFC’s benefit let’s get the fact straight. Between 1988 and 1990, workers’ real income in the sugar industry fell by 71.34 per cent. Certainly such a despairing situation, as the numbers describe, provides hardly any motivation. In fact then President Hugh Desmond Hoyte during that period had said sugar workers children were becoming doctors and lawyers and were not interested in cutting cane. This we all know was not true and when the workers’ pay rates were reflective of reality, the workers returned to work in a committed way and the

industry recovered and between 2002 and 2004 produced 319,583 tonnes on average.

The AFC says that the industry is now being kept alive “because authorities are wise and fearless”. But we ask where is this wisdom and bravery the AFC speaks about especially when 4,763 workers have been sent home and are being reduced to mendicants for their legal entitlements. Today, the AFC has shown its true stripes and all the pretenses have been thrown out the window. The promises of 20 per cent wage increase or the commitment in its 2011 Elections manifesto that “[t]he AFC will not privatize GuySuCo”, or Vice President Khemraj Ramjattan’s declaration at the APNU/AFC Whim rally on March 29, 2016 that “we are not going to in any way close the sugar industry” have all vanished.

Today, the AFC has shown its hand and exposed its charlatan-like qualities. While it is disturbing that the party has chosen to seemingly throw acid on our positive efforts in engaging the Government of which it is part, the GAWU remains committed to good faith engagements in an effort to safeguard and protect the thousands of lives who have been affected by the callous approach to the sugar industry. At this time, we urge the AFC to stop living in the past and to realize that today it is in the driver’s seat and should stop its emptying politicking.

Yours faithfully,

Seepaul Narine

General Secretary

GAWU

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