This society needs to embrace more liberated and progressive thinking

Dear Editor,

Milton Bruce’s letter ‘The Editor-in-Chief makes all the decisions’ (SN, March 20) refers.

Let me from the outset clarify two key positions he had articulated to which I take serious objection. One, as a trade unionist I’m an activist, because trade unionism emerged from activism and involves daily activism to bring about changes in the lives of citizens/workers, in and out of the workplace.  Activism is essential to trade unionism and any group or individual seeking to effect change. On the other darker side, activism is evident in those who seek to silence progressive voices and suppress the masses. Right now Mr Bruce can be classified as engaging in the dark side of activism.

Two, this notion that criticism of government’s performance is unacceptable in government’s newspaper: The government has no newspaper. The people own the Guyana Chronicle and all state media and it is their taxpayer dollars that fund these. With this comes the corresponding expectation that the people will be free to criticise the government and opposition who they are paying as representatives to serve them.

It was activism on my part as General Secretary, Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) on 1st May 2015 when I stood at the rostrum at the Labour Day Rally and called on the workers/citizens to “fire the PPP/C and hire the APNU+AFC come 15th May!” That activism came with the expectation that should this group be elected to office it will be better than the PPP/C. It would be an abrogation of my responsibility not to continue my activism to ensure this government or any future government delivers on an expectation and promises. In addition to criticising, there has been support and proposals, but I’ll be damned to think that the latter two should disregard the former when all are important in bringing about a society of equity and public accountability for which the trade union strives.

This matter of the subvention being returned was not a favour, and to expect silence because it was returned is to accept that the PPP/C government was right to remove it because the trade union should not have criticised it and held it to account.  When Forbes Burnham’s government and the GTUC agreed that Labour will play a pivotal role in workers/citizens’ training and education his administration saw it as an obligation to assist in making it possible for them to be empowered. Burnham did this to establish the trade union (Labour) as a social partner in the development of this country, knowing full well that Labour would always question or come in conflict with the employer or government.

When the current government was in opposition it benefited from my criticisms of the PPP/C government. These were not partisan though they rode high on them. Those criticisms were, are and will continue to be driven by wanting better for the workers/citizens.  Government and opposition shall be held accountable by me as a citizen and leader, and it matters not who are the actors in either position. My right to vote and civic responsibility to pay taxes and obey the laws carry a corresponding right and responsibility to freely express my views, ensure the laws protect the citizens/workers and see elected officials manage the affairs of state within the framework of.

No 11 of the Editor-in-Chief’s (EIC) job description which says, “terminate the employment of the freelance staff mentioned at No 10 (above) if they fail to perform satisfactorily within the framework of the editorial requirement of the department.”  Appraisal is a day-to-day process and the appraisee, ie the freelance staff member ‒ according to industrial relations practice and this does not only apply in an unionised  environment ‒  needs to be told whether his/her performance is satisfactory or not. At no time had the EIC ever discharged this responsibility and were I fighting this case for a worker it is a clear violation of due process and could be litigious. The political interference in informing the decision to terminate my and David Hinds’ contract guides my response to this issue.  Further, criticism of government’s performance does not constitute non-satisfactory performance, it is the exercise of civic duty and thinking by the staff, writer/speaker.

Organisations, particularly government, are established according to rules, conventions and principles, and their effective functioning is reliant on these. The Guyana Chronicle has no exemption! The problem with this government and its enabling supporters is that they do not want to follow rules and respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens. When they were opposition and fighting to have access to state media it was not to have access not to critique the PPP/C government.  It is naïve and irresponsible to expect that people should give up their right to criticise.

To the view that there is division in the movement, let it be made known that in 1988 when there was a walkout by seven unions, that was driven by internal differences, but which also respected the right to freedom of association. In the 1999 scenario, though resulting from different reasons, the principle still obtains. It is the right of every union to determine whether it wants to associate with a federation or not. The principle of solidarity does not deprive anyone of rights; what it seeks is to ensure solidarity around fundamental rights, freedoms and time-honoured principles. Despite the different federations the trade unions, from time to time, have been able to forge unity on common issues, respect for collective bargaining and sugar being two such.

This society needs an end to dark activism and an embrace and tolerance for more liberating and progressive thinking.

Yours faithfully,

Lincoln Lewis  

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