‘As a trade unionist I take seriously the responsibility to engage in activism that will bring about justice and fair play’

Dear Editor,

Milton Bruce’s ‘We have heard what Lewis wrote ad nauseam’ (SN, March 28) refers. The absence of integrity and credibility being brought to matters of national import which impact on the welfare and well-being of workers/citizens retards the development of this country and its people.

It is instructive as Mr Bruce opined that external pressure/ political interference was not brought to bear on the Editor-in-Chief (EiC) of the Guyana Chronicle to terminate my and David Hinds’s columns. Stabroek News in a news item ‘Four Chronicle directors resigned’ recounted its engagement with a soon-to-be-former member of the Board validating that the EiC alluded to external influence informing his decision to terminate.

As a trade unionist I take seriously the responsibility to engage in activism that will bring about justice and fair play in society, including public accountability. This is the type of change being pursued and such can only come about in an atmosphere where progressive thinking and tolerance are respected and allowed to flourish.

Once one is hired he/she can be fired. The issue before the nation is termination and what is being questioned is the manner in which it has been done. Clearly outlined in the EiC’s Job Description at No 11 is that termination is permissible if the staff failed to perform satisfactorily. This can only be determined in an appraisal process where the appraisee is being appraised. This never happened with Hinds and me. At no time were we made aware that we were operating outside of the editorial guidelines.

We have been informed, through various persons, our termination had to do with criticism of the government in a newspaper that is owned by the people of Guyana, not the government. This is the type of double standards we confront and must continue to challenge. When the PPP/C government exercised similar influence in the state-owned media, we along with the coalition condemned it, called it attacks on press freedom and shutting out the voices of dissent and alternative views. Myself, Mark Benschop, Freddie Kissoon, Gerhard Ramsaroop and his wife stood in front of the Chronicle with placards protesting such behaviour. The coalition when in opposition slashed the budget of the state-owned media in protest against political control, intrusion and denial of freedoms.

It is the role of the Board to shape the policy direction of any organisation. It remains instructive in the instance of the Chronicle its Board seems to be in the dark about a policy shift even as some of its members forget the integrity and credibility of any institution is hinged on ensuring respect for the rights of the staff and maintaining professionalism with those whom they employ, interact and do business with.

Making known the General Secretary’s input in influencing a change on May 15, 2015 is not thumping of the chest, but a statement of fact for those who chose to ignore the trade union’s role through the years, or solely credit themselves or other factors for the change. The coalition had nowhere to turn to receive an endorsement from any mass based organisation or a major platform outside of their rallies to speak to workers/citizens/voters. The Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) gave them that platform at our Labour Day Rally on 1st May. At that rally both David Granger and Moses Nagamootoo made public a communiqué they agreed to with the GTUC and their commitment to honour same when they were elected.

The ‘tom-toms’ to rid society of a PPP/C government should not be misread that the people will not express similar sentiments about any government which they feel is not governing in their best interest. This too goes for the APNU+AFC.  Where the people voted for change and were promised change but see a continuation of similar conduct, the coalition will be judged harder.  The ‘tom-toms’ of dissatisfaction and concern are also beating for this administration. Whereas it may not be with the crescendo of the PPP/C it is foolhardy to underestimate the voters or insult their intelligence so that they are treated as mere mules who can be blindly led or taken for granted.

The 2015 elections results show that though the coalition won the executive and legislature, the parliamentary majority was secured by merely one vote. Region 8 which gave the AFC the numerical majority in 2011 that secured a resounding parliamentary one seat majority for the opposition, in 2015 secured same by the skin of their teeth.   It should be noted that displaying arrogance or taking the masses for granted is neither shrewd nor smart in a situation where a government has a less than 5000 votes victory in a polarised society, a legislative majority won by one vote, and an electorate that can vote by casting a ballot for one party/group or the other, or which can stay away or just spoil the ballot.

On the matter of the grant to the trade union, let me advise:  Where Mr Bruce deems that such is a favour, he fails to understand the role of government in the people’s development and the constitutional right of the trade union to function in this society as an organisation with responsibility to be involved in the management and decision-making processes of the State (Article 149C) and ensuring production and productivity in the economy (Article 38).

In progressive countries like Barbados the government gives the Caribbean Congress of Labour a yearly grant. The Trinidad and Tobago government finances the entire budget for Cipriani Labour College. The Suriname government pays the staff of its Labour College. These practices have become institutional and obtain regardless of which party/group forms the government.

Where the grants became institutional from the Forbes Burnham, Desmond Hoyte, Cheddi Jagan and Janet Jagan governments, in spite of differences with these administrations as government and employer, and where Bharrat Jagdeo and Donald Ramotar took away these because of intolerance of being held to account, it cannot constitute a favour when such is returned under the coalition; it would be an indictment of those who think otherwise. The trade union and its attendant arms play a major role in workers’past, present and potential empowerment and development. These are important to creating a labour force equipped for production, productivity, and human development.

Reckless statements and the propensity for dark activism (non-progressive and intolerant thinking) to justify an unjustifiable act because the government may reflect a racial identity is a disservice to racial upliftment, social cohesion, and human development.

Yours faithfully,

Lincoln Lewis

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