The defeat of the Motion, by the votes of the APNU+AFC in the National Assembly on Friday 20th July, which called for the renaming of the Ministry of Social Protection to that of the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection is an assault on workers who made it possible for those who today sit in the hallowed halls of Parliament. My grandmother would have fittingly described the Government’s vote as ‘ingratitude is worse than witchcraft.’
What is instructive in the Government’s argument, led by Minister of Social Protection Amna Ally, is that the issues used to justify voting against had nothing to do with the merit or demerit of the Motion. The excursion into political meanderings and the displays of intellectual paucity that have come to characterise the approach to serious discourses and conduct in the House is most troubling.
The Motion brought by the PPP/C, on behalf of the united trade union community, was not “an attack” on President David Granger’s decision to not have a ministry that gives equal prominence to Labour as done for other sectors and interests in society. It sought to draw attention to what the Labour/trade union community considers an anomaly in the governance and has been trying to correct since 2015 when the Granger/Moses Nagamootoo Administration abolished the Ministry of Labour.
For Minister Ally to even entertain, much less vocalise, the thinking that citizens should not question the decision of their elected representative, including the President who is Chief Public Servant, reflects contempt for the citizenry and the system of governance we have. Whereas the minister takes umbrage to the citizens’ right to question, her administration was supplicant to the intervention of a foreigner, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, calling on the President and Leader of the Opposition to come to the table and begin the process of dialogue on issues relating to governance. Has mental slavery not fled the corridors of power- how can it be wrong for citizens to hold their leaders to account but right for foreigners to do?
Further, the various themes advanced by the minister such as debunching for teachers, non-resolution of the impasse between the Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BCGI) and the workers, muzzling of the trade unions, and the sweeper/cleaner issues under the PPP/C administration when a Ministry of Labour existed, the named situations have not been righted with the now non-existence of a Ministry of Labour, making the argument moot.
Debates in the hallowed House, that workers made possible for those who sit in it, have moved from substance and dealing with issues in a cogent manner to that of silly disruption, noise and wishy-washy presentations. If this has come to exemplify the quality of thinking that is guiding the ship of state today no wonder the country is floundering at every front and the education standard is in decline, for our children and observers could take nothing of substance away other than what they ought not to be or become.
The contention by the minister that Labour and Social Protection go hand-in-hand thereby not needing the name Labour to be placed in naming of a ministry, I refuse to believe had any of her students, when she was in the classroom, demonstrated this sense of reasoning that student would not have been reprimanded. Labour has 189 Conventions, cutting across issues and demographics, of which Social Protection is an element, represented by 17.
The remaining more than 170 conventions cannot be subsumed by the 17.
Commonsense fled the minister in her debate preparation and presentation. Even as I pen this letter there is recall of her performance at the last Labour Day March and Rally. The minister, accompanied by Minister Keith Scott, walked out of the National Park because she was not listed to speak at the Rally. This sense of entitlement ignored that Forbes Burnham, Cheddie Jagan and Desmond Hoyte were allowed to speak by virtue of being trade unionists and the premier leaders of their respective unions. Ministers Ally and Scott are neither.
Minister Ally is the General Secretary of the PNCR, the party whose government under the leadership of Prime Minister Burnham joined the International Labour Organisation in 1966, the same year this country attained political independence. Friday 20th July will not only go down as a day of infamy for Guyana, but also the PNCR who under successive governments had established and given preeminence to a Ministry of Labour.
The day will also record, while historically Burnham and Jagan irrespective of their differences converged on matters relating to the working class, that it was Jagan’s party, the PPP/C, that stood in defence of labour and the working class. Ally and her colleagues could not see the forest from the trees. The ill thinking or advice that pursued the path that the Motion was “an attack” on the President and “political mischief,” saw the coalition members, like sheep, follow the Minister down the proverbial rabbit hole. By the coalition’s vote it has given the PPP/C a political talking point on a golden platter because they could not or refused to see the wisdom in sharing it.
The WPA’s vote surprised because this party in its formation and activism over the years sought to distinguish itself as the true champion of the working class. The AFC led this society to believe it entered politics to be an agent of change but proved, in this instance, once the living is good it is capable of stomping on its professed change-agent credential. The talk by this administration about national unity has to be taken with a grain of salt for unity is hinged on respecting diversity, fundamental rights and freedoms, including that to question, and equal treatment in society.
The working class is in for rougher times and we have to be prepared to band our bellies and shoulder on, for there is nothing worse than having to live in an environment where ignorance and intolerance override. Workers have power and exercise this power in various forms, including at the ballot box. We shall not forget 20th July 2018.
Guyana Trades Union Congress