I deliberately held my tongue during the recent teachers strike. I did so simply because I did not want to be a part of interfering as the government and the teachers’ union sought compromise on a strike that all of us preferred did not happen. Now that it is over I make the following comments.
First, all PNC governments were widely supported by public servants. Indeed, one can argue wages and salaries in the public service are low, partly at least, because public servants allowed the PNC to take them for granted. These workers were prepared to offer this coalition government this same blind support, since it’s led by the party of their choice -PNCR. However, when this coalition government, almost immediately on assuming office, defined the relatively high salaries of ministers and parliamentarians as unacceptable, and proceeded to give itself some 50% more in salaries, the scales fell from public servants’ eyes. The message was clear, the government, by its behaviour, was saying ‘we gon fix we self,’ regardless of the fact we professed inheriting an empty treasury.
So, all patience with the promises of both the PPP/C and the PNCR-led governments could no longer be justified. Pleas from the government, like ‘we understand your situation, we sympathize, but we have no money now, just wait a bit more,’ were, justifiably, met with – ‘so why alyuh din wait to?’ from workers. I submit, it was this single act of greed and uncaringness (bestowing on itself 50% raise by the early Granger administration) that constituted the final act of betrayal that erased public servants’ willingness to be patient with this relatively new government. It’s the recurring accusation that cannot be satisfactorily answered by those who took for themselves while asking everyone else to wait.
Secondly, I noted that a number of my friends who, usually, can be relied on to support workers in their fight for better conditions of work and decent salaries, expressed opposition to the teachers’ strike. I have also noted that all of them now work with government. I suppose that the late Martin Carter’s observation that “a mouth is muzzled by the food it eats,” helps us to understand my friends’ seeming change in attitude towards sufferers. In fact, Martin’s words might also help us to understand how a minister, with working class background, could be so presumptuous as to label the striking teachers as “selfish,” after himself being a recipient of that early 50% raise in salary. But in fairness to him, he did apologize.
In closing let me repeat my support for this government. When I look at all the likely alternatives present on Guyana’s political landscape, I still feel the interest of working people can best be addressed by this government, even though it disappoints so regularly. But, like with all men – as individuals or as groups holding power, the people must be vigilant. For the truth is, that something happens to too many persons when they attain power. Outside of becoming corrupt and greedy, for them, the poor and needy become annoying, deserving scant regard. So vigilance is demanded of citizens.
Some of the responses to the teachers’ struggle for a decent salary made it clear how much so many of us need to learn that it is alright, perhaps essential for us to be critical of this, or any other government, when necessary. We would all do well to follow the lead of that Trinidadian calypsonian who, in song, professed his love and support of the PNM but still warned that party:
“but, ah na gon seh yuh right
When I know yuh wrong.”