THE Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG) has expressed concern with what it deems an overt attempt by the Alliance For Change (AFC) to undermine and discredit the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), a historic and current representative of the nation’s sugar workers. According to a release issued by FITUG, the political party evidently feels that the time is ripe to mislead the country’s hardworking sugar workers with “bad, unsound, non-industrial advice”; and in so doing, is sowing confusion and encouraging division of the industry’s workforce.
FITUG adds that the political intrusion can only pose further threats to trade unionism in Guyana, is clearly intended to fulfill a political agenda, and, in the end, serve anti-working class objectives.
The union says it has been briefed and also garnered from the media that the Alliance For Change is offering support to sugar workers engaged in work stoppages in several estates, without a full grasp of the issues involved.
The release adds that the leader and activists of the AFC stirred dissension within and between sections of the sugar workforce and complicated issues that the workers were peeved with, hence placing additional strain and demands on the union to address and resolve these issues.
FITUG added that the union played a pivotal role in successfully representing all of the issues which emerged in recent months in the industry.
It said that while it accepts that workers could seek relief and representation from politicians, it views the AFC’s motivation as stemming from political expediency, especially as the AFC activists pay no attention to trade union structure and grievance and procedures. Instead, FITUG is of the view that the AFC incites, and both subtly and overtly drive some GAWU members to think of some alternative union.
FITUG says its affiliate, GAWU, has explained the various grievances raised and the swift representations it has given and settlements reached. It addressed GuySuCo’s lapses with workers NIS records and benefits, and issues of “days offered” per week and changes in the corporation’s business rules. It also dealt with making Saturdays “premium days”.
The body views the AFC’s modus operandi as pouncing on an industrial issue, exploiting workers complaints, and getting instant media publicity without bothering to seek comments from the union.
FITUG says it can understand the impatience of the aggrieved workers being influenced by irresponsible persons and buying into ploys of unsound and fanciful promises. The union also frowns on those who resort to such tactics and techniques which could have negative consequences on trade unionism as a whole.
The union says that in championing and representing the many concerns and issues of workers in the sugar industry, several of which GAWU has laid on the doorstep of GuySuCo’s management practices, likewise, other realities affecting the industry should also be recognised.
It adds that a responsible and militant union such as GAWU has historically shown that it cannot be ostrich- like and hide from such stark realities, whereby the industry’s revenue losses since 2006, when the European Union (EU) slashed the price of sugar, amounts to some $9B, or current employment costs being about 63 per cent of GuySuCo’s revenue, according to the 2010 accounts.
FITUG is therefore questioning the reason for the AFC‘s focus on GAWU and its membership, adding that the union has a distinguished history of militancy, ever since its formation by Dr. Cheddi Jagan, its former Honorary President.
It says if the AFC seeks to show concern for aggrieved and disgruntled workers, these can be found in several places, among many workers who are not even unionised.
The union is of the view that GAWU and its members being targeted by the AFC seem to be the latest attempt in a string of such attempts in the union’s history. It also made reference to several attempts to undermine, discredit and replace the union, over the decades, all of which were politically motivated.
The statement adds that sugar workers are both homogenous and militant; comprising a sizeable number of Guyana’s electorate, and this could be the reason for making sugar workers so attractive to political groups and overly ambitious politicians.
It is calling on workers to bear in mind Cheddi Jagan’s exhortation that “In GAWU and in unity, there is strength”.