AS THE world continues to change, it is to persons’ advantage to be positive influencing participants of this aspect of nature. In 2002, Desmond Hoyte famously said, “Change is as necessary a part of politics as it is of life. Those who do not change become dinosaurs, irrelevant and eventually extinct. If we do not adapt to new circumstances, new challenges and new responsibilities we cannot survive, much less overcome.”
Undoubtedly, this was a feature that influenced his politics.
In the mid-1980s, the political division that had sustained the Cold War was beginning to show cracks to the advantage of the West. Hoyte’s response to this change was politically appropriate to the time. He steered Guyana from one political era to another, and though he had the option to resist change and emerge weakened after, astute politics carried the day.
Simultaneously, the global media landscape was changing, and tools of technology were becoming more accessible and affordable. Western powers had always maintained a strong influence in our media culture to retain their foothold in the region during the Cold War. People were travelling and sharing experiences on what was happening outside of our borders. In this environment Hoyte opened the media, which saw the advent of Stabroek News and television stations owned by Anthony Vieira, Rex McKay and C.N. Sharma.
Accepting that, outside of our homogeneous species, we have common and diverse interests would cause us to recognize that inherently alternative and dissenting views would be part of our interaction. Astute recognition would inform that one cannot run from the inevitable. Shrewd leadership would acknowledge that running from the inevitable carries consequences.
As Guyana continues to make further advancement in embracing modern technology, the people’s dissent and alternative views would become more pronounced. Government, political groups, organisations (including the trade union) and individuals who ignore the inevitable do so to their peril.
As a trade unionist, I am guided by the goal to see the creation of a just society. It was in pursuit of this that the masses revolted against a system that would have preferred to keep them in servitude and trample their inalienable rights. The trade union is birthed out of conflict in pursuit of equal rights, justice, and fair play to bring about growth and development in citizens/workers’ lives, in the workplace, and in wider society. Inevitably, we would be agitators, advocators, dissenters and supporters of issues that impact or threaten our goal.
The trade union began in the 20th century the process to advance the right to self-determination, which includes a gamut of issues. Some are the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining in the workplace; the right to internal self-government and sovereignty in the wider society. Trade unionists would therefore agitate and advocate to have these upheld. We dissent with those who threaten them; and if it becomes necessary, agitate and advocate for the removal from office of those who threaten them — through the ballot or other legitimate means.
The trade union did not do the hard work and lay the ground work (one man one vote, etc.) for self-government to allow itself to be shut out from the processes to deepen and strengthen same. Self-government for us means involving in acts that take on board the rights and opinions of the collective in defining and executing the national agenda.
On the issue of sovereignty, the trade union remains committed to Guyana maintaining its lands and water zones as at independence. In the 1980s, when the Guyana/Venezuela border issue was taking an ugly turn, the trade union agitated in the Caribbean and secured the support of the regional labour movement. The Guyana Trades Union Congress took this matter to the Inter-American Regional Organisation of Workers (ORIT), who joined with Guyana in calling for peaceful and expeditious settlement of the controversy.
Trade unionists that refuse to settle for less when better can and must be done in the achievement of our principal goal would be unafraid to exercise their constitutional rights and freedoms in pursuit of same. The right to freedom of expression (Article 146), protected in the Constitution, includes dissenting and expressing alternative views. The role of the trade union in the nation’s economy, outlined in Article 38, and our involvement in the management and decision-making processes that impact citizens/workers, as specified in Article 149C, are not expected to see abrogation of responsibility on our part.
It is not lost on me that trade union activism would attract the wrath of the political establishment. Equally, I am aware that a smart opposition would seek to represent the values the trade union stands for, impress on the society its commitment to citizens/ workers’ well-being; and, from a political standpoint, seek to aid its chance of getting into office.
Similarly, a smarter government recognises that the trade union would not be contained or silenced in advancing its goal, and would avoid engaging in acts of transgressions, violations and mismanagement which, as a matter of duty, would not be supported by the trade union.
The trade union is here to stay. Once there is injustice and inequity in society, our voices will be heard. There may be moments when our voices can be considered not strong enough, but rest assured, our voices shall never be stilled. The values that birthed our existence in 1905 are still relevant, and even moreso now that the world is clamouring for, and moving towards, good governance. Hoyte is not among us today, but the principle that informed his navigation of an ever changing landscape remains eternal.