THE utterances by the PPP/C leadership that the closure of sugar estates would lead to major protests nationwide, exemplify a foremost problem responsible for retarding the nation’s development and its people peacefully co-exiting. This warning comes directly in the crosshairs of the APNU+AFC government, given that the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) is state-owned.
It was this same PPP/C, during the Bharrat Jagdeo presidency, that sent home all the workers of the then state-owned bauxite industry. The Jagdeo government refused to talk with the workers’ unions about a rescue plan for the industry, and severance benefits for the workers.
Pleas by the workers’ unions- the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers (GB&GWU) and Guyana Mines Workers Union (GMWU)- and then Leader of the Opposition Desmond Hoyte, to meet with the unions and stakeholders to develop an alternative plan were ignored. Instead of engaging the unions on the workers’ welfare, Jagdeo visited Everton, Kwakwani and Linden, and lured the workers into forming what he called “workers committees” to meet with him and discuss their future.
This future, which those committees accepted on behalf of the workers, had no plan for their work life and ensured retirement was deprived of deserving dignity. The committees accepted the dismantling of the Workers’ Pension Plan, then valued approximately $3B, and known to be the largest single pool of money owned by the African community in Guyana. Workers, in addition to seeing their work life eroded, have been deprived of enjoying a pension whose plan was solid and could have boosted their dignity in their retired years.
Proposals by the unions to save the plan through re-investment, and investment proposals made by persons interested in saving the Berbice Mining Enterprise (BERMINE) were all ignored by the Jagdeo government. This had a ripple effect in dampening any interest in pursuing the Linden Mining Enterprise (LINMINE). Today the PPP/C rails against political exclusion and the mistreatment and marginalisation of sugar workers and their unions in developing a plan to rescue GuySuCo.
The problem with the PPP/C leadership, outside of treating with bauxite workers and their unions harshly, and shutting out the Opposition PNCR, is that they too, when in government treated GuySuCo, the sugar unions, and workers poorly. The Diamond Estate, which was producing canes that gave the highest yield in sugar, was closed without consultation and input from the workers and their unions, and the lands were disbursed to friends of the PPP/C. Through the unions workers had to resort to the court to receive their severance benefit.
Today the PPP/C is crying foul, when this current corps of leadership showed scant or no regard for upholding the Laws of Guyana which require stakeholders’ involvement in the decision-making processes of any matter that impact their wellbeing.
In the 1980s when sugar and bauxite were experiencing profitability challenges, the Desmond Hoyte administration, upholding the tenet of equal treatment under the law, pursued strengthening the management of both industries. Bauxite was assigned to MINPROC, an Australian management company, and sugar was assigned to the British Booker Tate. From all appearance equal opportunity was given to both sectors, which not only had political connotations, but also implications for exacerbating race relations, given the composition of the majority of the workers in both sectors.
Sugar is considered the PPP/C’s base and the majority of the workers and adjoining communities are Indians. Bauxite is considered the PNCR’s support base and the majority of these workers and their adjoining communities are Africans. Hoyte’s political wisdom, inclusive of the respect for citizens under the law, minimised any accusation that a government was self-serving and set out to punish a group because of identity and/or political association. At the societal level it also minimised friction between the two major groups.
In 1992, when the PPP/C was elected to office, the Cheddie Jagan administration was quick to say that it will move to privatise bauxite and keep sugar as a state entity. It should be said however, some decisions by his government were tempered with an eye to the social consequences they could wreak.
On 13th February, 1995, the bauxite unions and workers carried out a major protest in Linden, marching from three distinct points (One Mile, Christiansburg, and Amelia’s Ward) and endedwith a rally at Cuffy Square by the McKenzie Market, which was chaired by Joseph Pollydore, then General Secretary of the Guyana Trades Union Congress. The business community closed their doors in solidarity with us, and provided other support such as meals and beverages. This solidarity also exemplified the intertwined relations of business and workers and the survival of both being hinged on the success of the other.
Cheddie Jagan, after seeing this show of strength and determination, moved to address the nation and particularly the people of Linden. In this address, among the things he said were, his government has not forgotten the people of Linden and is prepared to put infrastructure in place for the creation of new jobs. He particularly identified the building of an industrial estate at Dallawalla, and work commenced immediately after, with the clearing of the site. When Jagan died in 1997 this project died with him, replaced by one I call economic genocide.
In principle, the PPP/C and the sugar unions’ call for involvement in the decision-making processes of GuySuCo cannot be faulted. At the same time it cannot be lost sight of, that when the shoe was on the other foot, the post-Jagan PPP/C demonstrated little or no regard for these sacred principles.
To be continued …..