MARCHING to the vibes of soca and dancehall music, and carrying banners and placards that spoke messages of unity and togetherness, thousands, on Monday, walked through the streets of Georgetown, from Parade Ground to the National Park, as trade unions across the country celebrated a united Labour Day.
Decked out in their customary red t-shirt, they danced down the streets and not even intermittent morning showers that threatened the procession could dampen the spirits of those who marched in determination of honouring the achievements made by the trade union movement, in Guyana, over the past few years.
The crowd was joined by several ministers including Minister of Labour, Keith Scott, Minister of Social Protection, Amna Ally, Attorney General, Basil Williams, and Minister of Housing Annette Ferguson, among others. A number of opposition representatives also attended the event in solidarity with the workers.
For a fourth straight year umbrella trade unions the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG), and the Guyana Trade Union Congress (GTUC) joined forces and celebrated the event in unity under the theme “A long journey for social justice – together we can achieve”.
At the national park, representatives from both factions gave encouraging words to the masses on the need for a continued united front, even as they used the platform to advocate for other labour-related matters.
“The society is too highly charged, we need to tone down the animosity, the partisanship and work towards our common good. We cannot see everything within the context of Black and Indian to the extent where it is destroying the integrity of the court and undermining social norms. We as a nation cannot sustain this. We need to return to a society where we can find common ground, common truths, common facts,” charged GTUC General Secretary, Lincoln Lewis.
“Labour reminds you today that regardless of which party or government is in power we have to earn, to live, to provide for our families. We therefore have a responsibility to hold all political parties, all regimes, accountable through our votes, our collective agitation and collective will.”
The longstanding call for the reinstatement of a Ministry of Labour was also reiterated by both trade unions, while Lewis also spoke of the need for the administration to demonstrate commitment to labour by ensuring attendance to this year’s Annual Conference of the International Labour Organisation, to be held in Geneva next month.
Lewis also commended the recent achievements for the trade union with the victory for the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union (GBGWU) against the RUSAL-owned Bauxite Company of Guyana (BCGI), where, after the intervention of the current administration, the Russian company finally recognized the Union, having refused to do so since 2009, an almost 10-year gap.
“The BCGI struggle demonstrates that the trade union movement is not only alive but still relevant. This opportunity is taken to recognise the contribution of the Minister of Social Protection Amna Ally to the recently-concluded struggle between the GBGWU and RUSAL/BCGI. She has done what none before her, with similar power, has done, that is stand up to a global giant to protect the sovereignty of this nation and the workers of Guyana,” Lewis noted.
Lewis noted however that much remains to be done. This message was reiterated by FITUG Treasurer, Seepaul Narine.
“Comrades, on this Labour Day 2019, let us recognize that we need to be more assertive in demanding our rights and insist that we be involved in the decision-making process that impact our lives. Today’s conditions do not call for complacency but for greater activism and for united and principled actions,” Narine said, as he read a speech on behalf of the FITUG.
Lewis also weighed in on the current laws surrounding the parliamentary no- confidence motion, calling for the constitution to be amended to allow for at least two-thirds or 60 percent votes of all members of the National Assembly for a no-confidence vote to be passed.
Lewis also called for upgraded health care and education across the country.
“In the context of oil and gas, labour calls on government to revamp the healthcare system, so that all 10 administrative regions should have a main referral hospital, with modern diagnostic and treatment capabilities, including emergency facilities capable of dealing with severe injuries. We call for the establishment of free dialysis service delivered from a central point where all can access. A healthy nation is a productive nation. We call for the provision of free education from nursery to university as enshrined in the Constitution (Article 27).
In addition to celebrating Labour Day the trade unions also celebrated the centennial anniversary since the passage of the British Guiana Trade Union Ordinance which recognises trade unions as legal entities.