Rival trade union group will divide not unite labour
-Lewis By Oscar P. Clarke
August 9, 2003
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Guyana Trades Union Con-gress (GTUC) General Secre-tary, Lincoln Lewis sees the reconstitution of the Federa-tion of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG) as aimed at further dividing the union movement.
Lewis, a former leading light of FITUG when it first came to prominence in 1988, said that the entity’s agenda at that time was in part to see the furtherance of electoral demo-cracy while championing the rights of all to be respected and protected.
The Clerical and Commer-cial Workers Union (CCWU), the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union GAWU), the National Asso-ciation of Agricultural, Com-mercial and Industrial Em-ployees (NAACIE) and the Guyana Mines, Metals and General Workers Union (GMM&GWU) recently signed a pact to re-energise the dormant FITUG.
The Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU), the University of Guyana Workers Union (UGWU), and the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union (GB&GWU), constituents of the original FITUG, are not part of the current body.
Lewis said the matter was given passing mention at Monday’s meeting of the TUC’s Executive Council (EXCO), its first since April.
According to Lewis, most of the discussions on the issue saw executive members questioning the actions of those affiliates who apart from being involved in FITUG are also part of the TUC’s executive.
The council did not deliberate on the issue with a view to taking a position and he could not say whether it would.
On the issue of the inactivity of the TUC executive council, a concern of CCWU President Roy Hughes, Lewis said that such comments were just ‘nitpicking’, which could be better dealt with by the unions listing their concerns in writing to the council.
Another issue raised by Hughes was the proposed re-admittance of GAWU, NAACIE and the GPSU to the umbrella body as agreed to in a resolution at the May 1 rally at the Critchlow Labour College.
According to Lewis, Hughes along with GTUC President Carvil Duncan, GTUC VP and CCWU GS Grantley Culbard, VP Norris Witter and GB&GWU head Charles Sampson were the persons appointed by the council to engage those unions.
“They have been delegated with the responsibility of dealing with the matter,” and he said it was their duty as delegated by that body to work toward achieving that objective.
But Lewis suggested GAWU especially was not mindful of returning to the TUC fold since it would not suit its interests at this time to do so.
Touching on the issue of reforms in the GTUC, Lewis referred to rule changes in 1993 which FITUG members, including some of those now crying foul, had signed on to.
“There were no dissenting voices when the question was put to the floor in January 1993,” Lewis said.
He said those changes had led to significant changes in the TUC constitution which saw all unions being assured of at least one seat on the council. Following the approval of the changes the FITUG unions rejoined the TUC.
Lewis said the changes were good for GAWU which ended up with five delegates as opposed to one. According to Lewis, GAWU and NAACIE are asking for the presidency to go to them and as such are asking for the system to be changed to allow this to happen without a ballot.
He suggested this was like arguing that workers must have the right to choose the union of their choice but then not have the delegates elected by the very workers from choosing a TUC president of their choice.
This issue was discussed at reconciliation talks between the TUC, GAWU and NAACIE where a position was recommended that a formula be implemented to allow all unions to aspire and acquire the TUC presidency at an appropriate time.
In the 1999 document, which according to Lewis, the parties refused to sign, there was a recommendation for the presidency to rotate among the seven clusters classified under the TUC constitution.
Lewis added that trade unions had no place in society if their role was confined to destroying pension plans, medical plans and agreeing with management to make jobs redundant.
“The primary role of unions is the pursuit of full employment in society and protection of all jobs that are created,” Lewis said.