Blow to trade union solidarity

By Andrew Richards, Stabroek News, 2 May 2000

Bitter dispute erupts between Lewis, Yarde. GPSU unhappy with GAWU's role at rally

Trade union solidarity was dealt a blow yesterday when a bitter rift opened up on the workers' day between the General Secretary of the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) and the President of the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU).

GTUC General Secretary, Lincoln Lewis, in his address to the workers at the National Park at the May Day rally yesterday, accused GPSU President, Patrick Yarde, of seeking personal aggrandisement and selfishness. Yarde at a separate rally later denied these charges.

The GPSU participated in the workers' march through the streets of Georgetown but broke away near the end to hold its own rally at its sports complex. Plans for a rival GPSU rally were reported in this newspaper last week and led to speculation that all was not well between Lewis and Yarde. Yesterday it burst into the open with Lewis taking on Yarde.

Speaking at the National Park rally, Lewis contended that Yarde had asked him to decline the nomination of general secretary of the GTUC at the elections held in September last year. According to Lewis, this request was made so that Yarde, who was the outgoing GTUC president, could run for the general secretary position and Lewis could instead vie for the GTUC presidency. This was to facilitate Yarde maintaining control within the GTUC, Lewis charged.

Arguing that Yarde wanted to reduce the GTUC presidency to a mere rubber stamp position, Lewis said the GPSU president wanted to represent the GTUC at all overseas conventions even though this was the duty of the GTUC president.

Some persons have condemned the presence of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) on the May Day platform, Lewis said, but some people adapt dictatorship attitudes while others are true trade unionists. He noted that when there was a split in the trade union movement in Guyana in 1988, its Caribbean counterparts urged a reunification for the good of a nation.

Lewis said he supported this view and anyone who is considering a division is an enemy to the working class of the people.

Lewis, a former President of the GTUC, told the workers now was the time when they all had to unite to chart a course to take the country forward. There was a number of issues facing the movement at present, he stated, and we are moving out of beat with one another.

Lewis, a key union figure for years in the bauxite industry, made it clear that the GTUC did not have any problem with the GPSU. The problem lay between himself and Yarde and if it was seen to be causing a division in the movement then Yarde and Lewis must go, he told reporters after the rally.

Pointing out that the GPSU took the decision to hold a separate rally over a week and a half ago, Lewis showed reporters a letter from GAWU dated April 27, seeking to have a joint May Day rally and for the union to sponsor a speaker to address the workers. This showed that the GPSU's decision could not be based on GAWU's presence if it was so claimed, he said.

The GTUC general secretary said the addressing of workers on May Day by trade union leaders other than the GTUC president was not unprecedented.

He pointed out that late heads of state Forbes Burnham and Cheddi Jagan did so as leaders of the Guyana Labour Union and GAWU respectively.

General President of GAWU, Komal Chand, and the GPSU's Randolph Kirton had also done so before, he stated.

On the issue of government not providing a subvention for the GTUC in this year's national budget, Lewis said there would be no more social dialogue between the two parties until this was cleared up. He said he had written to President Bharrat Jagdeo on the matter but had not yet received a reply.

When contacted at the GPSU's sports complex yesterday, Yarde labelled Lewis as being dishonest by making the remarks about him.

When told of Lewis's allegation of him attempting to manipulate the top positions at the last GTUC elections, Yarde vehemently denied any such action. He stated that it was he who had written a letter to the GTUC executive council before the conference recommending Lewis's confirmation as general secretary.

Lewis is now so desperate, he is contradicting himself. Am I such an idiot to then go and withdraw that recommendation? That man is a fool, Yarde retorted.

He also pointed out that it had been the practice of the GTUC for its president and general secretary to rotate turns at representing the movement at overseas conventions and this was followed.

What I've learnt here is that Lewis is trying to promote problems between he and I, Yarde said. If Lewis is now a lackey of the government, that's unfortunate.

About the separate GPSU rally, Yarde said his union could not compromise its position with GAWU. He said while the GPSU wanted unity within the trades union movement, the GTUC had compromised some of its principles by allowing GAWU's president to address the workers at the National Park.

He queried how GAWU could participate in that part of the programme, when it has suspended its membership from the GTUC. GAWU ironically had put its ties with the GTUC on hold over the latter's support for the GPSU-led public service strike last year. It was also pointed out that GAWU was setting pre-conditions such as the waiving of its membership dues during its absence and the rotation of the GTUC presidency before it rejoined the umbrella labour movement which the GPSU did not agree with.

Yarde said the relationship between himself and Lewis had not changed but what was different was Lewis's attitude towards the handling of issues.

GTUC President, Norris Witter, and Chand addressed the workers at the rally which was also attended by Opposition Leader Desmond Hoyte, Georgetown Mayor Hamilton Green and Minister of Labour, Dr Henry Jeffrey.

It was meant to be a united rally following last year's pull out by GAWU and the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees.

The GPSU was not the only dissenting voice. Another group, the Clerical and Commercial Workers Union (CCWU) departed from the rally when Witter rose to speak. CCWU and Witter's union, the General Workers Union are embroiled in an acrimonious dispute over representation of workers at Gafsons.