May Day rally

By Andrew Richards, Stabroek News, 2 May 2000

CCWU walks out in protest at Witter. GAWU, NAACIE participation welcomed

President of the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC), Norris Witter welcomed the presence of two estranged unions at the May Day rally yesterday but the event was marred by another union's walk out as the GTUC president began his address.

The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), the GTUC's largest affiliate and the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE), had suspended their membership last year citing differences with the GTUC. They were out in full force at yesterday's rally, following reconciliation moves last week. However, the Clerical and Commercial Workers Union (CCWU) walked out of the rally in protest over Witter's union's--the General Workers Union--alleged poaching of its prospective members.

The CCWU had participated in the workers' march through the streets of Georgetown immediately preceding the rally and some its members bore placards such as Witter must go now and Shame, Witter, shame, shame.

Witter said CCWU's departure from the rally was not in the best interest of the trade union movement. He said he had great faith in the GTUC and believed that whatever differences existed could be solved in the near future if given the chance.

Another union, the Guyana Public Service Union, held a separate May Day rally at its sports complex which took place after its members had participated in the march.

Asked what could have caused the disunity in the trades union movement at this time, Witter declined to comment saying he did not want to make a statement which might cause further friction in the organisation. And he would neither deny nor confirm the allegations of his union poaching on the CCWU's turf. The walkout by the CCWU was not anticipated, Witter said, but added that he was not surprised by the union's action.

The fragmentation has been inspired by the leaders within the movement. Whatever differences the affiliates have can best be addressed within the unions, the GTUC president stated.

Witter said the presence of GAWU and NAACIE at the rally had demonstrated the capacity of leaders of the unions to discuss their differences rationally so that they could be resolved.

GAWU and NAACIE froze links with the GTUC just over a year ago after accusing the trade union umbrella body of being undemocratic and over its support of the public service strike.

GAWU President, Komal Chand, who also addressed the workers at the National Park, said, It is because of our long-standing objective to have a united and strong umbrella labour body, with workers agenda at the centre, that we support this single rally.

Chand said his union was looking forward to the ongoing talks with the leaders of the GTUC, which were paving the way for a reunification with the two unions which have suspended their membership from the body.

Among the issues being addressed which have affected GAWU's relationship with the GTUC are the inflation of some unions' membership and accountability within the GTUC and other unions, he stated.

GAWU is calling for a new culture in the way we resolve issues. It is the culture of constructive engagement. Our nation or workers can ill-afford the pains of confrontation and attrition. If the labour movement remains divided and fragmented, workers' power and influence will be equally diminished and their interests further jeopardised, the GAWU president declared.

He asserted that his union's participation in the May Day rally was indicative of its commitment to unity within the movement which it was willing to stick by as long as the action was reciprocated.