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By Chamanlall Naipaul

Left to right General Secretary of GAWU, Komal Chand, President Bharrat Jagdeo and Prime Minister Sam Hinds.

THE Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) is calling on Guyanese to work towards the preservation of the rights inherent in the democracy which this country enjoys, pointing out that recent events indicate that it is under threat from criminal elements.

This call was made during yesterday’s May Day rally at the National Insurance Scheme Sports Ground, Carifesta Avenue, held under the theme: “Labour in Pursuit of Peace and Progress.”

Members of the National School of Dance performing during a cultural presentation at the May Day rally of GAWU

Delivering the feature address, General Secretary of GAWU, Komal Chand told a large gathering of its membership, comprising workers mainly from the sugar and seafood industries, that the post-2002 crime has spawned a new breed of criminals who resort to outright savagery in the execution of their criminality.

“They obviously were trained in the use of sophisticated military-type weaponry. They also have access to guns and ammunition and have safe havens and accomplices in transportation and medical care, as well as electronic communication capabilities; they have funding--either before or after their criminal plunder. And my fellow Guyanese, they have had various levels of intellectual guidance--if not political affiliation or loyalty. Well-chosen trained killer squads are now let loose on innocent citizens perceived to be enemies through either wealth, race, bad business or politics. Perhaps with connivance and intelligence emanating from official sources, they strike with impunity and thumb their noses at the relatively puny efforts of the police and army, Chand stressed.

GAWU’s procession during yesterday May Day’s observances.

He observed that the successes of the criminals are sometimes lauded by the misguided, the sponsors and by those who use them to employ murder, menace, mayhem and other criminal activities to make the society “cower, live in fear and become destabilised and ungovernable.”
“Specific hits requested, organised, programmed, strategic savagery can rebound,” Chand said.

“See the defeat of the forces of evil as a community and national duty, because it is. Your civic duty now becomes your survival. GAWU members, let’s all rally to the cause of defeating savage criminality in our system. Let’s all rally to the cause of our survival. Let us collectively say the days for barbarism and criminality are long past,” Chand implored union members.

Touching on the sugar industry, Chand lashed out at the European Union (EU) for the imposition of a unilateral 36% price cut recently announced by the European Commission (EC), describing the EU as being “like ungrateful parents,” and turning its back on the sugar industry.

However, he noted that fortunately the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GUYSUCO) in partnership with the government has begun the Skeldon expansion and modernising project which will result in lowering the production cost of sugar aimed keeping the local sugar industry alive and well. He also reiterated that the government and GUYSUCO are working on plans not to close any sugar estate, disclosing that GUYSUCO is seeking support from the EU over the ensuing years to the tune of US$621M to adopt several measures to modernise the industry and prepare it to be competitive and sustainable.

“The GAWU is optimistic that in partnership and the correct plans and approach, we can save our sugar industry, the jobs for sugar workers, and our economy. GAWU is committed to play its role to save the sugar industry,” Chand assured.

Commenting on the political situation, he said the election season is one which somehow brings out the worst in certain political contestants.

He offered that electioneering contests ought to be characterised by civility, respect and even humour, rather than charges, counter-charges, allegations, boycotts and constitutional challenges and manoeuverings.

Chand exhorted GAWU’s members to observe, study and recognise the villains of peace and condemn those who attempt to sow discord or resort to unwarranted, and sometimes, violent methods to secure their political ends.

“Our people must understand that we have to co-exist despite our political beliefs. The ordinary people must continue to maintain their good neighbourly relations within their communities and beyond. Do not be influenced by those politicians whose actions and rhetoric are aimed at creating hate and divisions. Let us, in unity, seek to develop our country for all to live peacefully and to enjoy its resources,” Chand urged.

Alluding to the divided labour movement in Guyana, with two factions -- the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) and the Federation of Independent Trade unions of Guyana (FITUG), Chand observed that the membership of the latter is growing and represents a large number of workers in strategic entities in both the public and private sectors.

He suggested that it will not be surprising to see other affiliates of the GTUC moving over to FITUG in the ensuing months, as the former has failed to recognise the changing times and has been unwilling to address issues like democracy and transparency raised by those unions that were once its affiliates.

Chand asserted that FITUG has the capacity to give genuine leadership and protection to all unions and workers in this country, and extends a hand of solidarity to all workers regardless of their continued membership of the GTUC.

“We believe in working class unity and solidarity and will continue to forge links with all unions,” Chand reiterated.

Guyana Chronicle