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Issue#: 5 Volume#: 31


PAGE ONE COMMENT To be objectively honest, since the last edition of COMBAT, quite a few negative situations have developed, which attracted the attention, concern and responses from GAWU – all on behalf of our members. The sugar sector visibly and continually reflected its seemingly CRISIS-PRONE syndrome. In the wake of President Jagdeo’s “IF-SKELDON-FAILSSUGAR-IS-DEAD” declaration and Guysuco’s lamentation about workers’ absence and production downtime, sugar workers took countrywide, union-backed industrial action to protest GUYSUCO’s stance regarding end-of-crop-production figures, before announcing wage increases. Sugar workers and their representatives know that they are not to blame for the mismanagement and operational woes at the new Skeldon factory, or for poor planning - not taking into account inclement weather. GAWU reiterates that “the maximum production – even of the revised 264,000 tonnes – could only be ensured in a climate of industrial compromise and peace.” Sugar in this country is at the crossroads, even as GUYSUCO announces that the construction of its PROJECT GOLD SUGAR PACKAGING PLANT AT ENMORE is on schedule and that it is purchasing a mechanical harvester “to stave off the effects of strike action.” COMBAT reminds GUYSUCO that the introduction of sugarbased value added products is welcome; but, ALWAYS, it will be WORKERS, human beings, who will be needed to man all of its systems. GAWU also elicited a sharp response from the President when, at the recent GLU Triennial Congress, it raised the issue of tax reform and the raising of the tax threshold for the nation’s lowest-paid workers. His Excellency is always quick to explain, impatiently, how government has to allocate limited funds to various sectors – and not to wages and salaries alone. We remind the President that workers’ welfare should always be at the top of his agenda. Early into his tenure in office, around 1993-94, Dr Cheddi Jagan invited some professional, well-meaning critics to show him how to find money to increase wages. Perhaps President Jagdeo should consider that unique, innovative consultancy approach at this time. GAWU remains a responsible bargaining unit. We are aware of the challenges that abound – from the cost of generating electricity; to the prices for pharmaceuticals; to the potential weather problems from Climate Change; to battling the social scourges of disease and crime. And we salute governments initiatives in earning from such policies as the Low Carbon Development Strategy and new markets for rice and non-traditional agricultural products, among other strategies. But, still, we have to insist: PUT THE WORKER FIRST, IF PRODUCTION IS TO BE CONSISTENT. COMBAT: September/October, 2010

Voice of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU)

September/October, 2010


The 50-odd member GAWU team meeting with Guysuco at negotations

GUYSUCO: Negotiations and Workers Negotiations between the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) and the Guyana Sugar Corporation Inc (Guysuco) on adjustments to certain fringe benefits and wage/salary hike for 2010 commenced on September 03, 2010. The Union tabled two sets of claims - on July 28, 2010 and July 30, 2010 - to the Corporation with respect to the field foremen/forewomen bargaining unit and that of the factory and field workers bargaining unit, respectively. The claims were formulated from the recommendations of the branches within the industry. The Union is seeking to secure a wage/salary increase of 15 per cent across-the-board for the workers it represents. For the field foremen/forewomen, the Union is seeking to have improvements in nine fringe matters; and for the factory and field workers, eleven fringe matters, which includes improvements on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

contending that its financial situation is perilous and a wage/salary increase is not possible if the Corporation cannot achieve its target of 264,000 tonnes sugar this year. Guysuco disclosed that the Corporation is indebted to its bankers and suppliers close to the sum of G$8B (US$40M). The Union was invited by the Corporation to examine its financial statements to be able to verify the Corporation’s financial state.

It also disclosed that there is only 58 per cent attendance at work by cane cutters. The poor turnout, according to the Corporation, is the reason for the lag in the harvesting of canes. On October 18, 2010, workers took strike action across the industry to protest the Corporation’s failure to offer an increase in the pay rates at that point in time. The workers’ one-day strike was to indicate to the Corporation that they would engage in further industrial actions if the Corporation’s position remained The Union and the Corporation met on seven unchanged. (7) separate occasions between September 03, 2010 and October 15, 2010. The Corporation is Continued on page seven Page One



GUYANA: A brief historical overview The Union, Your Keeper

The Trade Union Recognition Act, What is to be done Chapter 98:07 of the Laws of Guyana, sets out the procedure for workers to Where workers are non-unionised, have a union of their choice recog- the law requires a minimum of forty nized as their bargaining agent. (40) per cent support of the workforce to a union for that union to The law prohibits employers from become the bargaining agent under taking action against or victimizing Section 18 of the Law. any worker who wishes to be a member of the trade union The workers need to become members of the union they wish to repreSection 26 (2) states as follows:sent them, and at least forty (40) per cent have to sign membership forms An employer shall not:from the union. The employer ought Make the employment of a worker not to know of the intentions who subject to the condition that he shall are of the workers becoming memor shall not become a member of a bers of the union. trade union, or relinquish his mem- The membership form must be duly bership of a trade union; signed by the individual whose name appears thereon. It is an offence to Dismiss a worker, or adversely affect submit false documents, and your his employment, or alter his position union will be discredited in the proto his prejudice by reason of his par- cess of its recognition application if ticipation in the activities of a trade irregularities are discovered. union outside his working hours; The union having received a miniWith intent to dissuade or prevent mum of forty (40) per cent support of a worker from becoming such offic- the workers, would then apply to the er, delegate or member; or from so Trade Union Recognition and Certifiswearing or giving evidence, threat- cation Board for certification as the en to dismiss him, or to affect his recognized majority union. The apemployment adversely or to alter his plication must be made on the preposition to his prejudice by reason of scribed form. the circumstances that the worker is A good, responsible, professional or proposes to become, an officer, trade union represents the interests delegate or member of a trade union, and welfare of all its members and or that worker proposes to appear as demonstrates that there is collective a witness or to give evidence in any strength and security in numbers. proceeding under this Act Surely, a strong union could be your necessary keeper.

INCREASED WAGES - at Caricom Rice Mills On August 24, 2010, the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union and Caricom Rice Mills Limited (CRML) agreed to a seven (7) per cent wage/salary increase across-theboard on behalf of the almost seventy (70) employees of the Company. Previously, the Union and the Company were examining the establishment of three (3) scales – skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled – and to fix appropriate rates of pay for the respective scales. This proposal, howCOMBAT: September/October, 2010

ever, was not pursued by the Company, and it was agreed to settle the pay hike by an across-the-board award. Reaping of the second rice crop for the year has just commenced in Essequibo, and CRML will embark upon the purchase of paddy from the month of September, 2010. The Company produces white and parboiled rice which is branded under the names: Carigold, Caricom Price and Caridiamond.

Political Structure The first formal colonial government in Guyana was set up in 1664 through the Dutch West India Company, and the first legislature was the Court of Policy. Successive forms of government under Dutch and British rule during the 18th and 19th centuries maintained the dominance of the owners of the sugar plantations. Constitutional reform from 1887 for elections in 1892 led to a small opening for middle-class professionals and businessmen. Because of their growing influence, the Colonial Representative and the Planter class felt threatened, and they responded with the imposition of Crown Colony rule in 1928, placing all powers in the hands of the British Governor with the right to veto (to reject all laws passed by the legislature) and certification (to make any laws refused by the legislature). During the 1930s, when the world experienced severe economic depression and there was mass discontent in the Caribbean, agitation for constitutional changes was led by the Popular Party, which was dominated by middle-class professionals and businessmen. A Royal Commission agreed in 1943 for Constitutional amendments, providing for a Legislature with a majority of elected members. The elections under this new arrangement did not take place until 1947. Political Struggle The slaves and indentured labourers resisted the colonial masters with great courage and heroism. Many gave their lives in the numerous revolts and rebellions against the planters and colonizers. The recorded events, which are better known, include: 1763 1823 1824 1869 1873 1913

Berbice Slave Rebellion East Coast Slave Insurrection The Damon Slave Rebellion Leonora Riots Devonshire Castle Riots Rose Hall Riots

The colonial system did not cater for the participation of the masses in official political life. There were property, income and literacy requirements for people to be qualified to vote. The organizing of political activity outside of the colonial representatives and the plantocracy was led by professionals and businessmen. Some of them were able to win seats in the elections of 1921. By the elections of 1926, they formed the Popular Party, and made greater inroads. When the Crown Colony system was imposed in 1928 to reduce the influence of the middle-class, the Popular Party petitioned against it, but did not succeed. Their continued agitation for constitutional advances was also unsuccessful. This led to their collapse as a political party before the elections of 1935. Their place was taken just before the elections of 1947 by the Labour Party, which was also dominated by professionals and businessmen. Although sizeable trade unions had emerged, very few leaders came from among the workers themselves. There was

therefore, by the end of the Second World War, a crying need for organization of the working people at the trade union and political level. And it was in this vacuum that Dr Cheddi Jagan set out to change the direction of political struggle in our country. The Struggle for Political Independence The 1950 PPP Programme declared an end tp colonial rule, the first such declaration in our history, as a primary objective of the new party. Its major concern was the creation of a decent standard of living for all of the people of our country. It recognized that this could not be possible under colonial rule, and so political independence had to be won. It recognized, also, that there were several important steps that had to be taken in the direction towards Independence. These included fundamental constitutional changes, the most important of which was Universal Adult Suffrage. The PPP began a countrywide campaign for self-government as the first stage in the struggle for Independence. Constitutional change came in the form of the Waddington Constitution, which set the stage for the first elections under Universal Adult Suffrage in 1953. The PPP won a massive victory, taking 18 of 24 seats at the elections. As the PPP set out to fulfill its elections manifesto, it became very clear that the colonial power was not prepared to accept a government which was committed to ending the exploitation of the Guyanese masses. After 133 days of the PPP in office, the constitution was suspended, and the PPP government became an early victim of the Cold War. The British colonial power was encouraged by the US imperial power to keep the PPP out of government. In 1955, they encouraged a split in the PPP, which created a serious division in the population along racial lines. When constitutional rule was restored in 1957 and the PPP won the elections, the stage was set for the British to set a date for Independence. However, they refused to set a date for independence, hoping that new elections in 1961 would see the defeat of the PPP through a complete alteration in constituency boundaries. When the PPP won again, the British and US moved to extreme action, using the CIA, the PNC, and the TUC to instigate violence as an excuse to further delay independence. The British imposed constitutional changes designed to defeat the PPP, called elections one year before the due date, and issued an order in the British Parliament to impose the coalition of the PNC and UF into government in 1964. It was clear that the British-American Imperial axis did not want Guyana to become an independent state with a people-oriented government. They wanted a puppet government, which would replace colonial relations with neo-colonial relations. With full confidence that the PNC-UF coalition would serve their interests, they agreed to Guyana achieving its political independence on May 26, 1966. Page Two

Promoting Legal Rights and Building Union Capacity in Guyana A GAWU/NAACIE/GMB Education Project

THE GMB PROJECT Ensuring Better Leaders


MY EXPERIENCE: Uranie Heeram Field Forewoman at Skeldon Estate My name is Uranie Heeram, and I am employed at Skeldon Estate as a field forewoman of the weeding gang. I am a shop steward in my gang and a member of GAWU’s General Council. My training lasted for ten (10) days, from June 28 to July 02, and October 18 -22. It has given me useful and relevant trade union education. The training has widened my knowledge on five important pieces of labour-related legislation: the Trade Union Act, the Trade Union Recognition Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Prevention of Discrimination Act, and the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act. It helped me to be aware of legal rights beneficial to workers; and as a shop steward, I am more knowledgeable and better able to represent my colleagues’ disputes through dialogue with management, and interaction with my superiors. Prior to the training, I felt that, as a female

Partcipants of the first Session B course

The special project entitled “Promoting Legal Rights and Building Union Capacity in Guyana”, being implemented by the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) and the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE) in association with Britain’s General Union (GMB), continues to be implemented with the completion of the first phase of the project. This phase saw six Session A courses being conducted. One hundred and seventy (170) members from GAWU and NAACIE attended the six “Session A” courses which were conducted between June and September, 2010. The “Session A” courses provided participants with basic knowledge of the following legislation; the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act, the Trade Union Act, the Prevention of Discrimination Act, the Trade Union Recognition Act, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act, as well as other trade union-related subjects. Work has now shifted to the second phase of the project, which will see six “Session B” courses being held between October, 2010 and March, 2011. During the Session B courses, participants will be given more in-depth training on the various pieces of legislation, as well as discuss the issues identified by the participants between Sessions A and COMBAT: September/October, 2010

B. The first of the Session B course was held from October 18 – 22, 2010 with twenty-seven (27) participants attending. The returning participants noted that, following their return to their respective estates at the end of their Session A course, they were better able to represent workers’ issues, as in grievance cases and health and safety issues, therefore improving their conditions of work, and, by extension, assisting to stabilise the climate of industrial relations in the sugar sector. They also noted that they shared what they learnt with their fellow workers. The project also sponsored two (2) one-day workshops at Wales and Albion with an aggregate attendance of sixtyone (61) participants. The workshops attracted a mixture of participants who attended the Session A courses and persons who did not attend any of the courses, and focused on the Health and Safety Act, the use of electronic communication, gender issues, and HIV/AIDS in the workplace. The workshops were facilitated by Cdes Uranie Heeram, Fazil Khan, Mohamed Ahamad and Narda Mohamed, all of whom were participants in the Session A courses. The facilitation of the workshops by participants represents a major milestone for the project and serves to enhance the capacity of the unions to educate their members. Work is also underway to have similar workshops conducted at other estates.

supervisory staffer, I was inferior. I am aware that women sugar workers are not recognized equally with their counterparts. However, with the knowledge I have acquired, I feel I can change this phenomenon. For instance, I recently conducted sessions on Gender Issues at two one-day workshops at Wales and Albion sugar estates. It was a good experience for me, as a worker and union grass-roots member, to interact with my fellow workers in the workshops. I wish to express my appreciation to all those who made the GAWU/NAACIE/GMB project a reality. The project has taught me and other colleagues across the industry to be better workers and better union activists and shop stewards. Uranie is the Secretary of the GAWU Skeldon Branch. She was a part of Group One, which held the Session A of the training from 28 June to 02 July, 2010 and Session B from 18 to 22 October, 2010.

Analisa Chand - book-keeper from

Albion Estate, and NOW MUCH MORE EQUIPPED My name is Analisa Chand, and I am a Junior Bookeeper (JBK) in the Wages Section of the Finance Department of Albion Estate. I am also a shop steward on behalf of the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE). Before I accepted the position of shop steward, I felt that the work environment was not productive. When some senior staff addressed junior employees, there was some tension, as the latter felt a lot of pressure from their superiors. In some instances, when the junior staff attempted to explain the situation or impasse by explaining the events which occurred the matter would be referred to the Department’s supervisor or, in some cases, the Finance Manager, in a process that tended to cut dialogue and would end in a reprimand for the junior staff. In some cases, it happened that the supervisors would say to the junior staff that they should not respond to the senior staff, even if senior staff were wrong. It got to the point where some junior staff felt very uncomfortable at the workplace; they felt very stressed, and some complained of physical pains as a result of it. One day, I tried to talk to a senior staff about the tension in the work environment, but only to hear that they did not have time to discuss anything. For me, that moment was a turning point. I decided to make a positive change for myself and fellow workers. I was subsequently elected as the shop steward, even though I had previously declined

the position because I felt that I was not fully equipped to handle workers’ problems and disputes. in light of the poor work environment, I decided to take up the task, despite my limited knowledge of union matters. In June 2010, I was selected by my union to attend a one-week union training seminar sponsored by GAWU/NAACIE and the GMB of the United Kingdom at the GAWU Labour College in Georgetown. I immediately accepted the offer, since I recognized that the training would provide me a real opportunity to garner knowledge in industrial relations. I had attended seminars in the past as a union member, but I had never attended a seminar where labour laws had been explained. The training I received was simple and was well presented by the various tutors, and it served to develop my knowledge. I feel I am making in my workplace positive changes which are beneficial to my colleagues and management. One of the new approaches which have been adopted is a monthly meeting with the Finance Manager, Assistant Finance Manager, the supervisor, the two senior bookkeepers and myself, to discuss issues and problems that my fellow workers may have encountered. This development is very positive. For the first time in my 13-year stint with Guysuco, the junior staff in the Finance Department are being recognized and respected. Analisa Chand was a part of Group One, which held Session A of the training from June 28 – July 02, 2010, and Sessions B from October 18 – 22, 2010. Page Three


New scramble for AFRICA Fifty years ago, the decolonisation of Africa began. The next half-century may see the continent recolonised, but the new imperialism will be less benign. Great powers aren’t interested in administering wild places any more; still less in settling them; just raping them. Black gangster governments sponsored by self-interested Asian or Western powers could become the central story in 21st century African history. Nature abhors a vacuum. Take Zimbabwe. In the Western news media, the clichés about Robert Mugabe’s “despotism” roll. But this is a despotism crippled by monumental incompetence. The BBC’s audience must have been bemused in recent weeks by John Simpson’s reports from within a country where, as we are always being reminded, the BBC is banned. I yield to none in my respect for Mr Simpson’s courage and ingenuity, but only modest quantities of either would have been required to enter the country, move within it, or broadcast from it. Our own correspondent, Jonathan Clayton, was unluckier; but there are journalists in Zimbabwe reporting what Mugabe would stop them; reporting if he could. It is chance whom his thugs stumble upon. They may be easily capable of beating to a pulp those poor, anonymous Zimbabweans who cross them, but when it comes to the apparatus of a modern state - effective policing, surveillance, restriction of movement, or censorship which works - the regime in Harare has plainly lost what control it ever had. Zimbabwe is not Iraq. Any great power could pick a leader in Zimbabwe today, send in a modest military support force to sustain him in power, and follow this up with ten jumbo jets filled with economic, technical and political advisers and half-a-billionpound’s worth of reconstruction aid. Within a couple of years, the intervening power would be sponsoring something tantamount to a puppet government there. In modern management-speak, there exist bunches of low-hanging fruit overlooked on the African continent. If Zimbabwe had oil, the Americans would be plucking this fruit already. If the country’s mineral resources were greater, if the persistence of white settlers there were not throwing an international spotlight on the news, and if China were not embarrassed by Tibet and the forthcoming Olympics, I think the argument in Beijing for sponsoring either Mugabe or the most amenable available opposition leader would be strong. It may yet prevail. I had just left school in Africa when Maoist China tried something similar in the early 1970s, constructing a 1,160-mile railway from Zambia to Dar-esSalaam in Tanzania to transport copper to the Indian Ocean port. But Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere was wily, the construction proved fraught with difficulty, and Chinese advisers and workers did not make themselves popular with local people. China never recovered a decent return on that economic and political investment. China may yet well COMBAT: September/October, 2010

do so, however. Meanwhile, China’s support for a vicious Sudanese regime in Khartoum has been too widely commented on to need rehearsing. Hydrocarbons are the prize. But enough of China: simply a little hungrier, a little more opportunistic, and a little less scrupulous than some of its competitors. This is not about China, but about vacuums into which, if Beijing does not move, then someone else surely will. If modern British governments still had the stomach for this kind of thing, we could be more or less in charge of Sierra Leone today, and accept Northern Somaliland as a client state tomorrow. The American neocons were unlucky in the pilot projects they chose. For those seeking the creation of biddable states, Iraq and Afghanistan proved among the least amenable places to pick. But there is something more than the awful bloody nose received in both these Asian interventions, and America’s earlier disaster in Vietnam, that may have temporarily blocked Western minds from thinking about neo-imperialist opportunities in sub-Saharan Africa. It is the myth that black liberation movements were formidable. They were not. They were no Vietcong or Algerian FLN. The lesson from 20th century sub-Saharan Africa is not how irresistible were the forces faced by European imperialism, but how easily, and for how long, they were resisted. Remember that America was on the other side in this conflict, fanning the flames of African nationalism and undermining the European powers. Yet, Belgium managed to hold on to a colony 76 times its size, the Congo, from 1908 (after its rapine private ownership by King Leopold II) until 1960. Contrary to widespread belief, Britain was never beaten by the Mau Mau in Kenya; and in most of the African colonies and protectorates relinquished between 1957 (Ghana) and 1968 (Swaziland), we had been meeting little, if any, armed resistance. Britain was not drummed but shouted out of Africa. Portugal, meanwhile, hung on to two territories (now Angola and Mozambique) the first twice the size of Texas, the second twice the size of California, until 1975. For years, an impoverished and virtually Third World European tinpot dictatorship sustained two wars simultaneously against nationalist insurgencies in both countries without going under. Meanwhile. a tiny force of white renegades denied victory to Mugabe’s Patriotic Front for nearly eight years, until 1980: yet there were 20 times as many blacks as whites in Rhodesia, and the breakaway regime of Ian Smith was under international economic siege throughout. Why then did the great (and lesser) powers of the day turn their backs on empire in Africa in the 20th century? And why, in the 21st, might their successors return to an interest in acquiring political grip? European imperial powers lost the will rather than the capacity to own and govern overseas resources. A world in which all could buy and sell on the global market was

arriving. It is a world, however, which is now feeling the pinch in the natural resources with which Africa is richly endowed. Meanwhile, the continent is in many places run by outfits that resemble gangs rather than governments. At their most dysfunctional (as in Congo), this disintegration seriously impedes the extraction of resources, because security, communications and infrastructure break down. But a solution beckons: buy your own gang. You hardly need visit and are certainly not required to administer the gang’s territory. You simply give it support, munitions, bribes and protection to keep the roads and airports open; and it pays you with access to resources. You dress up the arrangement

as helping Africans to help themselves. The French, who have been doing this in their former African possessions for years, lead the way. But it is when China, then America, and perhaps even Russia or India follow, that the scramble for Africa will truly be resumed. Hypocrisy, they say, is the homage that vice pays to virtue. During the last scramble for Africa, colonial administration was the homage greed paid to responsibility. But greed may be less sentimental during the next scaramble. From a resource-starved industrialised world in the 21st Century, reponsibility for Africa will get no more than a passing nod. By Matthew Parris

Continued from page five

government open negotiations about details of the reform. If Sarkozy weren’t so stubborn, this is a concession the government could make which might restore calm without changing very much. It would take the miraculous emergence of new leaders to carry the movement forward. But even if this should happen, there is a more formidable obstacle to basic change: the European Union. The EU, built on popular dreams of a peaceful and prosperous united Europe, has turned into a mechanism of economic and social control on behalf of capital, and especially of financial capital. Moreover, it is linked to a powerful military alliance, NATO. If left to its own devices, France might experiment in a more socially just economic system. But the EU is there precisely to prevent such experiments.


Is a lowering of living standards in the West inevitable due to their rise in the East? Perhaps. However, if shifting industrial production to China ends up lowering purchasing power in the West, then Chinese exports will suffer. China itself is taking the first steps toward strengthening its own domestic market. “Export-led growth” cannot be a strategy for everyone. World prosperity actually depends on strengthening both domestic production and domestic markets. But this requires the sort of deliberate industrial policy which is banned by the bureaucracies of globalization: the World Trade Organization and the European Union. They operate on the dogmas of “comparative advantage” and “free competition”. On grounds of free trade, China is actually facing sanctions for promoting its own solar energy industry, vitally necessary to end the deadly air pollution that plagues that country. The world economy is being treated as a big game, where following the “rules of the free market” is more important than the environment or the basic vital necessities of human beings. Only the financiers can win this game. And if they lose, well, they just get more chips for another game from servile governments. Impasse? Where will it all end? It should end in something like a democratic revolution: a complete overhaul of economic policy. But there are very strong reasons why this will not happen. For one thing, there is no political leadership in France ready and able to lead a truly radical movement. Mélenchon comes the closest, but his party is new and its base is still narrow. The radical left is hamstrung by its chronic sectarianism. And there is great confusion among people revolting without clear programs and leaders. Labour leaders are well aware that employees lose a day’s pay for every day they go on strike, and they are in fact always anxious to find ways to end a strike. Only the students do not suffer from that restraint. The trade unionists and Socialist Party leaders are demanding nothing more drastic than that the

Anglo-Saxon attitudes On October 19, the French international TV channel France 24 ran a discussion on the strikes between four non-French observers. The Portuguese woman and the Indian man seemed to be trying, with moderate success, to understand what was going on. In contrast, the two Anglo-Americans (the Paris correspondent of Time magazine and Stephen Clarke, author of 1000 Years of Annoying the French) amused themselves demonstrating self-satisfied inability to understand the country they write about for a living. Their quick and easy explanation: “The French are always going on strike for fun because they enjoy it.” A little later in the program, the moderator showed a brief interview with a Lycée student who offered serious comments on pensions issue. Did that give pause to the Anglo-Saxons? The response was instantaneous. How sad to see an 18-year-old thinking about pensions when he should be thinking about girls! So whether they do it for fun, or whether they do it instead of having fun, the French are absurd to Anglo-Americans accustomed to telling the whole world what it should do. By Diana Johnstone Page Four


COLLAPSE OF SOCIAL SECURITY: French Workers Confront the Neoliberal Policy Agenda

a career. The trend is for qualified personnel to enter the work force later and later, having spent years getting an education. With the difficulty of finding a stable, full-time job, many depend on their parents until age 30. It is simple arithmetic to see that in this case, there will be no full retirement until after age 70. Productivity and Deindustrialization

Thousands of workers took to the streets to protest the proposal to increase the pensionable age in France The French are at it again – out on strike, duced the reform, Eric Woerth, got a job full-time in a salaried job for over 40 years, blocking transport, raising hell in the streets, for his wife on the office staff of the richest however much one may want to. Thus, in and all that merely because the government woman in France, Liliane Bettencourt, heir to practice, the Sarkozy-Woerth reform simply wants to raise the retirement age from 60 to the L’Oreal cosmetics giant, at the same time means reducing pensions. 62. They must be crazy. that, as budget minister, he was overlooking That, in fact, is what the European Union That, I suppose, is the way the current mass her massive tax evasions. While tax benefits has recommended to all member states as movement in France is seen – or at least for the rich help empty the public coffers, an economy measure intended, as with most shown – in much of the world; and above all, this government is doing what it can to tear current reforms, to reduce social costs in the in the Anglo-Saxon world. down the whole social security system that name of “competitivity” – meaning competiPerhaps the first thing that needs to be said emerged after World War II on the pretext tion to attract investment capital. about the current mass strikes in France is that “we can’t afford it”. Less qualified workers, who instead of purthat they are not really about “raising the reThe retirement issue is far more complex suing studies may have entered the work tirement age from 60 to 62”. This is rather than “the age of retirement”. The legal age force young, say at age eighteen, will have like describing the capitalist free market as a of retirement means the age at which one subscribed to the scheme for forty-two years sort of lemonade stand. A propaganda sim- may retire. But the pension depends on at age 60 if indeed they manage to be emplification of very complex issues. the number of years worked; or, to be more ployed all that time. Statistics show that It allows the commentators to go crashing precise, on the number of cotisations (pay- their life expectancy is relatively short, so through open doors. After all, they observe ments) into the joint pension scheme. On the they need to leave early in order to enjoy any sagely, people in other countries work until grounds of “saving the system from bank- retirement at all. 65 or beyond, so why should the French balk ruptcy”, the government is gradually raising The French system is based on solidarat 62? The population is aging, and if the re- the number of years of cotisations from 40 ity between generations, in that the cotisatirement age isn’t raised, the pension system to 43 years, with indications that this will be tions of today’s workers go to pay today’s will go broke paying out pensions to so many stretched out further in the future. retired people’s pensions. The government ancients. As education is prolonged, and employ- has subtly tried to pit one generation against However, the current protest movement is ment begins later, to get a full pension most another by claiming that it is necessary to not about “raising the retirement age from people will have to work until 65 or 67. A protect the future of today’s youth, who are 60 to 62”. It is about much more. “full pension” comes to about 40 per cent of paying for the “baby boom” pensioners. It For one thing, this movement is an expres- wages at the time of retirement. is therefore extremely significant that, this sion of exasperation with the government But even so, that may not be possible. Full week, high school and university students of Nicolas Sarkozy, which blatantly favours time jobs are harder and harder to get, and massively began to enter the protest strike the super-rich over the majority of work- employers do not necessarily want to retain movement. This solidarity between generaing people in this country. He was elected older employees. Or the enterprise goes out tions is a major blow to the government. on the slogan, “Work more to earn more”, of business and the 58-year-old employee The youth are even much more radical than and the reality turns out to be work harder finds himself permanently out of work. It the older trade unionists. They are very to earn less. The Labor Minister who intro- is becoming harder and harder to work aware of the increasing difficulty of building COMBAT: September/October, 2010

As has become standard practice, the authors of the neo-liberal reforms present them not as a choice but as a necessity. There is no alternative. We must compete on the global market. Do it our way or we go broke. And this reform was essentially dictated by the European Union, in a 2003 report, concluding that making people work longer was necessary to cut pension costs. These dictates prevent any discussion of the two basic factors underlying the pension problem: productivity and deindustrialization. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the former Socialist Party man who heads the relatively new Left Party, is about the only political leader to point out that even if there are fewer workers to contribute to pension schemes, the difference can be made up by the rise in productivity. Indeed, French worker productivity is among the very highest in the world (higher than Germany, for example). Moreover, although France has the second longest life expectancy in Europe, it also has the highest birth rate. And even if jobholders are fewer because of unemployment, the wealth they produce should be adequate to maintain pension levels. Aha, but here’s the catch: for decades, as productivity goes up, wages stagnate. The profits from increased productivity are siphoned off into the financial sector. The bloating of the financial sector and the stagnation of purchasing power has led to the financial crisis – and the government has preserved the imbalance by bailing out the profligate financiers. So logically, preserving the pension system basically calls for raising wages to account for higher productivity – a very major policy change. But there is another critical problem linked to the pension issue: deindustrialization. In order to maintain the high profits drained by the financial sector, and avoid paying higher wages, one industry after another has moved its production to cheap labour countries. Profitable enterprises shut down as capital goes looking for even higher profit. Is this merely the inevitable result of the rise of new industrial powers in Asia? Continued on page four Page Five


Workshop with NUPAAW


Chinese sugar company lands in the Caribbean

Partcipants who attended the workshop and sugar networking meeting in Zambia from September 27, 2010 to October 01, 2010

Ten representatives from the sugar branches of the National Union of Plantation, Agricultural and Allied Workers of Zambia (NUPAAW) met for a national workshop to discuss the current situation in the expanding sugar sector, and to draft a work program that would lead the union’s work in the sector. Attending the meeting was also the International Director of the Canadian Auto Workers, the union that supports the IUF sugar project in East and Southern Africa. In addition to the workshop, the IUF Global Sugar Program held a sugar network activity with the participation of delegates from the GMB, a General Workers Union in the United Kingdom; and GAWU, a sugar workers’ union from Guyana. The workshop and the meeting took place from Sept. 27 to Oct. 1 in Lusaka.

operations. The expansion, however, means a hardening of the terms and conditions of work. While the union is able to negotiate direct collective bargaining agreements with Zambia Sugar and Kafue Sugar (both cane processors), the remaining production units, most of them commercial cane farmers, fall under the so-called Joint Industrial Council (JIC). The JIC was introduced in 1997, and allows employers to negotiate either individually (at enterprise level) or at industry/sector level. In the agricultural sector, this means that the union negotiates terms and conditions with farmers engaged in growing several different products - from cane to tomatoes and potatoes - crops whcih are also different from one another: commercial and small-holders. The JIC tends to have lower standards than the CBA individually negotiated, reflecting the The sugar workshop was also a spe- lowest common denominator in the cial occasion for the IUF sugar pro- sector determined by the so-called ject, as the Social Justice Fund of the small-scale holders. Canadian Auto Workers (SJF-CAW), which supports the project, visited The ten Zambian delegates (2 womone of the project’s activities and en) attending the proceedings came was able to share information on the from sugar branches of NUPAAW: the union’s international solidarity work three processing plants: Kalungwishi, and the “social unionism” approach Kafue and Zambia Sugar, and from which the union implements. the following farms: Kaleya, Kushiya, The Zambian sugar cane sector is ex- MGM, Delta and Nanga. Also, attendperiencing an expansion driven by in- ing was Annie Labaj, International Divestments by Zambia Sugar, an Illovo rector of the Canadian Auto Workers Sugar subsidiary, and a government and head of the Social Justice Fund policy that encourages cane grow- (SJF-CAW); Komal Chand, President of ing through associations of small- the Guyana Agricultural and General holders. Last year, Zambia Sugar Workers Union (GAWU); Bert Schoucompleted its expansion programme wenburg, International Ifficer of the that has more than doubled its an- GMB, a general workers union in the nual production capacity to around United Kingdom; and Jorge Chullén, 440,000 tonnes of sugar, resulting IUF Global Sugar Co-ordinator. from an expansion of cane-growing COMBAT: September/October, 2010

Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding and Complant CEO Tang Jianguo signing the agreement for the sale of the three sugar factories

On 30 July, 2010, the Jamaican government and the Chinese company, Complant, signed documents which completed the divestment of the final three sugar estates under the Sugar Company of Jamaica (SCJ): Monymusk, Bernard Lodge and Frome. The Jamaican Minister of Agriculture said the deal has two parts. The first is the purchase of the factories and the leasing of some 30,000 hectares with a price tag of around USD 10 million. The land is leased on a 50-year term at USD 35 per hectare, which can be extended for 25 more years.

agreement with Tate & Lyle to be completed. Complant operates in other economic sectors, and in Jamaica it has built the Trelawny Stadium and a convention centre in Montego Bay. Complant International Sugar Industry Company Limited says that it is “fully supported by Chinese government in business development in ACP countries as a large, state-owned enterprise.”

The company says it operates six sugar companies on operating-leasing contracts: the Save Sugar Complex in Benin, Anie Sugar in Togo, and In the second part of the deal, Com- Magbass Sugar in Sierra Leone, all in plant may conduct a feasibility study West Africa; and three factories in for a 200,000-tonne refinery and Madagascar, the Ambilobe, Namakia an ethanol plant. If the plan is im- and Morondava. In the combined Afplemented, Complant will become rican total, Complant controls a prothe most important sugar company duction of some 180,000 tonnes of in the English-speaking Caribbean. sugar per year, with a great proporIt was also said that Complant has tion being exported to the European asked the government to maintain Union; and a total ethanol producits support to the Caricom Common tion of more than 22 million litres per External Tariff (CET) on sugar, which year from molasses and cassava. stands at 40 percent. The CET protects the regional sugar producers, At the request of the Jamaican unand it is waived only to the extent ions, the IUF Global Sugar Program that the Caribbean sugar producers has started making contacts with cannot satisfy the demand. unions in Complant’s West Africa, as they now have strong corporate links The sale is effective by June 2011 through the Chinese company, as to allow Jamaica to deliver 100,000 well as market links to the European tonnes of sugar of a forward sale Union. Page Six

OUR MEMBERS WELFARE: Bursaries for our Young

Awardees and their parents with members of the Union’s leadership following the presentation On August 28, 2010, the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU) continued its award of bursaries to members’ children. This year, it awarded twentysix (26) bursaries to children of its members who have been successful at the National Grade Six Examinations. The eligible children are those who secured the highest marks among the children of the Union’s membership at the various branch areas of the Union. Parents from the sugar estates and other locations where GAWU represents workers accompanied their children for the simple, yet meaningful awards ceremonies. The presentation for members’ children in Berbice was held at the Union Office in New Amsterdam,

while recipients in Demerara gathered in the Conference Room of the Union’s Headquarters in Kingston, Georgetown. GAWU’s General Secretary, Seepaul Narine, congratulated the students on their achievements. He encouraged them to continue their studies to gain good places at their CXC examinations. He opined that, in this Information Age, a sound education is almost compulsory to pursue life and work after school. Similar sentiments were expressed at the Berbice function by the Union’s Organising Secretary, Ramnarase Tiwari. Parents as well as students felt elated at the Union’s gesture, and expressed their appreciation and gratitude to the Union.

Continued from page one

in the crop. The poor performance of the Skeldon factory which is encompassing regular breakdowns for long hours, almost every week is impeding production of canes at this major factory in the industry. As at November 01, 2010 it produced 25,958 tonnes of sugar when its production should have been 47,281. The newly constructed factory has a number of inferior components which must be replaced.

GUYSUCO: Negotiations and Workers

The Union explained that the work attendance is historical in the industry. It explained that in those years where workers obtained increases approved by the Union, work attendance subsequent to the increase has always been better. Some cane cutters do work with other employers, since they are offered better-pay, but they work enough days with the Corporation to maintain their status as qualified workers.

The Union wants meaningful dialogue with the Corporation with a It is impossible for the Corporation to view to obtain a wage/salary offer harvest its crop canes. The Union ac- that the workers will accept in the knowledges there are enough canes light of its serious financial state. to achieve the target of 264,000 Should the Corporation fail to adtonnes of sugar. One of the inhibiting dress such pay increase, certainly the factors is the La Nina weather condi- workforce in sugar industry will drift tion which delayed the commence- away incrementally, thus endangerment of the crop and its continuation ing the very existence of the industry. COMBAT: September/October, 2010

JEWAN JANKI Profile of a GAWU Stalwart

tion, Janki experienced the appalling living and working conditions and injustice which sugar workers were made to endure and this no doubt energized him to become involved with GAWU and the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) in the early 1950s. And because of his militancy, dedication and loyalty to the workers’ cause, he became a trade union representative and leader. In the 1970s he went to Bulgaria on a nine-(9) month scholarship, and this no doubt helped to reinforce his commitment to the workers’ cause as well as his negotiating skills. He worked throughout his working life in the fields, the major of which he was a cane cutter. And apart from his dedication to the political and trade union struggles, he was a committed family man and lived a decent and exemplary life. On GAWU becoming the recognized union in the sugar industry in 1976, he became the Union’s Field Secretary Cde Jewan Janki at Uitvlugt Estate, a post he held until he became seriThe Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), which ously ill eventually becoming bedis the largest trade union in the Eng- ridden. However, while his illness lish-speaking Caribbean, in its 64- caused him obvious discomfort, he odd years of existence has produced was even more disconcerted by the numerous stalwarts, foot soldiers fact that he could not continue to and dedicated working class fighters play an active role in the political and trade union struggles. This pained throughout the sugar industry. One of those stalwarts was un- him terribly, and he was brought to doubtedly the late Field Secretary Je- tears because he could not attend a wan Janki, who was attached to the PPP congress in 1998, which was held Uitvlugt Estate, which later became at Zeeburg Secondary School just a the Uitvlugt/Leonora Estate follow- mile from his home. But his contribution to the struggle ing the closure of the Leonora Estate of the sugar workers has been fully by the People’ s National Congress (PNC) government in 1986. He grew acknowledged by both the PPP and up at Uitvlugt, but later settled down GAWU, to which he remained loyal at Meten-Meer-Zorg, West Coast until he passed away. Therefore, it Demerara. He came from humble was not surprising that when the rebeginnings, and remained like that vered late President Dr Cheddi Jagan throughout his life; but his militancy was on the West Demerara, a visit did not waver, despite having work to Comrade Janki was a must on his and struggle under extremely diffi- agenda. Comrade Janki was a true son of the cult times and conditions. soil and the working class. Being a cane cutter for many years, and growing up on a sugar plantaBy Chamanlall Naipaul Page Seven


The new Skeldon Sugar Factory is constantly beset by its numerous defects The second or autumn sugar crop, which is currently under harvest, commenced two (2) weeks late, beginning between week ending August 06, 2010 and week ending August 13, 2010, depending on the estate. For almost a month in the crop, there were unusual downpours, which continued intermittently. It is now feared that the seasonal rain from mid-November to the end of the year would deny the Corporation the achievement of its revised target of 264,000 tonnes of sugar. The crop commenced in the midst of unseasonal rains. Although the weather has improved, over the past weeks, intermittent rains keep constraining production, especially in the use of the semi-mechanical harvesters (Bell loaders) and the mechanical cane harvesters at Skeldon Estate. Coupled with the unsuitable weather pattern are significant factory-related breakdowns at Skeldon Estate. As at October 29, 2010, sugar production for the crop is merely 99,887 tonnes; and for the year 180,494 tonnes. At the corresponding period last year (2009), the production was 206,265 tonnes. It is expected that production will follow this trend, resulting in the industry’s production for the year hovering at around 230,000 tonnes, a shortfall by 34,000 tonnes of its revised target of 264,063. Although there are canes in the fields to achieve a production of 264,000 tonnes or more, and the current weather has hindered the realization of such level of production, the first crop production of 81,862 was a setback. The crop’s production was almost 15,000 tonnes behind the average first crop production in the last three (3) years. Low production again this year would mean deeper financial woes for the beleaguered industry. The Corporation informed the Union earlier this month (October, 2010) that it owes the banks and creditors approximately G$8B (US$40M). Poor sugar production, the full effect of the 36 per cent cut in the price of the sugar the Corporation exports to Europe, and the rate of the Euro vis-à-vis the US dollar are pointing to an uncertain future for the Corporation. Had the industry over the past years been able to maintain a production of at least

300,000 tonnes, noting in the years 2002 – 2004, the Corporation’s average production was 320,000 tonnes, it would not have been in the present predicament. The world market price of sugar is close to US30 cents per pound. This year’s sugar production would just be enough to supply the Corporation’s contractual markets, and therefore the industry would not be able to capialise on the lucrative world market price. The new Skeldon factory and expanded cane cultivation ought to have made a positive difference to the industry. The brand new factory, which cost US$189M and commenced operations during September, 2008, is performing extremely unsatisfactorily. No longer should the Corporation fail to replace the ill-suited and inferior components, lest the Factory’s interminable problems continue to bedevil the industry. This year is an unfortunate year for the Corporation. It has the canes in the ground to produce between 264,000 tonnes to 270,000 tonnes sugar, but the weather, above all is inhibiting the harvest. On October 15, 2010, the Corporation’s Chairman, Dr N.K Gopaul, CEO a.g. Paul Bhim, and other officials met with officials and representatives of GAWU and NAACIE. The Corporation’s CEO outlined at that meeting that the industry was to reap approximately 1.3M tonnes of canes for the crop, and opined that with good weather ably supported by better work attendance and productivity, the target of 264,000 tonnes would be achieved. Guysuco sought the support of the Unions to encourage their members to display full work attendance in order for the industry to harvest the entire crop’s cane. The industry’s future is at stake. The industry has the capacity presently to produce 320,000 tonnes of sugar. The new state-ofthe-art factory, should it perform as per design with the additional canes from the Skeldon farmers and Estate itself, a further 85,000 tonnes sugar could be easily produced yearly. With such production and a higher prevailing world price, the industry would once again be sound and it would propel itself to become sustainable and play its expected role in the country’s economy.

Diamond severance pay matter goes to court In separate actions brought against the Guyana Sugar Corporation Inc (Guysuco), workers of Diamond Estate and their Union, the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), have sought the intervention of the High Court with respect to severance pay for the approximately 400 workers. The GAWU, through its President, General Secretary and Trustees, has named the Guyana Sugar Corporation Inc along with its Chief Executive Officer as the Defendants. The Union, among other things is seeking the following:• A declaration that the approximately four hundred (400) workers and employees of the Defendant Corporation, formerly of Diamond Estate on the East Bank of Demerara, in the County of Demerara were rendered in March, 2010 by the closure or termination of operations and functioning of Plantation Diamond (Diamond Estate). • An Order directing the first-named Defendants to pay the aforesaid employees severance pay promptly in accordance with the Collective Labour Agreement dated October 25, 2004 between the Plaintiffs and the Defendants. In another petition to the High Court, ten (10) workers, on behalf of themselves and their colleagues, are seeking, among other things, the following:• A declaration that their services at Diamond, East Bank Demerara with the Defendants in the first quarter of 2010 were rendered redundant, entitling them to Severance Pay • A declaration that under the contracts of employment between them and the Defendants made at Diamond, East Bank Demerara, in the country of Dem-

erara they are entitled to Severance Pay in the events that took place in or about the first quarter of 2010. An Order directing the Defendants to pay them severance pay promptly, in accordance with their contracts of employment and pursuant to clause 21 of the Collective Agreement entered into on 25th October, 2004 between the Defendants and the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU). A declaration that the Order is applicable to the hundreds of other employees of the Defendants in a similar position re: Diamond Estate.

The matters were called in Court on October 11, 2010 for the first time respectively and put down for fixtures for the hearing to commence. Diamond Estate, before its nationalization on May 26, 1975, was owned by Jessel Holdings Limited. The factory of the estate was closed at the end of the first crop of 1987 by the Guyana Sugar Corporation (Guysuco) as part of the Corporation’s restructuring programme then. The canes from the Estate’s 4000 hectare cultivation were, over the years ground at the LBI Estate factory. The Corporation, in its Turnaround Plan released in April, 2009, disclosed that it would dispose of the cultivation for the sum of G$30.6B (US$153M). In keeping with that decision, all the workers except the cane cutters, were required to work at LBI Estate from the beginning of this year. The cane cutters after reaping the residual canes at Diamond during this current crop, have been required to take up work permanently at LBI Estate. The Union and the workers are concerned about the delay by the court to address the matters.

MECHANICAL TILLAGE: now piece rated Following discussions between the Guyana Sugar Corporation Inc (Guysuco) and the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), along with representatives of the mechanical tillage gangs of the eight (8) estates it was agreed that mechanical tillage work, with effect from September 12, 2010, would be done under a job basis. The Corporation, probably in 1998, completely discontinued job work and adopted time rates at two 12-hour shifts per day. Ten (10) years later (in 2008), the Corporation through, the Management of the various estates, began to solicit the support of the operators to revert to job-rated work. Later, the Corporation requested the Union to consider the reversion. The Union sought from the Corporation the rates and conditions of work that it would wish to have in place. The Corporation must have been persuaded by the negative effects of climate change, which significantly reduced the opportunity days which allow tillage work to be undertaken. The adoption of job work allows for better remuneration, while it influences higher productivity.

COMBAT is a publication of the Guyana Agricultural & General Workers Union (GAWU) 59 High Street & Wights Lane, Kingston, Georgetown, Guyana, S.A. Tel: 592-227-2091/2; 225-5321 , 223-6523 Fax: 592-227-2093 Email: Website:

It has been agreed out of discussions that the operators and mates would continue to work two shifts per day, each of twelve (12)hour duration. The rate of pay is $1,855 per hectare. Previously they were paid an average of $250 per hour. The Union has been reliably informed that the tillage programme of the Corporation is progressing extremely well since the new working arrangement is in place. The sugar industry cultivates 45,000 hectares (111,195 acres) of land throughout its eight estates in Berbice and Demerara. The Corporation strives to maintain its crop cycle for five years i.e. to till and plant anew twenty (20) per cent of its cultivation each year. The objective is to have no cane ratoon older than five (5) years. Over the years, the Corporation has significantly not been able to achieve this objective. Its mechanical tillage programme is significantly lagging each year, and thus its planting programme. Last year the Corporation disclosed that as much as 32 per cent of its cultivation had non-productive canes due to the non-achievement of its tillage and replanting programmes.

Combat - September/October, 2010 edition  

Combat - September/October, 2010 edition

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