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Articles by Janet Jagan 2009

Justice to Guyana’s workers

by Janet Jagan

 It belongs in the Guinness Book of Records. It took 55 years for the Trade Union Recognition Bill to become a law in Guyana. It is true, however, that the Trade Union Recognition Act was passed by Parliament in 1997, but it had flaws, unfortunately, that prevented it from performing as it was intended. Thus the 2008 Amendment Bill corrected these flaws and was passed in Parliament, but opposed strongly by the Opposition who walked out.

It all began in 1953, after the People’s Progressive Party won its first outstanding victory at the polls. The PPP had formulated a Bill modeled on the US National Labour Relations Act with similar legislation in Canada, which would provide for union recognition by employees to the union which enjoyed majority support. That support was to be determined by a procedure wherein workers in the industry would, by secret ballot, elect the union of their choice. The 1953 Bill also included provisions to prohibit victimization of workers and another seeking the rights of the trade union officials to visit the places at which their members were employed.

The necessity for this Act had a long history which included the employers of sugar workers, the Sugar Producers Association (SPA) accepting the Man Power Citizens Association (MPCA) as the negotiating union. This recognition of the MPCA was challenged by the Guiana Industrial Workers’ Union (GIWU) which claimed to have the largest number of members.

The SPA and the colonial hierarchy, which worked closely together, knew that if GIWU became a recognized union, its demands would be great because the MPCA had for years been what is called a “company” union, doing whatever the SPA wanted. This is the reason for GIWU gaining so many members in the sugar industry.

“On the very day British troops entered Guiana, we passed in the House of Assembly our Labour Relations Bill. Employers were to be required by laws to negotiate with the trade union enjoying majority support” wrote Cheddi Jagan in his book “The West on Trial” That was the end of the legislation, but not the struggle to have such an Act.

President of GAWU, Komal Chand, in an address last year said: “There were many militant and relentless struggles by the workers which followed over the years to get GAWU recognized. These struggles culminated in 1975, a watershed year for GAWU. Two strikes for about eight weeks in the first crop of 1975 and another in the second crop for about six weeks forced the SPA to agree to a poll on Union recognition… It was held on Old Year’s Day 1975; the result was GAWU – 21,487 or 98% of the eligible votes, MPCA – 276 or 1.71%...”

While GAWU won the right to a poll in 1975, in 1963, the PPP, again in office, introduced a Bill similar to that of 1953. Although Mr Burnham had been a member of the Cabinet in 1953, and backed the Bill, by the 1960’s he was Leader of the Opposition and looking for any excuse to attack the PPP. Opposition to the Bill led to the notorious 80 day strike, burnings and killings and all the horrors of that period. As Dr Jagan observed in his “The West on Trial”: “Both Opposition parties (PNC and UF) whipped up their followers into a state of frenzy.” It was a difficult period for all Guyanese and led, eventually, for the UK/USA alliance, to use all methods to remove the PPP from office and then led to the 28 years of PNC rule.

So the Trade Union Recognition (Amendment) Bill 2008, which was passed recently was the result of many years of trade union struggle to achieve a legal method of determining union recognition. The flaws of the 1997 Bill were corrected, bringing on the wrath of the Guyana Trade Union Congress, because its power to act and determine when a poll would be held has been changed. Now it is no longer the organization that has the largest number of trade union affiliates but the organization which has the largest number of trade union members. (The TUC has many “paper” unions as members. This arises out of the fact that the TUC can no longer claim to represent the majority of organized workers; FITUG has argued that it represents more workers than the TUC.

No other piece of legislation in Guyana has gone through such a long period of disagreement, turmoil and rage. From being one of the issues in the 1953 suspension of the Constitution to the bloody 80 day strike of the 60’s, to the continued differences of the TUC, today it is finally law to assist workers in their trade unions and, as well, conforms with the International Labour Office (ILO).

Thanks to the PPP/Civic government for pursuing and completing this law which is aimed at bringing justice to Guyana’s workers!

Copyright ©  Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009

 

The Reality of Our Democracy

by Janet Jagan - 2009

A question that dominates discussions and the views and opinions of many Guyanese is that of democracy. If one keeps an eye on the print and TV media, one can see the subject being frequently raised – is Guyana a democracy, or something else, short of being a democracy.

Guyana has gone through three stages: 1) Colonial rule  2) The Burnham/PNC era of rigged elections and denial of human rights and 3) The 1992 restoration of democracy. As a colony of Great Britain, Guyanese lacked the right to govern their own country. Although fair elections were held, the British held on closely to security, foreign affairs, finance and the civil service, and held, as well, tight control of the media. We all know only too well what happened during the PNC regime, when that party held on to power by means of electoral rigging and tight control of people’s rights – like freedom of the press, freedom of movement and freedom of thought.

All of these restrictions on the liberties of people ended when the PPP won the 1992 elections, following activities of those inside and outside of Guyana (Jimmy Carter’s help was a major contribution to the restoration of democracy) for the changing of electoral procedures, mainly the counting of ballots at the place of poll.

There is, however, a slice of Guyanese society, that will not accept that Guyana is a democracy. They complain bitterly that their rights are denied, that one party keeps winning elections, which they believe is unfair. They demand participation in the Executive branch of government and consider the use of the majority vote in the National Assembly an affront to democracy. They interpret the government ownership of the radio station, the one–TV station situation at Linden and the restriction of advertisements to Stabroek News some time ago as assaults on democracy and the right to freedom of speech and thought the slap on the wrist of TV Channel 6 for permitting threats to the President, an attack on human rights.

They also complain bitterly about Parliament – that its practices are unfair and the majority vote rules on every bill and matter before that body. The critics fail to understand that this is the way democracies are run. The minority cannot rule, except in dictatorships. As one historian Frederic Austin Ogg: put it in his book “European Governments and Politics” “… The debate ended, the motion is put. If the opposition prevails, the bill perishes; and while most government bills almost always come through (failure to do so, being a government defeat, would quite possibly upset their minority), the mortality of private members’ bills at this stage is very great.” That is the reality of how parliaments work.

But the critics never mention the tremendous changes that have taken place in our National Assembly. I sat there in the PNC years when questions were never answered and when Opposition Leader Cheddi Jagan was prevented from speaking in parliament for over two years because of the PNC speaker’s ruling. I put some 12 questions on Jonestown to the then National Assembly at each session, but they were never placed on the Order paper. Today, questions are answered and not ‘ducked.’ We now have an advanced committee system known as the Parliamentary Standing Committees that embraces all parliamentarians in the study of bills and reports that go to the National Assembly and is responsible for appointments to commissions and boards. We now have Hansard, important to our history, which the PNC government did not print. All that is left for historical study during that period are speeches typed on thin paper, now deteriorating.

As to freedom of speech and expression, the critics have to dig deep and deeper to justify their charges. In fact, some of the “free speech” is so noxious and unfair, that the government should be challenged for allowing such nonsense to be printed or said.

Guyana can be proud. We are one of the few countries in the world where the Cabinet Secretary reports weekly to the nation on Cabinet decisions and where the Head of State, the President, holds regular press conferences where any and all questions put by journalists are answered. Guyana’s ministers go out to the “roots” on a regular basis to inform, to enquire, to investigate and to rap with citizens. Several ministers hold “open days” where people can seek help and express their grievances.

Further, in the PPP’s efforts to enhance democracy, the PPP/C has endorsed the UN Declaration of Human Rights and has enacted legislation to ensure that the rights of Guyanese are guaranteed by the Constitution. Also five rights commissions have been established to enhance the rights of women, children, indigenous people and ethnic relations.

We are a full fledged democracy and we can hold up our heads in pride that this is a reality.

Copyright ©  Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009

 

Two Heroes Worth their Salt

by Janet Jagan (March 2009)

During this month of March, when we celebrate the birth and life of Cheddi Jagan, I am reminded of the close association he had with the great Black American actor/singer, Paul Robeson. It all began like this. Cheddi had established a writing connection with Paul Robeson, more political than cultural. Besides being the greatest male singer of his time, he had very strong political convictions. He was one of the early American Black advocates of equality and full freedom and the end of racial discriminations in the USA. He was a strong man, unafraid when his radical actions started hurting his singing and acting careers.

Already, Paul was blacklisted and not allowed to hold concerts anywhere in the USA, banned from theatres and Hollywood and refused exit from the USA. He would have been received with open hearts, on all concert stages, have no money problems and loved anywhere outside the USA.

I was visiting the USA, New York City sometime in the late 40’s, or early 50’s, I think. Cheddi gave me Robeson’s telephone number in New York and asked me to convey our solidarity. When I got to New York I telephoned and heard the deep, exceptional voice say “Janet, you come over here right now. Hire a taxi and I’ll take care of it.” Which I did. I was greeted at the door of a modest but very artistically furnished bungalow by Paul and his wife Eslanda at 16 Jumel Terrace. We talked, we had lunch and arrangements were made for myself and Eslanda to meet. I later knew that everyone called her “Essie.” We became very good friends over the years, corresponded regularly and met later in Trinidad and London.

I found out that their living conditions were difficult, his once very large income as a singer and actor was down to about zero and he was restricted to singing only in churches that were fearless enough to invite him. Eslanda earned an income of sorts as a journalist at the United Nations, although she had a high level education in the sciences.

I was reminded of all of this whilst looking through some of my books and came across “Here I Stand” by Paul Robeson and inscribed to me in 1958 by Paul and Eslanda. This quote of Robeson explains all – “The artist must take sides.”

For the generations of the 20th century in which, he lived and died, (1898-1976) he was a controversial world figure and a reminder of the repression the US government used on those who didn’t toe the US line. In those days the progressive movement was not so strong in the US and many Americans were even unaware of how the US government was destroying one of America’s best artists.

Paul Robeson was a highly educated man. He had a law degree and, as well, was a great footballer. However, his voice was so great that he would not be allowed to follow a profession other than drama and music. For those who have listened to his records, they can hardly be forgotten. I can still hear his magnificent deep voice, going down, down, as if forever, in the Black Slave Song “Ole Man River.” I doubt if anyone still lives who saw him in Shakespeare’s “Othello”, said to be a superb production, played both in London and New York.

The greatest offence the US government did to Paul Robeson was to incarcerate him for long years in the USA, without access to the concert stage or theatre until he passed the years when his voice lost its very special quality, range, and richness. By the time he was permitted to travel out of the USA, he went on a tour of Australia, where he was welcomed by enraptured audiences.

While the critics were not too harsh, Robeson knew himself well enough to know that his voice was no longer what it had been before. It pushed him into depression and he was sent to a London clinic. I know of this, because Eslanda wrote to me and asked if I was passing through London to be sure to look her up. From her tiny London apartment; she told me the sad story and asked if I would visit him and give him encouragement that he was still highly esteemed as a singer and was well beloved. I was to remind him of the royal welcome he was given by London workers when he left his land of incarceration and crossed the ocean. He was greatly beloved by the British workers who recognized him as their hero, not only a great singer, and joined the world demands for his freedom to travel.

These two men, Jagan and Robeson, both heroes and most beloved by the peoples of their own countries, lived through roughly the same time periods. Jagan was battered with all the punches the US could deliver, yet survived to become Guyana’s most beloved Leader. Paul Robeson was probably hit even harder by the USA. Both, together, were strong, honest, talented men of the highest principles, which under maximum pressure, never gave up or gave in.

Copyright ©  Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009

 

Safeguarding People through Community Policing

by Janet Jagan

 Recently I wrote an article for this column strongly criticizing a cartoon in an edition of Stabroek News drawn by Mr P Harris which was derisive and degrading of Community Police. It depicted them as being low-down, ignorant, drunken men. I had pointed out that Community Police were Guyana’s largest group of volunteers who made very positive contributions to our people, providing them with much-needed and much appreciated protection from bandits, rapists and murderers who haunt our landscape.

Since then, the media has carried some useful information on the role of Community Police in our society. But before I examine that, I wish to record for the benefit of those in our society who continue to have values on morals, integrity and universally accepted behaviour, that Stabroek News continues to lower itself, inch by inch, into the depths of filth, vulgarity and indecency. Another cartoon appeared in its March 12, 2009 edition by the same cartoonist, Mr P Harris. It clearly depicted the personages of the President, Mr B Jagdeo and Cabinet Secretary Roger Luncheon. It appears to be a comment on the “Roger Khan saga” and even though I’m said to be literate. I could not comprehend what the cartoon was attempting to say. If nothing else, the vulgarity of the cartoonist was prominent and easily understood. It showed the two government officials being clutched in their private parts by a crab. This is not the first, second or last time that this cartoonist has sunk to “toilet humour”, to get a laugh. I’ve followed his nasty voyages in S/N and another newspaper where his vulgarity is so obvious and so disgusting. This is part of the wickedness that goes on without any form of decent control. It reduces and marks the behaviour of our youth and others, who now accept such low-down behaviour as “acceptable”. Maybe one day, hopefully, good sense and good taste will return!

To return to the matter of Community Policing groups. Recently the Guyana Police Force celebrated the 33 years of community policing in Guyana. Speaking on the occasion, Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee noted that during those years, members of the voluntary policing and the police were better able to understand and appreciate one another. He urged every citizen of Guyana to be a part of the policing group in his/her community in order to be aware of the basic methods employed to ensure the safety and protection of the communities in which we live.

Commissioner of Police Henry Greene said: “The groups have patrolled their towns and villages and have been a source of information and assistance to the Guyana Police Force.”

Information on the workings of the Community Policing Groups are encouraging. Over the last two years the Community Protection Groups have effected over 1000 arrests, initiated over 500 charges and conducted over 300,000 patrols – quite a record, particularly in view of Stabroek News vulgar attempts miniaturize its responsibilities and effects!

Like all community efforts the most important factor in community policing is people. These volunteers need moral support as well as physical support. In association with one community policing groups, I remember that support our group raised funds for torch lights, flasks, snacks for the men on long patrols and even a vehicle!

Since crime is one of the fastest rising, anti-people phenomena of this period, all efforts must be made, by every citizen, to provide maximum safety and protection to its citizens.

GENERAL PRINCIPLES OF COMMUNITY POLICING:

** Reporting unusual and unlawful activities.

** Recording activities of members of the group.

** Responding to reports and requests by police and public.

GROUP FORMATION:

A group should consist of 15 or more members. Each group elects its Executive, which ought to consist of a Chairman, Vice Chairman, a Secretary, a Treasurer, An Assistant Secretary/Treasurer and a minimum of 5 Community  members.

ROLE OF COMMUNITY POLICING MEMBERS:

** To observe and report unusual an unlawful activities to the police.

** To patrol their Communities.

** To attend training sessions.

** To attend group, divisional and national meetings.

** To organize meaningful activities for youth/women of their communities.

Copyright ©  Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009

 

End the Carnage in Gaza

by Janet Jagan (10 January, 2009)

 

The terrible onslaught of the Palestinian people living in the Gaza strip, at the time of writing, continues unabatted. The latest statistics, after 12 days of hammering by air, ground and sea by the Israeli government has resulted in 680 dead, and thousands injured. Of this, a United Nations observer noted that 45% of the injured are women and children and 25% of the dead are children.
                The commencement of the Israeli attacks began about two weeks ago in the constant air bombardment of the Gaza strip, said to be the most heavily populated area in the world, containing 1 1/2 million people living in the small area occupied by Palestinians. The Palestinians are a stateless people who have been fighting for decades to have their own land, identity and free state.
                A grave humanitarian crisis has developed in this small area bordered on the north by Israel and to the south by Egypt. Entry to the Gaza strip at the north is fully controlled by Israel, which only allows humanitarian aid into the Gaza area when it suits that nation. Due to the first Israeli assault by air which pounded the population relentlessly for 24 hours a day for some six days, supplies of water, food and medical supplies became scarce. Thousands became homeless as the air strikes demolished the living quarters of a large percentage of Palestinians. The Israelis claimed that Hamas fighters were their aim, not civilians. Israel said that the attack was aimed at stopping the rockets Hamas was shooting into Israel, which, over the year, had caused the deaths of four Israelis. Israeli ministers, in interviews, claimed that the objectives of their air, land and sea attack on Gaza is the Hamas leadership and not the people of Gaza. The Israeli objective, stated quite openly, is aimed at creating so much suffering that the Palestinian people will reject the Hamas leadership as the cause of their suffering, and then all will be well. Forgotten is the fact that Hamas won an overall majority at the last general elections!
                But the Israeli leadership’s calculations have not succeeded. The Palestinian people are not blaming Hamas, but the Israeli/USA axis for their hardships, losses and pain. In fact, it was believed that the differences between Hamas and Fatah, the two Palestinian groups that are hostile to one another, mainly on the methods of reaching a solution for a free Palestinian State, would increase. This, too, has not happened. The Palestinian people are united in one objective, to expel the Israeli war machine from occupying Palestinian lands.
                The Israelis have shown their indifference to the humanitarian aspects of their assault that mainly women, children and civilians are suffering beyond belief for medical care and medications plus life’s necessities of food, water and shelter. The Israelis are cold-hearted in their attitude to allowing international aid to enter the Gaza strip, allocating, only occasionally, a few hours for lorries with much needed supplies, to enter Gaza. I was stunned when I listened to the Israeli Foreign Minister Ms Livni state categorically on TV that there was no humanitarian problem in the Gaza strip! And I listened carefully as a European doctor said that he and his colleagues could not handle the large number of casualties that arrived at the hospital all the time. Some had to wait so long that they died while waiting for treatment, and in some cases they were out of medicines and equipment, not enough beds and staff to care for all the victims of the attacks. By this time, the Israelis had moved to its second stage, the first being air bombardment, the second, land intrusion by tanks and cannons.
                The invasion led to the horrific attack on a United Nations–run school where thousands had rushed to for safety. Some 70 deaths resulted from this murderous attack which killed mostly children. The Israelis have had a hard time explaining that attack, saying gunfire came from the building and they responded. But UN observers said it just was not true. And so, the one-sided war continues with blood, carnage and coffins, unbelievable in this 21st century.
                Meantime the United Nations is trying to produce a cease-fire to stop the abominable slaughter. Whether the UN can overcome the US block at the UN Security Council is anyone’s guess, but world public opinion is very, very strong for a cease fire and the solution to the Middle East’s most serious problem – the establishment of a Palestinian State.

Copyright ©  Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009

 

Time to End the Cold War on Cuba

by Janet Jagan - 2009

Usually high on topics for discussion, people talk about President Obama and what he will be doing to fulfill his election promises.
                Topic one usually dwells on methods to revive the US economy, which like the domino theory, has led to fall-outs worldwide. No doubt this is the highest priority of the Obama administration at this stage.
                However, President Obama, during his first week in office had dealt with issues of utmost importance, like the closure of Guantanamo Bay prison and the complete halt to the use of torture in any form during questioning of prisoners. These two decisions had the effect of reducing strong anti-American feelings abroad.
                There are so many attitudes and positions taken in the past by the USA which created animosity, that the USA now has a lot to do to try to create a new and clean slate. Closer to the USA and part of our hemispheric interests, is the USA boycott of Cuba that has continued for some 50 years. The effects of the boycott are numerous – the ban on trade between the USA and Cuba, the restrictions on travel and the movement of funds and a host of other restrictions that smell of the Cuban lobby in the US, mainly from the US Cubans in Florida who had left the island and took up permanent residence in the US. This hostility created and kept alive the hatred that has strengthened the ban on Cuba from being lifted. A new generation of US Cubans no longer have the deep hatred of the older generation and want to travel to Cuba, meet their families and create a friendlier attitude between the two countries.
                Many are looking to President Obama to initiate a changed position on the US attitude to Cuba. The London “Observer” for example, recently carried a “Comment” on this subject. The writer, Richard Gott, reflected on what had happened in Latin America during the 50 years of Cuba’s existence. There were many `vicious’ military dictatorships, people were imprisoned, tortured and “disappeared”, as in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Honduras and other Latin American Republics. “Nothing comparable happened in Cuba,” wrote Mr Gott.
                The author noted that eventually, civilian regimes reemerged in Latin America and they “once again made friends with Cuba. Fidel became recognized as the greatest Latin American figure of the 20th century, an emblematic leader comparable with the heroes of the 19th century struggles for independence” in Latin America.
                “It now falls on Barack Obama,” writes Gott in the Observer of January 9, 2009, to follow where the Latin Americans have led, and to “abandon the mistaken US policies of the past half century. The Cuban lobby in the US has lost its political clout, and there is now no domestic reason why an American President should not re-establish diplomatic and commercial relations with Cuba.”
                This is a reasonable position which makes a strong case for the establishment of normal relations between Cuba and the USA.
                For the first time in decades, the USA has voted into office a President who has the vision and the guts to take decisions which those before him feared. It is true that the pressure and the brainwashing to depict Cuba as “evil” has worked for a long time. The Cold War is over and it is time that the American people under a new and progressive leadership, take the steps necessary to correct many of the ills of the past. This is one that needs the closest attention and the courage to do the right thing.

Copyright ©  Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009

 

Welcome to Local Government Elections this Year

by Janet Jagan

(Last article written by Mrs. Jagan just before her death on March 28, 2009)

The front page headline on the March 18, 2009 Guyana Chronicle made me “feel good”. Feeling good is a pleasant experience not felt daily by most people.

There is a photo of President Bharrat Jagdeo and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Guyana’s renowned cricketer, at a reception in his honour at State House. Although I am not a cricket fan and know next to nothing about this most popular sport, I could not help but feel very proud of the achievements in world cricket of this son of Guyana. I guess this feeling of pride in a Guyanese who has made it to the top in his particular field of endeavour is natural. Everyone loves a hero and here is one who is young, popular, a “great” among the great, modest, inspiring and respected. My congratulations to Chanderpaul. May he succeed even higher in the expectations of his countrymen!

The other headline that made my day was that announcing that the Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) had declared that local government polls can be held this year, i.e, by November 30, 2009. What fantastic news! A part of me had been in perpetual gloom over this unbelievable, and in my opinion, unnecessary delay in the holding of local government elections since the last one 15 years ago. When the PPP won elections in 1992, one of our pledges was to hold local government elections as early as possible and this we did.

This is one area of democracy that does not have the fullest attention it deserves. When the local government elections were held, it brought democracy back to the roots. It is my belief, but I won’t press it because I am more interested in local government elections this year than in pointing fingers and making accusations. But I do believe that the opposition party was terrified at the overwhelming PPP success at those elections and has since used every possible move to delay, delay, delay fresh elections.

However, not to dwell on recriminations and accusations but to deal with the reality that whatever happens, we will, at long last, have local government elections this year.

A lot of good work at the local, ground level, has been stalled because the democratic forms at the local level have been frozen. Many village lists of councillors have dried up, with no new names for councillors who died, or moved or had to retire. This has held back many local government councils which need fresh names of councillors – young, with bright and new ideas and space to clean out those unstable or poorly equipped for the tasks and responsibilities.

Free and fair, local government elections and widely spread Councils with leaders who live in the villages and housing schemes are part of the whole process of ensuring democracy in any state. We can now give a sigh of relief that after waiting so long, at last this basic of any democratic nation will be stabilized and constitute a regular part of national life. Never again should such a delay ever take place!

Copyright ©  Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009