by GHK Lall
Something has to be made clear and straight: this is Guyana in 2019, and not the post 1917 USSR. The concerted line of attack against the workers in the bauxite industry by RUSAL points to a premeditated remorselessness that has not a single thread of healthy labor-management relations about it, or industrial relations best practices, or regard for basic human decency and human dignity. It reeks of the tyrannical and the intentionally degrading.
I think it is time that this government develop some cojones and send unambiguous messages to those who are bent on sending tough and harsh messages of their own to local workers, indeed, those who have taken the lead in delivering such without regard for protocols and processes. The government’s messages have to be: ‘Don’t go down this unconstructive road.’ ‘Don’t take these backward steps.’ And, ‘Don’t mess with our people.’ For that is exactly what RUSAL has unveiled in one calculating power play and squeeze play after another, and all of which are intended to grind the faces of the bauxite workers into the dust. Not just their noses, but their whole heads are relentlessly locked in a relentless vice-like escalation of tactics intended to bring them to heel and under the boots of their paymasters.
It started with disincentivizing them (the paternalization and dismissal of 1%); then with demeaning them through the studied insult of: ‘Don’t let the door strike you in the behind on the way out’, and out was the order, as in ‘Get off these grounds’. Next, as a part of cutting off the air supply came that despicable decision of ‘No cooking for you’, ‘No food for you’. How lower can it get? And last, in a lightning series of stunning slaps (more likely kicks) to the body of the reeling workers, were get out of the houses, and get off jobs permanently, as in terminated. Over. Out.
When all of this is taken together, I have to ask: Is this the 21st century? Or is this some pre-industrial age with robber barons roaming the land unchecked and free to pummel and disgrace worker, government, and nation? The fact that a foreign company does these things, without regard for the laws of Guyana, reeks of a new kind of either colonialist attitude or with distinctive vestiges of a plantation culture emanating from the top and meted out to the vulnerable and strapped who are held hostage to the weapon of foreign investment, and then taken advantage of in the most alarming and demeaning manners. As the unfolding of events have arrested the attention, I must state that I also sense an insensitivity and callousness that borders on the blatantly discriminatory. Look closely and objectively, and it becomes clear – too clear – that the chain of negative proceedings is highly indicative of the embedded contempt that characterizes master-servant arrangements and relationships.
To state the matter with the candor it deserves, the thinking, decisions, and actions on the ground, as aimed by RUSAL at the workers in one crippling fusillade after another, have been nothing short of the old slave system. Perhaps, it is not so old after all, and very much alive and well in the hearts of those who first invade and then trample upon and last terrorize. The heavy-handed, unilateral, provocative, and extremely hostile attitude of the RUSAL management can only be accurately described as industrial terrorism. In aggregate, the objective is to bring the workers to their knees and then force feed them the scant bitter rations, which they must accept (no discussion, no negotiation), and ultimately submit. Or else, it is the humiliation of allowing tarring and feathering, and last being run out of the job, the kitchen, the house, and then all the way out of town.
Without a doubt, the workers are being sent up the river, and without a paddle. They should not be on their own. Mr. Charles Ogle, the Chief Labor Officer, has made the state’s position clear. In a word: improper; in another: unacceptable. That ought to be the opening salvo of a belated, but much-needed government presence and counterattack. This confrontation has already assumed the proportions of a battlefield context. Perhaps, it is timely. Perhaps, it is fitting. The die is cast. Let the chips fall wherever they may.