Guyana Table of Contents
Trade unions traditionally have played a major role in Guyana's political life. They began to emerge when Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow mobilized waterfront workers and formed the nation's first labor union, The British Guiana Labour Union (BGLU), in 1917. Since then, union members have become a significant segment of the Guyanese working class. It was from the trade unions that the PPP and PNC evolved and drew their strength.
Most union members work in the public sector, and trade unions historically have had close ties to the ruling government. Many of the twenty-four unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), the main umbrella group for trade unions in Guyana, are formally affiliated with the PNC. Unions have the right to choose their own leaders freely, but in practice the ruling party has significant influence over union leadership. Government officials are often also union leaders. For instance, President Hoyte has been named the honorary president of one of the member unions of the TUC.
Government-labor relations have been marred by the PNC's attempts to control and silence the unions. This control initially was secured through the dominance of the Manpower Citizens Association, a pro-PNC union. When the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) entered the TUC in 1976, the size of the GAWU's membership (about 15,000) meant that it would be the largest union in the TUC, a status that would entitle it to the largest number of delegates. The PNC quickly contrived a system whereby GAWU ended up with far fewer delegates than it had previously been entitled to, and as such the TUC remained under PNC control. From 1982 to 1984, Minister of Labour Kenneth Denny and Minister of Finance Salim Salahuddin held very senior posts in the TUC simultaneously with their ministerial portfolios. In March 1984, the National Assembly passed the Labour Amendment Act, which stipulated that the TUC would henceforth be the only forum through which organized labor could bargain.
The Labour Amendment Act clearly was designed to stifle labor opposition to government policies. The law backfired, however, because reaction to it led to the ouster of the PNC-controlled labor leadership, which was replaced by leaders professing to be more independent. The main resistance to the PNC's control of the TUC came from a seven-union opposition bloc within the TUC, headed by the GAWU. Many unions, including some of the PNC-affiliated ones, began to criticize the government.
In the 1984 TUC elections, the seven-member reform coalition made significant inroads. The coalition candidate for TUC president ran against the PNC candidate and won. The changes in union leadership were a clear indication of the breadth of dissatisfaction with the PNC's efforts to roll back union power, and with Guyana's rapidly deteriorating economy. The seven disaffected unions left the TUC and in 1988 formed the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG).
Data as of January 1992