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