As far as we know, the only trade union historian in Belize is Nick Pollard, Jr., and he has an admitted agenda, which is the rehabilitation of the image of his late father, trade union leader/politician Nicholas Pollard, Sr. Right now, we need some help from Nick, Jr.
The nationalist history of British Honduras/Belize in the post-World War II era was similar to that of other countries in the British Caribbean, in that the political leadership which emerged to lead these countries to independence, such as that of Eric Williams in Trinidad and Bustamante/Manley in Jamaica, came out of the trade union movements which had fought for workers’ rights during colonialism.
In Belize, the leaders of the People’s United Party (PUP), founded in 1950, infiltrated and took over control of the General Workers Union (GWU), which had been founded by Clifford Betson, a shipwright, about six or seven years before. In national elections held in 1954 and 1957, the PUP and the GWU ran and won as the PUP/GWU ticket. But after 1957, the GWU was emasculated by the PUP, and it was essentially replaced by the Christian Workers Union (CWU), which was subservient to the George Price-led PUP.
A great benefit of power is the ability to control the writing of those portions of history which involve yourself. In the democratic era, power is a prize won through elections and other forms of struggle. It is the victors in these elections and struggles who decide how the relevant history is written and taught in schools. The Rt. Hon. George Cadle Price was essentially the most powerful Belizean from 1956 to 1996, a period during which party politics in Belize became more important than trade unionism.
It is a risky proposition to write about matters in which you are not expert or authoritative. We saw this recently when an Amandala columnist got himself and the newspaper in trouble when he commented on a subject about which he was insufficiently informed. When we speak editorially at Amandala about subjects like party politics, religion in Belize, and sports in Belize, we are fairly expert. We don’t know as much as we should about contemporary trade unionism in Belize.
With that said, we proceed to take on recent developments in the Christian Workers Union (CWU). We do so because, in our opinion, this was perhaps (apart from the floods) the most important story over the weekend. Since it is unlikely that anyone else will discuss the nuts and bolts of this story, we have to give it a try.
The CWU includes the stevedores of the Belize City waterfront and the basically clerical workers of statutory bodies like the Social Security Board (SSB) and the Development Finance Corporation (DFC). The historical core of the CWU was the waterfront workers. A challenge was mounted to the Gonzales/McFoy leadership of the CWU, and that challenge was led by Deon “Ras” Pitta and Raymond Rivers of the stevedore section of the CWU. The grounds of the challenge included accusations of corruption and constitutional violations, and the challenge appeared substantial because the umbrella organization of trade unions in Belize, the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB), had been threatening to expel the CWU from its ranks because of the said constitutional violations by Gonzales/McFoy.
When push came to shove on Saturday, October 26, at Bird’s Isle, however, Pitta/Rivers, with solid support from the stevedores, could not muster a CWU quorum because the SSB and DFC workers did not attend the congress. It must be pointed out that the SSB and DFC are statutory bodies which fall directly within the portfolio of the most powerful politician in Belize – Minister of Finance and Prime Minister, Hon. Dean O. Barrow. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, we have to believe that the ruling UDP preferred for the SSB and DFC workers not to attend Saturday’s congress, and that the Pitta/Rivers slate did not have the blessing of the UDP Cabinet.
The question has to be asked, where is Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition in the present trade union situation? Here we have, to broaden the discussion, a situation where thousands of workers from the teachers’ union and the public service union, two critical planks in the NTUCB platform, have been agitating for salary increases, and the Minister of Finance/PM recently bragged that he was “rolling in” money, but the NTUCB and the Opposition PUP appear to be quite some distance apart. ???
To even begin to understand the socio-political puzzle in Belize, you have to look at the bigger picture. When the international anti-colonial struggle began after World War II, the four largest colonizers in Africa were all European, Christian, democratic and capitalist – Britain, France, Germany, and Portugal. In 1917, Russia had gone communist, or “laborist,” which is to say, the Russian workers and peasants overthrew a feudal monarchy and installed a people’s government. Under Josef Stalin, for decades the Russians then financed the Chinese laborist movement which finally came to power in 1949 under Mao Tse-tung’s Chinese Communist Party.
In Marxist-Leninist language, the working classes are referred to as the “proletariat.” Those who are unemployed, semi-employed, and the young are called “lumpenproletariat.” When UBAD arose in 1969, the proletariat in Belize were supporting the PUP. It was Belize’s lumpenproletariat who backed UBAD. The clerical workers of Belize, primarily the public officers, supported the UDP, founded in 1973, even though the UDP was a pro-capital party.
Russian communism collapsed in 1989, while Chinese communism began to enter a kind of state capitalism phase after Mao’s death in 1976. All over the world, a neoliberal form of capitalism began to dominate after Russian communism’s collapse in 1989, but the international financial crash in 2007/2008 exposed the irrelevance of neoliberalism to nationalistic Third World countries.
Today, the pro-capital UDP of 1973 has been transformed into a reality which dabbles in ad hoc socialism from time to time. We refer to the various “pro-poor” programs. The PUP, which became neoliberal in 1998, has yet to renounce that disgraced philosophy. Because the UDP and the PUP are the only two credible political parties on the national stage, the Belizean trade union movement has been “played” by the UDP, because the UDP knows that the PUP of October 2013 is not a trade union option.
Power to the people.