THE SOCIOLOGY OF DECOLONIZATION: THE CASE OF GUYANA BAUXITE

The Company as a Strain Producing Entity

Besides disenchantment with the community, workers have also expressed dissatisfaction with the company. This seems to express itself in terms of relations with foremen, imbalance in the reward and punishment systems, inconsistency in work requirements , and square pegs in round holes.

Relations between workers and foremen are generally regarded by workers as  leaving  much  to  be desired. As lower rung representatives of. management, foremen are viewed by workers  with  the same suspicion and hostility that characterize their perceptions of  management.  Also  as  lower  rung  representatives of management. foremen exercise a certain amount of power over workers and are capable of making arbitrary decisions which may  adversely  affect  the economic  well  being of  workers. The  fact that foremen are given and they  accept preferential treatment  from  the  company  further  underscores  dislike  for  them by the workers.

Foremen are responsible for appraising  worker  conduct  and  job  performance.  What  they  put on the worker’s job appraisal form may determine the future of the  worker in  the  company.  Foremen can also initiate punishment by recommending that a worker be given a warning slip or a suspension notice. The above must be seen in the light of worker allegations that some foremen  constantly  misuse  their power, insult and bully workers and have a tendency to “punish first and ask questions late r.” Again they receive preferential treatment in that they can use both supervisors’ and workers’ clubs (already mentioned), need not line up outside the bank for payment of wages on  specific days (as workers are required to do). have access to good eggs and fresh vegetables by being able to sign for products from the farm (which workers cannot do).

The preferential treatment, I might add, did not extend to housing in Watooka and the fact that foremen lived in the Village served to make them easy targets for workers peeved at their receipt of preferential treatment.

The punishment system seems to be much  more  clearly  imprinted  in  the  minds of  the  worker than the reward system. Workers know that an infringement of  the  company  normative system  is  likely to call forth any of a number of punishments ranging from a look of disapproval to dismissal. In fact, disciplinary measures are clearly set out on pages 59 to 63 of the “Collective Labour Agreement, 1965-1967.”

The worker is, however, not nearly so sure that a good piece of  work  is likely to earn him a reward of any kind. This is especially true since the most important form of reward, i.e. rises in hourly wages, lies beyond the reach of the workers’ individual effort. Increases in hourly wage rates may accrue as a result of a special recommendation by a foreman or other supervisor or as a result of successful negotiations between company and union every two years. Workers are thus dependent on others for monetary rewards.

Workers experience restricted upward mobility in the company. Though it 1s fact that a worker can be promoted to the rank of a foreman or even a general foreman, promotion to staff position during the company’s 50 year existence has eluded the grasp of all but four or five workers. Again , workers have expressed the feeling that promotion  to the rank of foreman is based less on merit and more on favoritism.

Two factors here emerge as being worthy of attention. In the first place the reward system does not allow for  automatic wage increases and, secondly, workers have no direct control over the granting of such increases. It is theoretically true that since the union represents the workers, the latter do have some say in union-management negotiations. Very few workers would ,  however,  seriously make  this  contention.  In fact, they tend to see the union as a relatively weak entity especially vis-a-vis management of the company.

Inconsistency in work requirements provide another area of structural disenchantment as far as the worker is concerned. Though every job has what is officially known as a job description, which sets out a list of the tasks which fall within the ambit of that job, a fore man or supervisor may ask a worker to do something which is not part of  his official  job description.  If  the worker then  refuses he exposes himself to sanctions for refusing to obey an order. In addition to the prospect of undeserved punishment, such a situation conjures up in the mind of the worker real frustrations and anxieties which are components of worker disenchantment.

Finally we come to the question of square pegs in round holes.  Workers very often  find  themselves doing jobs other than those for which  they  were  trained.  For  example,  a  carpenter  may,  in  order  to get a job, have to work as a sampler in the laboratory or a mason may find himself crushing bauxite in the Mills section of the company.

Workers seem to dislike having to do jobs for which they were not specifically trained for two main reasons. Firstly, they tend  to  feel  that the time spent on the previous training was wasted. Secondly, doing a job for which one has not been adequately  prepared  increases the likelihood of  mistakes and ultimately of being punished. This strain also constitutes a part of worker dissatisfaction.

So far in this paper I have primarily been  concerned  with  elucidating  a  number  of  structural factors at the community and at the company level which make for worker disenchantment with the company. I have done this to show how these feelings of disenchantment could provide the basis for immediate approval of any action, particular governmental action such as nationalization of the company’s interests, which could be conceived of as “getting back” at the company . It is, however, the contention of this paper that the foregoing alone is not enough to explain worker approval of Guyana’s nationalization of Demba. Factors such as a history of collective anti Demba action and worker political awareness must have also or ought to have figured prominently in the government’s decision to nationalize Demba. I now turn to abrief discussion of these factors.