THE SOCIOLOGY OF DECOLONIZATION: THE CASE OF GUYANA BAUXITE

Nationalization as a Means of Decolonization?

As far as some are concerned the decision to nationalize Demba can now mean that a number of supervisors, both white and non-white, foreign and local, have left the  company and  are, therefore, no longer in a position to control worker behaviour and to influence their future well being. To others it may mean that since a new bauxite Board has taken  over  the  running of  the company, with power to make basic decisions concerning pricing, marketing, purchase of supplies, processing and expansion and use of profits, as well as power to decide who should do  what, where, when  and  under whom, it is just a matter  of time before Guyana begins to benefit from local ownership and  control  of  the  bauxite  industry. Nothing, of course, could be farther from the truth.

The discussion on structural strains at the company level illustrates that the basis of worker disenchantment pivots around a number of very human problems· all concerned with the job’s failure to satisfy human needs.

Inability to get along with a local supervisor (foreman, local staff man) is going to loom very large in estimates dealing with the success of nationalization. Two crucial factors immediately surface here. In the first place our colonial heritage does not predispose us to take kindly to co-operation with each other in general, and in particular when one of us is in authority. This is a cultural problem with national and company dimensions. In the second place, the structural marginality of the foreman’s and local staffman’s position (they are both non unionized and are given the shadow but not the substance of managerial decision making status) very often inclined them to over react against workers in the face of a perceived threat to their status, whether this was real or imagined. Since the success of nationalization will, to a large extent, be contingent upon interpersonal relationships between Guyanese in superordinate and subordinate positions, then this point cannot be too highly stressed.

The fact of regular unofficial strike action suggests that workers are accustomed to resort to collective action to influence or change “unsatisfactory” work and community conditions. This tried and proven device smacks of considerable organizational ability and political awareness  which  I have no doubt will be used against the new management if the structural bases  of  disenchantment,  already  adumbrated, persist.

The high incidence of unofficial strike action also points to the existence of a number of unofficial leaders among workers who wield considerable power in getting workers to walk off their job’- These are obviously at the vanguard of the second stage of the movement and attempts will probably be made to co-opt them into the service of pursuits deemed to be more compatible with the government’s expectations.

The union has so far shown an inability to handle the  situation,  largely  because  it  lacks the  confidence of the workers, as a result of the various reasons previously advanced. The present union executive could therefore be seen as a spent force and attempts will have to be made to build a cadre of worker representatives who have the confidence of the workers and who possess the ability  to champion their causes.(17)

The action of the government troops who tear-gassed members of a workers’ action committee during the first strike after the decision to nationalize, must be viewed with a certain amount of concern. The action of the Prime Minister in not going to “ground” with the workers at their request, must be similarly viewed.

All of the foregoing raises a very basic question which may be subsumed under the heading: NATIONALIZATION vs. NATION-ALIZATION.

In the first case the state takes over a foreign concern, but the structure of company’s operations remain intact, though the administration personnel is local.  In other words the  same structural generators of strain persist, only the decision makers change. They get a bit darker in complexion and the small man is still not a real man. The state is therefore usually visibly surprised when the workers demonstrate against these new members of the quasi bourgeoisie.(18)

In the case of nation-alization not only is the head changed but so is the structure of the body. Workers (the nation) are given a chance to participate meaningfully in the basic decisions of the newly acquired enterprise. The small man becomes a real man. But this, however, means the disappearance of a quasi bourgeois class and also of a number of the causes of structural strains.

The government of Guyana now has a splendid chance to start to make the small man a real man. To what extent it matches actions with words remains to be seen. What is certain is that Linden workers have    long history of collective protest action against what they feel are unsatisfactory work conditions. There is no reason why their protest action will stop now if such conditions persist.

Strains at the community level which underlined the workers’ inferior status have  been dealt with. Since the company was responsible for work as well as extra work facilities,  disenchantment with  the latter was identifiable with the former, making the two areas of grievances indistinguishable in the workers’ minds i.e., as a basis for collective action.

The data suggest that the persistence of  community  strains such as inadequate  housing  and  recreation­ al facilities, unsatisfactory hospital treatment, separate and inferior residential conditions and  the relatively high cost of living are also likely to internalize workers and  residents  with  the  same  degree  of  hostility toward the new company, as existed toward Demba.  Furthermore, it is  quite  possible  that  the  colonial legacy of a negative  worker predisposition to  authority,  particularly when  such  authority  1s  vested  in local hands, may further complicate matters. Workers and residents may therefore be less tolerant  about perceived inadequacies. A good deal here depends on  the success of  the  government’s  mental  preparation of  Linden  residents  to  accept  the  winds  of  change  and   on   the  speed  and  implementers  of  that change.

It is also of some importance to stress that this preparation must be on-qoinq. The attainment of nat1onahzation marks the beginning of this struggle against Alcan not the end. The government should expect  retaliatory  measures  not  only  from  Alcan  but   also  from  the  governments  of  the  U.S.A. and possibly Canada.

The process of nation-alization in particular at this level means that  the s stem of separate residential areas must cease. Any Linden  worker/resident should  therefore be free  to  live wherever  he wants to. It behoves the new administration of the company to correct this residential separateness as soon as It behoves the new administration of the company to correct this residential separateness as soon as possible.

Finally, any decisions taken to make such changes must involve the opinions of workers.

Not only must real change occur at the company and at the community level, but the process of decolonization must also move  upwards,  through  to  the  national  level.  I do not propose to dwell at  length on this aspect since this should form the basis of another paper.

I merely wish to point out that a change in the economy such as the one undertaken will ultimately have superstructural repercussions, whether so intended or not. The government  must there ore be prepared to make national changes in the polity and in the fields of education, stratification and religion.

One notices that Dr. Jagan’s support of the Nationalization Bill was won through the granting of number of concessions to  the  PPP. Though some may contend that Dr. Jagan’s much vaunted socialist position would have meant an eventual capitulation on his part in any event, it is nevertheless true that nation­alization would have produced some changes in the polity.

Again, since the Prime Minister and his government will be under increasing pressure to bring other important facets of the  economy under governmental control,  such moves,  particularly with  respect  to sugar, presuppose to an even greater extent more changes in the polity.

Since the success of the nationalization venture ultimately depends on a favourable combination of attitudes among Guyanese, then the systems of education and religion will have the job of inculcating the appropriate attitudinal and cultural ethos. Also since nation-alization presupposes a fluid mobility system (upward as well as downward) based on merit and ability and not on other factors such as race, ethnicity and political allegiance, then one would envisage major changes in bases for stratifying Guyanese society.