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.