Veteran Guyanese Trade Unionist and Politician Komal Chand Dies

Komal Chand

GEORGETOWN, Guyana, CMC – Komal Chand, a veteran trade unionist and parliamentarian for the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), died on Wednesday in Cuba.

Up to the time of his death, Chand, 75, was President of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU).

According Assistant General Secretary of GAWU, Aslim Singh, Chand had been in Cuba for the past three weeks now receiving medical treatment.

He recalled that Chand was someone who “very much committed to his trade union work and he always recognized the need for the upliftment of the working class and he used his voice in that regard to advocate and to speak on their behalf.”

Executive Secretary of the PPP, Zulfikar Mustapha said “we are very saddened, it was a shock” that Chand died.

“He was a bit sick and he was recovering and I thought he would have gotten back healthy to Guyana,” he said.

Mustapha hailed Chand as a strong defender of Guyanese workers.

“This is a loss not only for the PPP but the entire country. He was a strong trade unionist and he fought for the working people,” he added.

GAWU, has issued the following statement on Chand’s death:

Cde Komal, as he was fondly known, joined the GAWU in 1975 as the Union’s Organising Secretary. At that time, the almost three (3) decade struggle for our Union’s recognition on behalf of the field and factory workers in the sugar industry reached a high point. It was on Old Year’s Day 1975 that a poll was held and at which the GAWU roundly defeated the incumbent MPCA to become the bargaining agent of the thousands of sugar workers who toiled in the fields and factories of the sugar estates. He was among those who on February 26, 1976 appended the Recognition and the Avoidance and Settlement of Disputes Agreement with the then Sugar Producers Association (SPA), the forerunner to GuySuCo.

Cde Komal was most committed to his work and tasks and for that he enjoyed the respect of the workers. It was his dedication that saw him rising to become the Union’s General Secretary and later it’s President. He was, in our view, an outstanding trade unionist and very much committed to the upliftment and advancement of the working-class in our country and even beyond. Outside of GAWU, he served as the Vice President of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG) and a member of the Presidential Council of the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU).

Cde Komal was also deeply admired by those who worked along and together. It was from this vantage point that many of us got an opportunity to see up close how deeply he cared for the workers and more so the working-people and their families. He always embraced and espoused policies and initiatives aimed at improving the standard-of-living and well-being of the ordinary people. He also recognized that unity was an essential pre-requisite in order for the workers to win out their principled and justifiable demands. He was always supportive of measures to bring about unity as he brought to bear his own ideas and experiences.

He displayed great fearlessness and was never afraid to stand up to authority. He also recognized too that for the workers to advance they must have a seat at the decision-making table. It was in this context that he entered the world of politics and became a Member of Parliament where he served from 1992 until the dissolution of the 11th Parliament in December, 2019. In the August house, he stood with and advocated on the workers behalf as he used his voice to promote pro-workers policies and strategies.

Cde Komal for many of us in the Union was a source of encouragement. He encouraged and supported many in the Union and even beyond to work towards betterment and advancement. He was a staunch advocate of education recognizing the need for us all to be more capable and able. At times, he went out of his way, to lend his support to ensure that Union comrades could grasp at opportunities. Apart from that he always was willing to offer comrades his advice and lend a listening ear. It was those, among other qualities, that endeared him to many.

The GAWU indeed has a lost a great leader and the trade union movement and the workers of Guyana have lost an outstanding and dedicated comrade. He was not only an outstanding comrade but an icon and will be deeply missed by the Union and the members of GAWU. At this time, the Union extends its sincerest condolences to Cde Komal’s wife, his children, grandchildren, siblings and other relatives and friends.

As we confront this sad period, we take heart in having the opportunity to know him and to work along with him as we faced up and overcame many and varied challenges. Indeed, our Union is much stronger and better for his efforts and his contributions, not only to GAWU but the trade union movement as a whole will be forever remembered.

The PPP has issued the following statement on Chand’s passing:

The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) mourns the passing of a stalwart and one of the nation’s truest champions of workers, particularly sugar workers, Cde Komal Chand J.P./C.O.A., C.C.H.

Komal Chand served our party in various capacities, inclusive of being a long-standing member of the Central and Executive Committees. He also represented the PPP and the PPP/C in Parliament for over 20 years. But his most notable contribution was as the head of GAWU, the country’s largest trade union.

His contributions to protecting the rights of sugar workers, fisherfolks, and forestry sectors employees, among others are well recognized across our country and will be remembered by generations to come. Also, his efforts to unify the Labour movement are unparalleled and this led to the formation of FITUG.

Without a doubt, the brutality meted out to thousands of our sugar workers by the APNU+AFC during the past five years would have taken a severe toll on his well-being. But to the end, he remained undaunted and steadfast in his struggles to protect workers and defend their rights.

Comrade Komal Chand left a rich legacy of hard work, sacrifice and life-long commitment to the working people of Guyana.

The party wishes to express its deepest condolences to his family, the trade union fraternity and the working people of Guyana to whom he showed immense devotion.