GAWU pays tribute to Enmore Martyrs
Please see below statement from the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) on the 73rd anniversary of the Enmore Martyrs
Paying tribute to the Enmore Martyrs holds a special place in the yearly calendar of events of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU). Sugar workers, Rambarran, Lall known as Pooran, Lallabagee Kissoon, Surujballi and Harry were cut down mercilessly by the Colonial State’s agents in a struggle to improve their working conditions and better their lives. There killing is another reminder of colonial repression of those who stood up against injustices and to bring some relief to their exploitation by the foreign owners of the plantations.
This history making struggle which took place seventy-three (73) years ago was another major landmark in a list of several major struggles in the sugar industry whose workers were violently suppressed. Such is the sordid history of foreign colonial ownership in the industry whose primary concern was profits made by the labourers who lived a life of misery and had to face mercilessly brutality in their many-sided struggles. Though the Enmore workers were specific, it cannot be delinked from the workers need for deep-seated changes to their abominable working conditions, their poor wages, their cramped inhuman living quarters, and the miserable environmental conditions that were then prevalent in those days.
The brutal killing of the Enmore Martyrs stirred indignation among many patriotic Guyanese. The incident inspired young Cheddi Jagan and others to form the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) out of the Political Affairs Committee (PAC) which was established in 1946. Dr Jagan himself who was deeply moved by the massacre that took place pledged that he would dedicate his entire life to the cause of the struggle of the Guyanese people against bondage and exploitation.
We mark with deep reverence the Enmore Martyrs and that significant workers’ struggle so that we are ever reminded that every achievement was the result of workers struggles and have not come from charitable offerings by the foreign owners. Indeed, the days of the rule of the plantocracy are gone but our vigilance must remain as new challenges and threats are today before us.
As we pay tribute to the Martyrs we cannot fail to reflect on the sugar industry which has now received a new lease of life. Following the change of Government, we have seen focused attention and support directed to reversing the fortunes of the beleaguered. The new administration has remained true to its commitment and is extending serious efforts to re-open the shuttered Skeldon, Rose Hall and Enmore estates. Indeed, it is a significant task given the damage that was inflicted. However, we believe it is well worth the effort. The recently released ILO socio-economic study on the closed estates confirmed the social and economic hardships which greeted the thousands who were affected by closure.
We recognize that the efforts of the Government are not without detractors. Several who pushed the industry to the precipice are making what we consider wild and irresponsible statements are they push their warped narratives. We remain at a loss for their vigorous opposition to the success of the industry. It appears they have some deep-seated vengeance against the industry and Guyanese associated with it. It certainly, in our view, speak to their character as national leaders.
More recently, the Enmore estate has been in the news. Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo, according to media reports, has indicated that Enmore will be transformed into a hub of employment along the East Coast of Demerara. While this appears exciting, we believe, such plans should benefit from full and proper consideration to ensure that most importantly the people are safeguarded. Indeed, Enmore, as is recognised, holds a special place in the sugar industry. Moreover, the estate’s packaging facility enhances its viability. These are important considerations.
We are, once again, reminded that the brutal repression of 1948, did not daunt the workers nor dampen their spirit. Indeed, militancy in the industry grew and political awareness and activities expanded. Sugar workers’ right to be represented by a Union of their choice was won in 1976. Sugar workers, under the aegis of GAWU, have taken part, along with other working people in the struggles for political independence, they championed the nationalization of the sugar industry; they stood up and fought for the restoration of democratic elections. These struggles took place side by side with other struggles to improve wages and working conditions throughout the industry and for other workers.