On behalf of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), the union representing the overwhelming majority of the nation’s sugar workers, I wish to join with the Master of Ceremonies in welcoming you to this observance which follows our annual pilgrimage to the gravesite of the five martyrs at the Le Repentir Cemetery this morning.
This annual, national event, serves not only to keep the memory of the martyrs alive, but also must be a reminder that the strides in terms of growth and improvements have been fertilized with the blood and heroic struggles of our working class historically.
At this time, though we have scored several successes in various fields, we remain vigilant that the gains are not reversed. We must remember there is still a long way to go and other goals to be reached. And, we must not forget the lessons that these martyrs have given us – among which is our militancy and unity and firmness in our just demands.
Certain voices have been raised that seek to downplay what really transpired at this fateful juncture of our history. But, it would be good to remind ourselves and for the benefit of our younger generations that it was the Political Affairs Committee and the GIWU and sugar workers which started the observances since June 1948 and subsequently the People’s Progressive Party and GAWU with the sugar workers which have been observing the Martyrs’ sacrifice and contribution when others shunned them. Two of the foremost and prominent promoters of the yearly observances at the Cemetery and at Enmore were Dr Cheddi Jagan and his wife Janet Jagan.
In the mid-seventies when the then Government embraced these events, the activities took a national character. The contribution of the 1948 Enmore struggle and its impact on our subsequent national struggles was appropiately recognized.
Dr Jagan, a central figure of that struggles later wrote that he made a silent pledge at the martyrs graveside: “I would dedicate my entire life to the cause of the struggle of the Guyanese people against bondage and exploitation.” Indeed, Dr Jagan lived up to that pledge.
The martyrdom of Rambarran, Pooran, Lallabagee, Surujballi and Harry must be seen in the context of the wider anti-colonial struggle led primarily by the then still young Cheddi Jagan, the inspiration behind GAWU. Sugar workers’ struggles, urban protests led by H.N. Critchlow and the political agitation which took strength and courage from workers’ sacrifices, all spiraled into a national working-class/political movement to end colonial rule with political independence, the ultimate goal.
So whether your perspective was Dr Jagan’s graveside pledge or the improvements following the Venn Commission’s recommendations, or the rare unity in the early fifties enjoyed in the wake of Enmore, your conclusion must be that Enmore remained an enduring symbol of early Guyanese commitment to self-rule even if it meant the ultimate sacrifice.
And yes many workers died before the Enmore five. Sugar workers died too at Devonshire Castle in 1872, at Non-Pariel in 1879, at Friends in 1903, at Lusignan and Friends in 1912, at Rose Hall in 1913, at Ruimveldt in 1924 and at Leonora in 1939. Historian Basdeo Mangru in his book – “A History of East Indian Resistance on the Guyana Sugar Estates – 1869-1948 said “The toll, too, was heavy for between September, 1872 and June, 1948 a total of 54 sugar workers were gunned down with scores wounded, some maimed or scarred for life.”
Sugar was the bitter-sweet product which resulted in numerous sacrifices by all Guyanese sugar workers Indo Guyanese, Afro Guyanese and others in a wider, nationalistic insurgency against industrial and economic oppression perpetuated by the sugar plantocracy, its local and foreign allies and our colonial master.
Sugar workers never failed to engage frontally in the struggles against their oppression and exploitation. The system of slavery suffered immensely from slave revolts and the system itself became uneconomical to maintain. The resistance by indentured workers, although costly, brought a number of changes in their working and living conditions. Sugar workers participated tirelessly in the struggles for Guyana’s independence and later for the restoration of democracy in 1992.
Comrades, sugar’s past is significant to Guyana. It was this industry that caused thousands of slaves and indentured labourers to be brought to our country and their descendants becoming its economic lifeline. Sugar played a pivotal role in building our economy and helped to enrich our colonial masters in Europe.
The sugar industry continues to be a major pillar of our country’s economy. Should the industry be allowed to fail, its impact will be nothing short of devastation. If, indeed, the resident population in Guyana is 750,000 persons, then one-sixth of our population is directly dependent on the industry, taking into account the 20,000 person workforce, the 1500 cane farmers and their respective dependents and this does not include the hundreds of other Guyanese who do business or provide services to the Corporation. Those figures underline the central importance and significance of the sugar industry to the economy and society of Guyana as a whole.
I refer to the immense importance of the sugar industry to our economy but in recent years particularly the industry has found itself at the crossroads. Those who manage it have the responsibility to put it right. Since 2005, the industry has not recovered to produce over 300,000 tonnes of sugar. In fact the average production of the last five years was just over 246,000 tonnes of sugar. Notwithstanding the thirty-six (36) per cent price cut, had the industry achieved its targeted production over the past years, there would have been significant profits. The almost 50,000 tonne shortfall, over the last two (2) years, would have yielded almost G$6B and therefore, the financial position of the Corporation would have been different.
Towards making the industry viable, Guysuco has commenced the process of creating a modern Agricultural Industrial Complex right here at Enmore. As a result the Factory will be upgraded and a new packaging plant installed. The contract was signed on June 05, last year and the project is expected to be commissioned by February, next year. Initially, we are told 40,000 tonnes of packaged sugar will be produced and with the installation of an additional module the production of another 40,000 tonnes is possible. It is estimated that the Corporation will receive about forty-five (45) per cent more per pound of packaged sugar than what it receives for bulk sugar. We look forward to the contribution of this project and given the experience with the Skeldon Project we urge the Management of the Corporation to ensure that timelines are adhered to.
Our Union seeks the Corporation’s immediate focus on the following:-
- Before the commencement of the second crop later this year to remedy the defects which are inhibiting the full and proper performance of the new Skeldon Factory
- By February next year ensure the Enmore Packaging Plant becomes operational
- The production of over 400,000 tonnes sugar by the end of 2012
- The eventual construction of a refinery
Local Government Elections
It is relevant that I repeat what was said in my 2010 May Day Address:- “At our 19th Delegates Congress, last year, GAWU is on record of being guardedly critical of the Elections Commission on the question of Local Government Elections. This, May Day, we express our disappointment in learning that, yet again, these elections have been postponed. Apparently, all the major political parties are agreed on this. GAWU strongly subscribes to the view that these elections are an important aspect of the return and renewal of democracy which began in 1992. Local democracy represents a major decision-making process, especially in matters affecting their village and daily lives. For too long, Local Government Election has been withheld. It is time to move forward. GAWU calls on all political parties to face up to this shortcoming and consider concrete proposals for the holding of Local Government Elections within a feasible but early timeframe.”
The realization of a hydroelectric plant is long overdue. For decades we have been talking about this possibility. Our country has more than adequate flowing water to realize this dream. It is necessary, if indeed our country is to develop rapidly, especially to close the gap created during the “lost years”. Moreover, the prevailing high cost of electricity continues to consume too much from the wages of workers, the small pensions of retirees, etc. We are told that the cost of electricity would be about 40 per cent lower. With this in mind we welcome the Amalia Hydro Power Project and hope that it will proceed as planned and becomes operational in 2014.
Comrades, as we celebrate and mark the Enmore Martyrs Day, we must also focus on the era in which we are living today. It is an era that is marked by economic crises, wars, ecological degradation and erratic climate behavior, growing poverty and constant assaults on the working-class throughout the world.
We live in the era where neo-liberalism holds sway – a model of capitalism that emphasizes privatization, transfer of state assets to private individuals, plunder of resources, assault on workers’ and so on. It is a model which is at the root of the growing poverty world-wide.
In celebrating the memory of the Enmore Martyrs, we must always be mindful that the ruling elites will not want to give up their privileges or their plundering and greedy ways. The workers and poor will continue to be the victims of this capitalist model while a few become strikingly rich off the sweat, tears, sacrifices and blood of the teeming millions of humanity.
It is in this context also, that we see the significance of the Enmore Martyrs. They stood up against injustice, they fought for a fair deal; they demanded better conditions in their work, in their lives and for their families’ future.
In Europe today, we see similar struggles going on and intensifying against neo-liberalism. We are also seeing it rejected in several countries in Latin America.
In our times, the Enmore Martyrs are even more relevant. This enduring message we should not forget. The working class must be always vigilant, militant, organizationally strong and united and must raise the banner of solidarity always.
Long Live Enmore Martyrs!
Long Live Our Ongoing Struggles!
Fight on for further victories!