His Excellency President Donald Ramotar,
Prime Minister Samuel Hinds,
Ministers of Government,
Fellow Members of Parliament,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Fellow Trade Unionists,
Workers, friend, comrades
I am delighted to have the opportunity on behalf of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) to pay homage to five men namely:- Lallabagee Kissoon, Surujballi called Dookie, Harry, Rambarran and Lall called Pooran – who, in the prime of their lives, were brutally gunned down in this village at the instance of the foreign sugar planters sixty-six (66) years ago. They have, in the course of time, received national recognition and today they are known as the Enmore Martyrs. Since 1976, they have been celebrated nationally in honour of their struggles, selfless sacrifice and the impact that the 1948 struggle of sugar workers have had on our fight for freedom. They occupy, and rightly so, a place in the revered hall of our national heroes.
The Martyrs and their colleagues were engaged in strike which was fifty-one (51) days old when the fateful incident occurred. Senior Counsel Cde Ashton Chase in his renowned book – A History of Trade Unionism in Guyana: 1900 to 1960 – pointed out that the strike began on April 22, 1948 at Non Pariel over the arbitrary imposition by the planters of ‘cut and load’ over the ‘cut and drop’ system. He wrote:- “The origin of the strike was first of all general expression of dissatisfaction by the workers with their miserable conditions of work and life, notwithstanding the existence of recognised unions. Secondly, the failure of the recognised unions (MPCA and BG Workers League) over the years to really alleviate the harsh conditions under which they worked or to secure even a fair improvement in their real wages. Thirdly, dissatisfaction with the new system of work for cane cutters, to wit, cut and load. Fourthly, frustration with the machinery set up with the approval of the recognised unions for resolving differences at estate level. And last but not least, the demand for recognition of a new trade union under a militant leadership to represent their interests.”
The Enmore incident occurred against a backdrop of workers’ militancy which was erupting in several enterprises in that period. A strike lasting sixty-four (64) days by bauxite workers at Mackenzie and Ituni in April, 1947 took place and which highlighted the racial discrimination and segregation perpetuated by the owners and management of the Demerara Bauxite Company. In late February, 1948 the Transport Workers Union reacted to the arbitrary transfer of its leaders from Georgetown to different parts of Guyana with an effective strike. Not only were the transfers stayed but Colonel Teare who dictatorially ordered the transfers was hurriedly recalled by the Colonial Office to London. The decade between the mid-40’s and mid-50’s was an eventful time in our past. Apart from the direct workers struggles there were also significant political developments. An influencing factor at the time was the formation of the Political Affairs Committee (PAC) by Dr Cheddi Jagan and others in 1946. The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) was founded out of this Committee on January 01, 1950. It was a new political party that differed immensely from the traditional political parties. Immediately, it began to champion the cause of universal adult suffrage and boldly challenged the arbitrary rule of the colonial masters and the local capitalist class. Dr Jagan winning a seat in the Legislative Council in 1947 gave him an opportunity to advocate for many pro-people and particularly pro-workers measures and thus he was able to lift people’s political awareness and class consciousness.
It turned out that the death of the Enmore Five, comrades and friends, was an awakening call in many quarters and especially to workers in other sectors. Cde Cheddi saw to that. Cde Janet Jagan, former President of Guyana opined that the death of the five martyrs sent a “thunderbolt” through the society, invigorating the liberation struggle which followed.
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.
Our current situation
Today, sixty-six (66) years removed from the Enmore incident we can say surely that our nation has progressed and there have been improvements in many areas of life. But as much as we have advanced we cannot fail to recognize there are still many challenges before us and new achievements to score. Significantly we must recommit ourselves in working to safeguard our gains while seeking to score new victories.
Even as we seek to protect our gains and advance our agenda, we are also saddled with the necessary task to ensure continuous development and progress in our country. These are quite formidable objectives given that we live in a crisis-ridden world and in a country where political disharmony, somewhat pronounced since 2012, is certainly affecting the welfare and lives of the Guyanese working people.
Importantly, at this time the continued debate over the passage of the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering of the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) Bill and the threat of blacklisting have attracted the attention and concern from all quarters of society. The consequences and repercussions we understand are severe and will create many hardships. At this point in our nation’s history such unwelcome developments can only be destructive and harmful. Further sanctions on Guyana at this time could serve to reverse the many gains the working class have had over the years. The threat of job losses cannot be underestimated. Our workers, moreover among other things, deserve a decent standard of living.
As we recall the struggle of the Martyrs and the way they met their demise, we must lament the unfortunate situation which today confronts our nation’s sugar industry. The industry just days ago concluded its first crop with a production significantly greater than last year’s first crop output.
Let us be hopeful that the 216,000 tonne target set for this year will be attained. We are hopeful too that this first crop performance heralds the recovery of the industry and the future crops will see consistently higher levels of production as the industry endeavors to reach its goal of 350,000 tonnes sugar in 2017 as set out in its Strategic Plan.
While sugar production hinges very much on good agricultural practices, a good interrelationship among the stakeholders must always be sustained and promoted through the respect of Agreements, accepted customs and practices, relevant labour related laws, etc. Over the past months, however, GAWU has recognized some troubling developments which we intend to take up. Such developments are not in the interest of the industry and I take this opportunity to remind ourselves that the workers and their unions are indispensable to sugar’s recovery. It is important that those who seek to disturb the present reasonably good relations in the industry, for whatever reason, do not forget this.
In the meantime, we wish to reiterate our call that the industry needs to benefit from the full release by the Government of all the EU monies intended for the sugar industry.
We also wish to state again that the turnaround of the industry lies in the workers and management hands in the final analysis. A new Board of Directors is long overdue since the last Chairman became the new Chief Executive Officer leaving the present Board headless.
Comrades, as we celebrate and mark the Enmore Martyrs Day, we must also focus on the era in which we are living. 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 inequality and extremism 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 their victims.
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.
Thus, in our times, the struggles that gave us the Enmore Martyrs continue to be relevant. This enduring message we should not forget. The working class must be always vigilant, militant, organizationally strong and united. GAWU urges: in the spirit of the Martyrs of Enmore, let us go forward to greater victories.
Long Live Enmore Martyrs!
Long Live Our Ongoing Struggles!