70 years later: Struggles of Enmore Martyrs remain relevant today

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The five Enmore Martyrs – Rambarran, Lall called Pooran, Lallabagie Kissoon, Surujballi called Dookie and Harry – who lost their lives 70 years ago fighting for their rights and the rights of others were on Saturday paid homage.

Deemed heroes, the five lost their lives while on strike at Plantation Enmore, East Coast Demerara, June 16, 1948.

Struggles remain relevant

On the occasion, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) emphasized on the profound relevance of the incident today.

The party outlined that in 1948, having being strangled by social and economic hardships, the burdensome “cut and load” cane harvesting system and being deprived from having a union of choice to represent them, sugar workers were forced to mount protest actions after their fair demands were continually being ignored by the sugar producers.

According to the PPP, seventy years after the Enmore shooting, “thousands of sugar workers have been coldheartedly fired and plunged into economic despair through the politically motivated closure of estates by the APNU/AFC government ravaging the sugar belt and the national economy in the process.”

“Tens of thousands of others, who indirectly depended upon these estates for their livelihoods, have also been severely affected as many local economies were decimated by the government’s uncaring action.”

“Guyanese are once again confronted by a burgeoning dictatorship under the APNU/AFC government which, through its visionless and inept leadership, is strangling our people through harsh and unjustified economic policies. With innumerable taxes, within the three years of its administration thus far, Guyanese have seen a derailing of progress, their standards of living plummet, continually steep rise in cost of living and opportunities for advancement dwindled” the Party said. “In addition, they continue to witness encroachment on their freedoms, growing societal fears through spiraling crime and oppressive policies, massive corruption, discrimination, rising unemployment and blatant disregard for constitutional processes.”

Also paying homage was Minister of Social Cohesion Dr George Norton, Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan, Minister within the Ministry of Finance, Jaipaul Sharma, representatives from the Guyana Trade Union Council (GTUC), the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) and relatives of the slain sugar workers.

Minister Norton said the wreath-laying ceremony should be a time to reflect and honour the sacrifices of the fallen sugar workers who paid the ultimate price so that hundreds of others could be heard.

“We all involved in the effort to improve the conditions of not only the sugar workers but workers in general and I call upon all of us to make full use of the conditions that are put in place by this administration to capitalise and work towards the benefit of all” the Minister stated.

GTUC Organising Secretary Leslie Gonsalves said that while it is good to reflect on what happened 70 years ago, it is important to ensure that it never occurs again.

“I call on trade union movement, I call on the department of labour, I call on every conscious worker within the length and breadth of this country to ensure that your rights as a worker, are being represented,” he stated.

GAWU’s Executive Committee member Gordon Thomas in his address posited, among other things, that he was perturbed that the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG) “has not been allowed” to participate in Saturday’s events.

Addressing the recent downsizing of the sugar industry by the incumbent Administration, Thomas said “We also cannot fail to recognize that at this time, as we reflect on the Enmore Martyrs and their lasting legacy, our observances are overshadowed by the fact that there is no operable Enmore Estate; this is indeed a disturbing and distinguishing feature of this year’s anniversary.

“Comrade Chairman, for the sugar workers the many promises that life will be better has been dashed and today, thousands of Guyanese who were depended on the operation of Enmore, Skeldon, Rose Hall and Wales Estate live in difficult economic conditions. They face the real challenges of having adequate meals; to send their children to school; to pay their bills, and to confront the harsh realities of life. What is worst, Comrade Chairman, is that this need not have occurred. There are solutions to the challenges of sugar but they were ignored, and today we see the sad consequences of not going in the right direction” Thomas expounded.

He also touched on what he said was the plight facing working-people generally, with the increase in taxes, higher fuel prices and the rising coasts in medical care, among others.

Dr Jagan’s role

The PPP, as well as GAWU spoke extensively on the role that Dr Cheddi Jagan played in improving conditions for the working class.

It was outlined that Dr Jagan was deeply affected by the Enmore Martyrs tragedy.

“On that unforgettable day of their funerals, he silently pledged to dedicate his life to the cause of the Guyanese people and to free them from bondage and exploitation” said the PPP.

According to GAWU, on the centennial anniversary of Dr Jagan’s birth, “we cannot fail to take into account and reflect on his and his comrades monumental role in ensuring a vastly better and improving conditions for the working class and their families. The Enmore Massacre indeed served, in a significant way, as an awakening call for the masses. It heightened their consciousness and steeled them in their resolve to demand freedom.”

“The sustained struggle saw Guyana attaining independence eighteen (18) years after the Martyrs massacre and Guyanese being the owners of the sugar industry ten (10) years after our independence. Comrade Chairman, indeed the Enmore Martyrs sacrifice was not in vain. It was sacrifice that bore so many achievements and it is an incident that serves as a stark reminder of the wretched system of the plantocracy and colonialism.”

June 16, 1948, also served as a catalyst for change that resulted in statutory recognition of all trade unions, in collective bargaining for better wages and benefits with employers, and a broad menu of labour laws that regulate wages, holidays with pay, termination of employment, old age pension, national insurance and social benefits.

According to the PPP, the “struggle of the sugar workers seventy years ago and that of the late Dr Cheddi Jagan have not only become more relevant in the current circumstances in our country, but have intensified for a better life for all.”

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