Better livelihoods, opportunities built on the sacrifices of Enmore Martyrs – President

President Dr Irfaan Ali along with GAWU Head Seepaul Narine during the Enmore Martyrs Day observance


The sacrifices made by the Enmore Martyrs and other key figures in history have played an integral role in shaping the future of Guyana, and it is these events that have brought about opportunities and enhanced livelihoods for the common man.

President Irfaan Ali shared this position on Thursday, during the Enmore Martyrs Day commemoration on the East Coast of Demerara.

After tributes were paid to the five fallen sugar workers, Ali noted that the sacrifices of martyrs led Guyana to where it stands today. Upholding human dignity, he added, has extended to factors like achieving a low mortality rate, and educational opportunities for children.

“That is part of human dignity. It is not only about wages and salaries. It is about ensuring you have safe water. It is about ensuring you have access to education. And many working people of this country have children pursuing degrees and diplomas to the GOAL scholarship…We must acknowledge these things too, when we celebrate the life of these martyrs because it is these the sacrifice that they have made, that has led us to the position now that we have the opportunity to give what they never could have could have gotten,” the Guyanese leader voiced.

Zeroing in on the sugar industry, the Head of State said the successful management of the industry is dependent on not solely government but of unions and other stakeholders. It was also emphasized that his administration led the battle when the sugar industry was on the verge of closure.

“We are not here to fight the industry. It is this government that is finding billions of dollars to bring back this industry. It is this government that is bring back the jobs. It is not good this government that took away the 7000 jobs. The direct and indirect loss to the industry was more than 30,000 jobs,” he reminded.

Having recognized the socioeconomic importance of the industry, Government is eyeing sustainable and modernized approaches to keep the sector alive and thriving, enabling a ‘turn around’ from what it inherited in 2020 following the downsizing.

This year marks 74 since the shooting to death of five sugar workers at Enmore, East Coast Demerara. The five: Rambarran, Pooran, Lallabagee, Surajballi and Harry, became known as the Enmore Martyrs following their deaths on June 16, 1948.

The incident unfolded after labourers were faced with deplorable conditions of work and living saddled with unsatisfactory wages. They also wanted the then Guiana Industrial Workers Union (GIWU) to be recognised as the union to bargain for them. After their demands were not met, they resorted to strike action in April of 1948.

The use of scabs to fill the void the strike had created did not resolve the sugar producers’ dilemma, and as production became seriously affected, they introduced drastic measures in an effort to force the striking workers to return to work. And with the workers feeling betrayed by the union, the Man Power Citizen’s Association (MPCA) that represented them, the situation became exacerbated and ultimately led to what transpired on that fateful day of June 16, 1948.

During the picketing actions, they were gunned down by colonial Police in British Guiana on June 16, 1948. Apart from the deaths, 14 persons were injured.

President of FITUG, Carvil Duncan labeled the day as a ‘sad’ one that would always he remembered, adding that it has changed the landscape of Guyana.

“What they have left with us is their legacy. They are saying that if something is worth having, it is worth sacrificing for. They have made the ultimate sacrifice. We who are now around must say to ourselves let us continue the good work. Let us continue the philosophy of those sugar workers by ensuring by ensuring that what they sacrifice for: better working conditions, increasing their wages, removing from the area by increasing the conditions so that the memory would not be in vain,” Duncan contended.

Guyana Agriculture and General Worker’s Union (GAWU) President, Seepaul Narine also regarded this unfortunate incident as a monumental turning point in the country’s history. He recognised that several objectives to better the lives of Guyanese are still to be achieved, regardless of the developments and progress attained since 1948.

Narine voiced, “We are reminded of the injustice and oppression to the martyrs, their colleagues and indeed our foreparents. The Enmore struggle began on April 22, 1948, as workers along the East Coast protested the imposition of the ‘cut and load’ system of cane cutting. As the struggle widened and more becoming its epicenter, the workers expression group denounced justifiably their squalid living conditions and deteriorating working conditions. They also heighten their calls for the recognition of the Guyana Industrial Workers Union, GIWU -the forerunner of GAWU- as the union of their choice.”

He added, “Today, the exploitative character of the industry has been condemned to history. Under the ownership of the state, the industry’s wealth played a meaningful role in developing our nation after enriching our foreign masters for hundreds of years. This undoubtedly is one of the lasting legacies of the Martyrs.”

Narine said they are encouraged by developments and commitment by the Ali-led administration for resuscitation of the sugar industry, as both sides share a common agenda.

“Indeed, it appears, the President and the GAWU’s views are aligned. However, we say to you, action must be taken as a matter of urgency. We cannot allow the slide to continue. As the saying goes “Heads must roll” and this should start from the topmost executive. President, you summed it up rightly when you said revitalizing the industry was serious business,” the GAWU president underscored.