“Only God can help us,” ex sugar worker tells Union on eve of sugar recognition anniversary

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Herlene Lewis, who was employed at Skeldon, said she was “…very disturbed, very disturbed especially for the young people what are they going to do, crime rate is also on the increase in the entire Guyana and not only Skeldon but the entire Guyana…education wise some people just came out of high school, graduates from the University of Guyana but they cannot get a job, what will these people do?”. She went on to say “…as far as I am concern this nation has become a stagnated nation and only God can help us”.

Former sugar workers protesting their estate closure in 2017

The now former, currently jobless, sugar workers have shared the hardships they have and are facing as their Union, the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) reflects on its 42nd anniversary of the Recognition and Avoidance and Settlement of Disputes Agreement that it signed with the Guyana Sugar Corporation Inc (GuySuCo) on February 27, 1976.

The agreement legitimized the GAWU as the bargaining agent on behalf of the thousands of sugar workers employed in the industry’s fields and factories.

The agreement was described as a landmark moment in the ongoing struggles of the sugar workers, who like all workers, are seeking to be treated with respect and dignity, to have their rights and conditions protected.

GAWU in a statement said that “as we reflect with pride on the challenges we overcame, and the several success we recorded, we do so looking to the future with great anxiety and worry about what tomorrow and the days after that will bring.”

The incumbent Administration “without any sound logic or even any credible economic justification have taken decisions to close sugar estates and have put thousands of workers on the breadline in the last two (2) years. These decisions which can be described as reckless, heartless and ill-considered have taken a heavy toll in the sugar belt where estates have been closed” said GAWU.

GAWU quoted former Rose Hall worker, Glendon Grant who said “…people in the community are frustrated, personally I am frustrated, every morning I wake up I don’t know what to do”.

Grant, went on to say, “…you can’t deprive people of their livelihood, this Government didn’t think what it would do, it didn’t see the negative impact it would have on people life…”.

Moreover, an ex-cane harvester of Wales, Michael Chootoo, shared that “…we ain’t get no wuk [work], we ain’t get no severance, we ain’t get no nothing…”. Chootoo said he “…is not getting no job, he ain’t getting no money and he got pickney [children] going to school…”.

According to workers Union however, “the workers faced with daunting challenges brought about by an uncaring Government did not give up hope. They stood up and defended militantly their jobs, their families and their communities. They demonstrated an indomitable will to succeed and to call attention to and overcome their plight.”

“While we know this is not the outcome neither the workers nor the GAWU wanted, the workers can hold their heads high and once again recognize an abiding lesson of working-class history, that is, in authoritarian, class divided societies, the elites holding the reins of power, never or hardly ever ensure justice for the working-class. Thus, the struggle for real, pro-working people change must continue” said GAWU.

According to workers Union “history and future generations of Guyanese will condemn harshly those who advanced, approved and implemented the plans which affected so many ordinary people.”

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