Enmore Martyrs' Day anniversary June 16
June 14, 2004
THE 56th Anniversary of Enmore Martyrs Day will be celebrated this Wednesday - June 16. The five sugar workers, Lallabagee, 35, Pooran 20, Rambarran 30, Surujballi 34 and Harry 30, were killed by colonial Police on June 16, 1948 during a strike for more wages and against the 'cut and load' system introduced by the British.
The men became Guyanese heroes that year and Guyanese have since paid tribute annually to their sacrifice in representing sugar workers and workers generally.
They are honoured for the sacrifice they made as they fought for their rights in a country where workers suffered under colonial rule.
The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) has an important role in the Martyr's Day commemoration.
The union was formerly known as the Guiana Industrial Workers Union (GIWU). It was formed in 1947 to represent sugar workers. GIWU was the 49th union to be formed in the history of the country. Dr. Jagan in his book, "The West on Trial", relates the struggles of the sugar workers during colonial times. He noted that "In the sugar plantations, dilapidated barrack-type 'ranges', similar to those built during the days of slavery, were still the rule rather than the exception."
Workers were paid meagre salaries and were forced to live under poor conditions with inadequate health and educational facilities. Many such factors, coupled with the British rulers' intention to introduce the "cut and load' system which would benefit only them, as it would ensure more production and profits without having to raise salaries, contributed to the workers decision to take strike action.
Nineteen workers formed the strike party and the five died when Police opened fire on them. The struggle continued in the years following and Dr. Jagan noted that the suffering of workers was emphasized the following year in a report by the Venn Commission of Inquiry.
The Commission's mandate was to inspect and report on the sugar industry of British Guiana and they discovered that "in quite a number of the workers living quarters, corrugated iron roofs were leaking and the fabric of the buildings was in a general state of decay, they had mud floors and consequently with the rain dripping from the roofs, these were made slippery and dangerous".
The report revealed that latrines were in a terrible state of disrepair. For such reasons, diseases such as malaria, were rampant and the death rate was high.
After the fatal shooting in 1948, Dr. Cheddi Jagan vowed to dedicate all his energies in leading the struggle of Guyanese workers against abuse and exploitation by the colonialists. Even now after Jagan's death, Guyana remembers that he did indeed keep his promise and played an integral role in Guyana becoming an Independent nation years later.
Mrs. Janet Jagan, speaking at Enmore Martyr's Day Rally following her husband's death said the killing of the sugar workers by the colonial Police "triggered the Independence Movement" in ending exploitation in the country . The former President added, "It was an historic watershed." The Enmore Martyrs Memorial is at Enmore on the East Coast of Demerara and each year, their relatives, friends, workers and Government officials visit the site to lay wreaths to commemorate the struggle and sacrifice of the five workers. (GINA)