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Thursday, May 04, 2006
‘The Enmore Martyrs deserve to be immortalised. Their deaths galvanised persons and organisations into heightened states of action for radical change in the political state of our country.’
--Labour Minister Dr Dale Bisnauth

GINA - A march from the Square of the Revolution early this morning marked the beginning of observances to commemorate the 56th anniversary of the Enmore Martyrs.

Among those on the march from the Square of the Revolution to Le Repentir Cemetery led by Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, who is performing the duties of President were Minister of Local Government and Regional Development Harripersaud Nokta; Deputy Head of the Presidential Secretariat Mr Hydar Ally; Members of Parliament Shirley Edwards and Indra Chandarpal, and relatives of the Enmore Martyrs.

Also in attendance were executive members of the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC), the Guyana Labour Union (GLU), the Clerical and Commercial Workers Union (CCWU), the Women's Progressive Organisation (WPO), the Progressive Youth Organisation (PYO), the Rice Producers Association (RPA) and the People's Progressive Party (PPP).

Enmore Martyrs' Day commemorates the struggle of five sugar workers, which struggle ended in their loss of life on June 16, 1948. Those who died were: Lallabagee, 35; Pooran, 20; Rambarran, 30; Surujballi, 34; and Harry 30. They were killed by colonial Police during a strike for more wages and against the ‘cut and load' system introduced by the British.
Nineteen workers formed the strike party, and five were killed when Police opened fire on them.

Today, at the gravesite of the five, Mr Carvil Duncan, President of the GTUC said their sacrifice was indicative of the contribution to the transformation of the working class. Duncan said that their contributions were necessary in light of the atrocities of their time.

He added that this was an eternal sacrifice, which should be emulated for the benefit of the working class.

Mr Ramnaresh Tiwiri, Organising Secretary of GAWU said this was no isolated incident, since sugar workers had begun losing their lives in the struggle for better working conditions years earlier. He said that, however, “this ended the spate of killings of protesting workers.”
Mrs. Janet Jagan, Former President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, said that during the four-and-a-half month strike action by sugar workers, she and other persons collected food and money to maintain a soup kitchen for strikers.

The Former First Lady opined that the deaths of the five martyrs sent a ‘thunderbolt through society invigorating the liberation struggle which followed”.
Presenting the feature addressed at the event was Dr Dale Bisnauth Minister of Labour, Human Services and Social Security, who declared: “The Enmore Martyrs deserve to be immortalised. Their deaths galvanised persons and organisations into heightened states of action for radical change in the political state of our country.”

Dr Bisnauth said Guyanese need to ask themselves how “their sacrifices can inform, influence and inspire us to effect in our time the change in labour relations, particularly those on the sugar plantation which they sought to effect in their time.

He added that if in 2004 continuity rather than change remains the reality of management/worker relationship, then the martyrdom of the Enmore five may well become an event in futility.

Wreaths were laid at the Martyrs grave by relatives and members of various union bodies across the country.
The Enmore Martyrs' Memorial site is located at Enmore on the East Coast of Demerara.

Other activities to commemorate the life and struggle of sugar workers, more specifically the five Enmore Martyrs, were conducted at the memorial site later in the day.
Enmore Martyrs served as catalyst for freedom movement -PPP

The PPP says in its Enmore Martyrs' Day message that to a large extent, the shooting to death of five sugar workers in 1948 could be regarded as a major catalyst in the formation of the party, and one that profoundly triggered the independence struggle of Guyana.

According to the ruling party, the necessity for a mass-based political organisation to represent the interest of the oppressed workers was greatly felt after the colonial government whitewashed the slaying of the sugar workers on the false pretext that the police had opened fire in self-defence.

The party's message said further that the formation of the PPP in January 1950 added a new dimension to the struggle of the sugar workers and the working people in general for decent wages and improved working conditions.

"The PPP consistently and steadfastly championed the cause of workers from its very inception and led the fight for the democratisation of the trade union movement which culminated in the passing of the Industrial Relations Bill," the message said.

The party also expressed satisfaction with the progress made by the current PPP/Civic administration to improve the working and living conditions of sugar workers and the efforts being pursued to ensure the sustainability of the sugar industry in the face of globalisation trends.

The PPP extended its sympathies to the surviving relatives and friends of the five sugar workers and reaffirmed its continuing loyalty to the cause of sugar workers in Guyana.
Enmore Martyrs to be remembered

THIS year, June 16 marks the 56th anniversary of Enmore Martyrs Day. This occasion commemorates the ultimate sacrifice paid by five sugar workers: Lallabagee, 35; Pooran, 20; Rambarran, 30; Surujballi, 34; and Harry, 30, who 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 and Guyanese have since paid tribute annually to their sacrifice in representing sugar workers and the workforce generally.

The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) has an important role in the Martyrs Day commemoration. The union which was formerly known as the Guiana Industrial Workers Union (GIWU) was formed in 1947 to represent sugar workers. GIWU was the 49th union to be formed in the history of the country.

The late President of Guyana, Dr. Cheddi Jagan in his book, ‘The West on Trial’ relates to the struggles of the sugar workers during colonial times. He noted that “on 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 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 emphasised 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 building 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 stated. The report further 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. Jagan vowed to dedicate all his energies in leading the struggle of Guyanese workers against abuse and exploitation by the colonists.

Mrs. Janet Jagan, speaking at the 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 located at Enmore on the East Coast of Demerara and each year, their relatives, friends, workers and government officials visit the site to lay wreaths in commemoration of the struggle and sacrifice of the five workers.

Also on June 16, relatives, friends and government officials lay wreaths at the graveside of the Martyrs at Le Repentir cemetery.