The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) is paying homage to 15 sugar workers who met their death 105 years ago on March 13, 1913 at Rose Hall Estate. They are known as the Rose Hall Martyrs.
“The horrific incident is one of the ugliest reminders of British colonialism and another manifestation of the brutal conditions our forefathers had to contend with in colonial times. Removed from this landmark event by over 100 years, we nevertheless get a grasp of what was at the root of the riot and killing from the work of researcher and author Basdeo Mangru,” GAWU disclosed.
At Rose Hall in 1913, it was learn that what triggered the workers’ protests was the reneging by Manager James Smith of a promise of four days of additional holidays to workers due to their positive and encouraging work performance.
“This retreat, it seems, came at a time when discontent was rife. It ignited an obviously combustible situation, which quickly deteriorated. One action led to a counter-action and eventually the workers clearly just and justified struggles led to the shooting by the state’s police.”
In that shooting, 15 persons lost their lives, including a woman, Gobindei, and a Police Corporal.
“Significantly too, researcher Mangru wrote that this riot was raised in the Legislature of India by some Indian nationalists who used this horrifying act to strengthen the call to end the indentureship system.”
According to the union, though established much later after this barbaric event, it recognized the struggles and sacrifices of generations of sugar workers whose contribution have brought about many changes in workers’ living and working conditions.
“At this time, we of GAWU specifically give recognition and pay tribute to those who fell at Plantation Rose Hall. They left a legacy which runs through the veins of the contemporary workforce of the sugar industry. This anniversary furthermore affords us the platform to remember those who also courageously fought and heroically fell in the struggles in other plantations in other parts of the country.”
GAWU said that the fallen workers remind the people that sugar’s history is enriched by the struggles, sacrifices and the sweat and blood of the working class.
That spirit has been kept alive in subsequent generations of workers and over decades and survives to this day in the industry.
“Colonialism and the plantocracy system must bear full responsibility for these brutal deaths. In this event, we see that the owners’ class will stop at no crime to protect their property and profit. And, it is such past brutal experiences at the hands of private owners that presently strengthen our opposition to the call for privatisation in our day.”
In the time that has elapsed since this historic event at Rose Hall Estate, the workers in the industry, and the industry itself, have advanced in several ways.
“It is, therefore, regrettable that attempts are constantly being made to reverse the hard won gains of workers in the industry. Increasingly, sugar workers find themselves engaged in actions to defend their rights and interests against our homegrown bureaucrats and their hirelings.”
GAWU argued that Rose Hall Estate occupies a special place in the nation’s sugar industry.
“It is at this location that the then Prime Minister Forbes Burnham exclaimed that the industry would be owned and operated by the people of Guyana. The estate is also the only estate which has been bestowed with a national award in recognition of its contribution in terms of production, efficiency and most of all to the enterprising people of the area.
“It is, therefore, disheartening for us to register that this year’s observance is overshadowed, to a large extent, by the absence of a functioning Rose Hall Estate. The lives of thousands of ordinary, hard-working Guyanese have been affected by an unconscionable act.”
GAWU urged that in the fight of today, workers should also remember past battles and those like the Rose Hall Martyrs who had been the victims of colonial plunder and exploitation and fatal violence.
“GAWU feels that history’s lessons should not be forgotten lest workers lower their vigilance and succumb to disunity to their detriment. Workers struggles have not come to a close. Indeed, their struggles continue but in a different context and in different circumstances than what faced the Rose Hall Martyrs.”
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