Remembering the Enmore Martyrs on 72nd anniversary

DPI, Guyana, Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Today marks the seventy-second anniversary of Enmore Martyrs Day incident. An tragic event in which five sugar workers lost their lives at Plantation Enmore, East Coast Demerara on June 16, 1948, while fighting for better wages, working and living conditions.

The five were Rambarran, Pooran, Lallabagee, Surajballi and Harry who became known as the Enmore Martyrs.

This tragedy resulted from a confrontation with the then British Guiana police after the sugar workers refused to continue the ‘cut and load’ harvesting system which was introduced to in 1945.

This system of reaping forced cane cutters to both cut and load the sugar punts with the cane they cut. This was tedious and the workers preferred to cut and drop while others loaded the punts.

The sugar workers were pushed into strike action when the British Guiana authorities resisted any attempts to change the new system and the workers lost confidence in the Man Power Citizen’s Association (MPCA) – the Union authorised to represent them.

They instead wanted the Guyana Industrial Workers Union (GIWU) to represent their demands in discussions with the Sugar Producers Association (SPA).

On April 22, 1948, a strike was called by the GIWU

The Sugar Producers Association (SPA) was unyielding in their decision to negotiate only with the MPCA. The strike intensified on June 15 after the two parties were not able to come to a resolution

The striking workers were further angered by the Sugar Estate’s employment of outside labour to complete their tasks on the estate.

On the morning of June 16, striking workers gathered outside the factory at the Enmore Sugar Estate to picket their cause. The management of the estate requested police protection due to the large gathering. There were confrontations between the police and the protesters who tried to enter the factory compound and eventually the police opened fire on the workers resulting in the death of the five workers dead and injuries to at least 14 others.

On June 17, protesters from Sugar Estates marched some 16 miles from Plantation Enmore to the Le Repentir cemetery alongside the funeral hearses carrying the bodies of the five slain sugar workers.

In 1964 then late Prime Minister Forbes Burnham announced his decision to honour several incidents and people for their fight against injustice, among these were the slain Enmore sugar workers.

Consequently, at the Continental Conference of the National Affiliates of the World Peace Council held between June 4 and 7, 1976 in Bogota, Columbia a resolution was passed declaring the five sugar workers martyrs.

On the 29th death anniversary of the five martyrs, in 1977, the Enmore Martyrs monument which was designed by Dennis Williams was unveiled.

Located at Enmore, the monument stands raised on a concrete base six feet high with five repetitive verticals each adorned with brass symbols reminiscent of cutlasses and inscribed with the names of the five martyrs.  There is also a plaque designed by Stanley Greaves.

On June 16 each year the day is marked with two ceremonies – in the morning there is a procession to the gravesite at the Le Repentir Cemetery with a short ceremony at the burial ground and in the afternoon, there is a formal ceremony at the site of the monument at Enmore. Wreaths are laid during both ceremonies.