Workers from the Enmore sugar estate came out in large numbers yesterday and were joined by their families as well as minibus drivers and vendors to voice their displeasure over the planned closure of the facility.
An estimated 1,200 protesters, including many women and about 50 schoolchildren, marched from in front of the estate to Foulis, East Coast Demerara and back to Enmore behind a large banner that said: “Enmore is our lifeblood! We oppose closure!”
They also bore banners with slogans such as: “APNU+AFC government betray sugar workers,” “Estate closure will cause crime, break-up of homes and starvation” and “We shall unite and fight together; save Emnore and Rose Hall estates.”
One of the placards also called on the government to upturn its decision to close the estates while the protesters chanted during the march: “No closure to the estates” and that the Chief Executive Officer of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo), Errol Hanoman and Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo “must go!”
Rampersaud Prasad, field secretary with the Guyana Agricultural & General Workers’ Union (GAWU) told Stabroek News (SN) that rain did not prevent them from participating in the march, which commenced at 7:30 am and lasted for over one hour.
Prasad said the vociferous protesters also chanted to Bob Marley’s songs; ‘Get up, Stand up, Stand up for your Right’ and ‘Who the cap fits’ as well as the popular trade union song; ‘Solidarity Forever,’ that were played from the back of a pick-up truck.
They then assembled in a resident’s yard where addresses were given and that session was chaired by Prasad.
Speakers included President of GAWU, Komal Chand; GAWU’s assistant General Secretary, Aslim Singh; trade unionist, Carvil Duncan and a GAWU representative, Gordon Thomas.
They highlighted the negative impact the closure would have on the community and called on GuySuCo to involve the union in dialogue.
Prasad told SN that on Tuesday he had a meeting with the field manager, who informed him that the crop had ended.
He was also told that the Enmore estate made 5,800 tonnes of sugar and that there was cane that had been burnt earlier, in the fields to be harvested. That would amount to 39 punts of cane and one and a half tonnes of sugar.
He also said that 61,000 tonnes of cane that would produce 3,500 tonnes of sugar, was also left in the field and could not be harvested because of the inclement weather and that the dams were in a bad condition. The harvesting of the cane, which was never burnt, would have lasted for six weeks.
He said the managers subsequently called all the other GAWU representatives, except him, and told them that they would burn the smaller amount of cane yesterday and would harvest today. However, the workers refused to go.
He said they also demanded one week holiday with pay and that they be given tools, claiming that GuySuCo has tools but does not “want to share.” He said the strike would continue today in front of the Enmore estate office.
In a release, GAWU said that the speakers also “congratulated those present for their spirited and well-attended march and encouraged them to continue to put up a strong fight. They urged the relevant authorities to sit up and take note of the growing people’s resistance to the unpopular plans they have in mind.”
The release said that the Enmore/LBI Estates, “employs some 2,200 workers and its operations support tens of thousands more.”
It said too that the union was especially pleased to see the participation of non-sugar workers, referring to the minibus drivers and vendors, who have recognized the difficulties that will beset the communities.
According to the release, it is disturbing that closure is being considered at Enmore/LBI since significant sums were expended to construct the packaging plant.
It noted too that “over the years, GuySuCo spent large sums in field conversion to facilitate mechanized operations. According to our information, Enmore/LBI is the most advanced estate in this regard in Demerara. It is perplexing that closure would be considered in view of the very good possibilities which are generally recognized.”