The APNU+AFC administration has to be very, very careful what it does and what messages it wants transmitted to society. Saturday June 16th marked the 70th anniversary of the killing of five sugar workers, a tragedy immortalised as the Enmore Martyrs Day. Outside of the statement issued by the Department of Public Information this watershed event of history has been reduced to another low denominator. There is growing concern, corroborated by daily evidence, that this administration is taking for granted the bitter and bloodied struggles waged and the achievements gained by the workers in this nation’s evolution and development.
On Friday, June 15th at approximately 4:00 p.m. I received a call from a male, identifying himself as being from the Ministry of the Presidency, inviting me to the event of Saturday and asking that I speak on behalf of the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC). I advised the caller I would be unable to attend due to the late notice and a prior engagement that could not have been rescheduled at such short notice.
It was the GTUC during the period of Joseph Pollydore, General Secretary, that fought at the international level for martyrdom to be conferred on the five -Lallabaggie, Dookie, Rambarran, Harry and Pooran. When this was approved at the Inter-American Regional Organisation of Workers (ORIT) the Forbes Burnham Government, in 1976, made it a national calendar event and the Monument at Enmore was erected in honour of it.
The GTUC played a leading role in organising the events, with the full support from the state, until 1985 when a decision was taken that since it was a national event the state would take full control; but this decision did not exclude the trade union community in the planning and execution of the programme. At the latter stage of the Bharrat Jagdeo era his administration rejected persons identified by the GTUC to speak on its behalf at the event, though the GTUC remained part of the planning committee.
Under the APNU+AFC administration it has reached the point where the trade union is called and asked to send a representative to speak and is shut out from the planning and executing of the programme.
To the trade union community, what is happening to the Movement today also must serve as lesson when principled positions are not taken in the interest of the workers, their struggles and history, how such come back to haunt and undermine the workers’ rights, freedoms and gains. Ours is the responsibility to deliver the type of leadership we demand and expect of others, including from the political leadership, and it must matter not where political loyalty or support lies. We must be unwavering in the principles of solidarity, and our friends and foes must likewise know they cannot sway or compromise these.
The events of 1948 strengthened the determination of the workers in this country to fight for internal self-government. This incident where colonial police shot at striking sugar workers, resulting in the death of the five, gave impetus to the Political Affairs Committee (1946) and the formation of the People’s Progressive Party in 1950, among whose founding members were trade unionists Jane Phillips-Gay and Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow. This nation owes organised labour significant gratitude, for it was the Movement that not only laid the precursor for self-government but put in train actions to the effect since 1926, including the fight for and attainment of one man, one vote (universal adult suffrage) in 1953.
The Department of Social Cohesion, which falls within the Ministry of the Presidency, is apparently now tasked with organising national commemorative events. Just coming out of the faux pas with the alteration of the colours of the national flag that was used to mark the country’s 52nd Independence Anniversary and an apology extended by the subject minister, here again we have witnessed another untoward incident on Saturday.
As an aside but not insignificant, there is equal concern as to the change of the time in hoisting the flag to commemorate our independence. Independence was achieved a second after midnight on the 25th May 1966, which marks the beginning of the 26th May, the time and date of our freedom from colonial domination. There is the tendency of copying what other societies/cultures do without giving serious thought to our history and why marking events appropriately are considered important.
Unlike the United States that hosts its independence (July 4th) events in the afternoon, which I suspect the administration is copying, that country independently declared itself independent from Britain as against us who fought for and went through years of negotiations and a process that saw the Proclamation delivered to us at a specific time and date, cementing our Independence status. This significance must not be trivialised, or the practice of another country copied. Our uniqueness must be held in high regard, protected, and defended at all times.
There was also the incident last year of the Minister of Education reading a prepared statement commemorating an ethnic event but referring to another ethnic event. Preceding that was the seating arrangement of the Opposition at the flag-raising ceremony marking the nation’s 50th Independence anniversary. These faux pas, while they can be considered part of the learning curve for ministers, also highlight the importance of preparation, rehearsals and the necessity of having competent personnel in the planning and execution of national events. Now that these incidents are starting to look like a pattern it suggests the importance of dedicating time and personnel with the requisite knowledge to arrest and halt the slide.
A people that do not know, care for, or respect their history would be doomed by the errors of their ways. The essence of who we are, the journey travelled, and our aspirations are being threatened. It should be to our credit this nation has a historian, by education, in the Head of State and Government. And it is not unreasonable to expect if at no other time in our history national events and achievements are preserved and elevated is that of now.