– says Estate occupies a special place in nation’s sugar industryThe Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) has remembered the 15 sugar workers who were killed by colonial Police 104 years ago.The longstanding sugar workers’ representative body explained that the incident was one of “the ugliest reminders of British colonialism and another manifestation of the brutal conditions our forefathers had to contend with in colonial times”.The Rose Hall Martyrs monument was erected in 2014GAWU noted that it has recognised “the struggles and sacrifices of generations of sugar workers, whose contribution have brought about many changes in workers’ living and working conditions”.“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 added in a statement.The Union noted that colonialism and its plantocracy system must bear “full responsibility” for the deaths. It noted too that while sugar workers have made much advancement over the past several decades, “attempts” were being made to reverse this trend.“Increasingly, sugar workers find themselves engaged in actions to defend their rights and interests against our homegrown bureaucrats and their hirelings,” GAWU disclosed.The Union further noted the historical significance of the Estate and decried the recent revelation that the entity would discontinue its operations.“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 a proposal by the Government to close soon Rose Hall Estate. The lives of thousands of ordinary, hardworking Guyanese stand to be affected should this unconscionable proposal be allowed to succeed,” GAWU strongly outlined.The Union highlighted that it was informed through consultations with the Education Ministry’s Department of Culture, Youth and Sport that the Government of Guyana would commemorate the workers’ sacrifice, noting that it welcomed being involved in the national event.On March 13, 1913, 15 indentured labourers attached to the Rose Hall Estate were killed by Police and were buried in a mass grave for seeking a better life. The workers were Motey Khan, Bholay, Sohan, Hulas, Badri, Jugai, Sadula, Sarjoo, Lalji, Durga, Gafur, Roopan, Juggoo, Nibur and Gobindei, the lone female. In an effort to improve the conditions on the sugar plantation, the labourers had protested the retraction of a four-day holiday awarded to them for a grinding season.Historical accounts noted that the 15 workers refused an order from Plantation Manager James Smith, to plant cane on those days. This led to a formal complaint to the immigration officer; Smith then demanded that in exchange for the charges levied against the workers being dropped, they pay his legal costs. The labourers offered to pay in instalments, but management refused and the case went to the Reliance Magistrate’s Court on February 7, 1913.When the court date came around, hundreds of immigrant workers proceeded to the Reliance Magistrate’s Court where the labourers were found guilty of instigating resistance to work. This ruling angered workers which led to protests. Management subsequently threatened to transfer the protesting families to distant plantations and in response, the sugar workers protested even further. On March 13 of that year, colonial Police attempted to follow up on warrants, which had been issued for the leaders of the protest, but after the workers resisted, the Police opened fire, injuring 56 persons and killing 15 workers.These workers were then remembered as the Rose Hall Martyrs.