ON February 27, the GAWU will observe forty-four (44) years since it became the recognised union on behalf of the thousands of workers who toil in the fields and factories of the sugar industry. The appending of the formal agreement between the union and the then Sugar Producers Association (SPA), the forerunner to GuySuCo, marked the culmination of thirty (30) years of struggle by the workers and the GAWU to be accorded bargaining-agent status. The struggle can be traced back to 1946 with the establishment of the Guiana Industrial Workers Union (GIWU).
Over the three decades of struggle workers took part in several battles as they championed their call for the GAWU to be their representative union. It was a struggle that was intense at times, and saw the plantocracy with the implicit and, at times, explicit support of the state, seeking to crush the workers’ resolve and desire. Indeed, the sugar workers and the union faced difficult times as intimidation, outright threats and even incarceration on flimsy excuses were used to daunt the workers and diminish their spirits. The struggle also bore martyrs as well as workers and others felt the full, unbridled wrath of the plantation owners and their proxies. Despite what were clearly obstacles after assault perpetrated against the workers, they remained committed and dedicated to their task and struggle and ultimately won the right to choose a union of their choice – the GAWU.
In the now nearly four and a half decades since the union became the workers’ bargaining agent, we remain proud of our accomplishments and victories. Over the years, with the support of the workers, the union has been able to improve the workers’ lot and advance their gains and enhance their conditions of work. We have stood with the workers in difficult times and ensured that their rights were respected and their gains defended. We believe the workers have recognised our efforts and continue to stand with us as we seek improvement for their well- being. Since 2015, the workers and the union have been engaged in an ongoing battle to safeguard their gains, protect their advancement and maintain their way of life. In that period, the coalition government has sought to perpetrate several assaults against the sugar workers and the industry. The government which preached, prior to its ascension to office, about the importance of the industry and committed to safeguarding workers jobs has in the short, but eventful, period closed four sugar estates and put some 7,000 workers out into the breadline. Apart from that, long-standing workers’ benefits are being disregarded and the wage increases have been withheld until recently.
While it has been a difficult period, the contemporary workers, like the generations before them, have demonstrated their militancy. They have not allowed the powers that be to cower or compel them into submission. They have stood up proudly and staunchly as they defended their livelihoods and protected what is so near and dear to them. They have caused others to stand up and take note and to speak up in their defence. While it has not been an easy road, over the last few years, the workers remain committed to their justified and principled struggle. Our union, as in the past, will continue to stand by them and to provide guidance and leadership.
As the GAWU observes this milestone we recall the inspiring chapters of workers’ struggle. We also recall the contribution of our leaders especially Dr Cheddi Jagan, who as Honorary President of the GAWU, provided leadership, guidance and advice during those difficult days and nights. We remember those comrades in arms who stood with the GAWU and defended the workers against the machinations they faced and eventually overcame. Today, our union has a proud and rich history which now spans now over seventy (70) years in defence of workers and advancement of their rights and conditions.
Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU)