Close this window to return to the main menu

Previous Chapter     Next Chapter

While the anti-PPP campaign was stepped up, the Guiana Industrial Workers Union (GIWU) called a strike on 30 August 1953 demanding wage increases and better working conditions for sugar workers. The strike was in reality one for recognition as the bargaining union for workers in the sugar industry. From 1948, the GIWU had been calling "recognition" strikes to replace the Man Power Citizens Association (MPCA) since it felt that it had majority support among sugar workers. (This strike gave the British an excuse for their military intervention in October).

Shortly after the strike began, Dr. Jagan went to Suriname (in September) to secure rights for Guyanese fishermen in Surinamese waters. Guyanese fishermen from the Corentyne area were from time to time arrested by the Surinamese police on the Corentyne River, and Dr. Jagan's discussion with the Government of Suriname helped to bring some relief to the existing problem.

The Governor, Sir Alfred Savage, was by this time openly siding with the anti-PPP forces which were already agitating for the forcible removal of the elected Government. Just four days before the strike began Savage had reported to the Colonial Office in London that the PPP members of the Government were using their positions to undermine the entire Government. Even as early as 3 September, a secret report from the British Forces Commander in the Caribbean to the British War Office proposed a military intervention in Guyana.

By 13 September, Savage was reporting that the political situation was deteriorating. Anti-PPP members on 21 September persuaded the State Council, in which the PPP was in the minority, to pass a resolution accusing the PPP Ministers of promoting actions which were a threat to security and "responsible democratic governance". The resolution requested the British Secretary of State for the Colonies to take any action deemed necessary.

The GIWU strike won widespread support among trade unions. Many of them called a sympathy strike on September 22. On the following day, the colonial authorities, acting on the presumption that a general strike in support of the GIWU was planned for the 24 September, made the decision to dispatch troops to intervene in Guyana.

However, there was no general strike on September 24. On the morning of that very day, after discussions with the Minister of Labour, the GIWU called off the strike after he promised that the Government would enact legislation for the compulsory recognition of majority unions after a secret poll.

At about the same time, the PPP Government announced its intention of repealing the Trade Disputes (Essential Services) Ordinance of 1942. This was a war-time legislation that prevented strikes in the essential services. The colonial authorities saw this announcement as a move by the PPP to disrupt services in water supplies, electricity, transport, food supplies and public health. The motion for the repeal was eventually introduced in the House of Assembly. However, it was awaiting debate when the Governor dissolved the Government after the landing of British troops.

When the House of Assembly met on 24 September, the Speaker refused to suspend the standing orders of the House of Assembly to allow the Minister of Labour, Ashton Chase, to move the Labour Relations Bill through all its stages to enable its passage. The PPP legislators, in protest, walked out of the House and there were angry demonstrations against the Speaker by GIWU members outside the House of Assembly.

The actual general debate on the Labour Relations Bill began on 29 September. Finally, on 8 October, the House of Assembly passed the Bill which stipulated that employers must recognise unions enjoying support of more than 65 percent of employees in particular industries. However, like many other bills, it lapsed after the suspension of the constitution. The Labour Relations Bill was similar to those existing in the United States and Canada, but it was also branded by the anti-PPP forces as "communist".

The Sugar Producers Association and the Man Power Citizens Association (MPCA) vehemently opposed the Labour Relations Bill. But it was strongly supported by the TUC and the Guiana Industrial Workers Union (GIWU).

British troops landed in Guyana on 8 October and were amazed to find no signs of revolt. There was total peace throughout the country, and a cricket match between Guiana and Trinidad was being played in Georgetown.

On the same day, three orders of the British Government, first issued on 4 October, were implemented. First, the British Guiana (Emergency) Order in Council gave the Governor emergency powers to deal with any situation that would result from the suspension of the constitution. Second, the British Guiana (Constitution) (Amendment) Order in Council granted powers to the Governor not to consult with the Executive Council in implementing policy. The Executive Council was to continue in existence, but the Governor was not obligated to seek its advice.

Third, the Additional Royal Instructions required the Governor to consult with the Executive Council except in sensitive cases prejudicial to imperial interests. This gave the Governor additional arbitral powers.

Later that day, the Governor withdrew the appointments of the PPP Ministers and stripped them of their portfolios. This action effectively removed them from the Executive Council which was to be later reconstituted with persons nominated by the Governor.

On the following day, 9 October, the Governor prorogued the House of Assembly and the State Council, and by this process, effectively suspended the constitution. The PPP Government, in office for only 133 days, was effectively overthrown by a combination of British emergency orders and heavily armed British troops.