SUGAR WORKERS' STRIKES IN 1905
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In 1905 the sugar estates in Demerara were affected by numerous strikes. These strikes which were for better wages, were generally spontaneous and unorganised. In making demands for increased wages to meet the increase in the cost of living, the workers approached the managers of the estates to state their case. However, their demands were rejected.
On the 2 December 1905 factory workers at Diamond Estate stopped working after their request for increased wages were bluntly refused by the manager. The porters wanted an increase from 36 cents to 48 cents a day while the sugar curers asked for 56 cents instead of the 40 cents a day they were getting.
The striking workers gathered by the factory gate, and shortly after, armed policemen and a group of British soldiers were sent to the estate and they took up their positions near the factory and other estate buildings. With signs of growing protest in other sugar estates in Demerara, armed policemen were also sent to those areas to protect the factories and other estate buildings.
At Plantation Ruimveldt, immediately south of Georgetown, male and female weeders also asked for an increase for weeding and preparing sugar beds. They were being paid 2 cents per bed and they asked the manager for an increase to 8 cents. These workers left their jobs in the fields and, after gathering together and carrying their cutlasses and other tools, they went to meet the manager, Mr. Ross. They surrounded him near his home and noisily voiced their demands. But he refused to listen to them and instead sent for the police.
When the armed policemen arrived they ordered the workers to put their implements on the ground and leave the area. Some obeyed but most of them refused. Shortly after, the police arrested George Henry whom they regarded as one of the leaders of the striking workers. Henry had allegedly touched the shoulder of Ross to attract his attention to a point he wanted to express. He was charged for assault, and after being manhandled by the police, was imprisoned in the Manager's fenced yard.
The large crowd of workers tried to enter the yard, but the armed policemen prevented anyone from entering. As the people pressed forward, the police opened fire and two men were killed and several others injured.
The following day 20 cane-cutters marched to Georgetown to complain to the Governor, Sir Frederick Hodgson, and to ask him to support their demand for higher wages. But the Governor refused to meet with them saying that he could not interfere in any dispute concerning wages fixed by sugar estates.
The strike spread to all the sugar estates on the East Bank Demerara. By the 4 December cane-cutters on the West Bank estates joined the strike and forced the factory at Plantation Nismes to stop its milling operations.
The sugar plantations owners over the next week systematically broke the strikes by identifying the ringleaders and expelling them from the estates. This action left the other workers leaderless, and in order to eke out a living, they had to continue to work for low wages.