In The News

Red thread protests

By Capitol News

In The News

Red Thread believes more Guyanese should take a page out of the book of the people of Linden

By Capitol News

In The News

Let us all stand with Linden

By Andaiye, Joycelyn Bacchus, Karen de Souza, Joy Marcus, Alissa Trotz

It is now five days since the deadly events in Linden, in which three men were shot dead by the police during a day of community protest. The last time protestors were shot at and killed by police was sixty-four years ago, when sugar workers were cut down by colonial officers acting on behalf of the sugar planters who ruled Guyana in those days. In The West on Trial, Cheddi Jagan offered us the following analysis of what happened and what it showed about relations between the rulers and the ruled:

“Without consulting even their company-dominated Manpower Citizens Association, they (the sugar planters) changed the system of work from cut-and-drop to cut-and-load…this action led to a 4 ½ month strike in 8 sugar estates on the East Coast of Demerara with its main slogan: ‘Sit and starve rather than work and starve.’ The response of the ruling class was characteristic – the resort to force.

On June 16th, 1948, the police opened fire at the rear of the sugar factory at Pln. Enmore, killing 5 and injuring 12 persons. Thirty-year-old Lalla Bagi was shot in the back; nineteen-year-old Pooran had a bullet through his leg and a gaping 3-inch wound above his pelvis; Rambarran died from two bullet wounds in his leg; Dookhie died in hospital the same day; Harry died the next day from a spinal injury.

This whole sordid and tragic episode could have been avoided. But the plantocracy was contemptuous of the workers, whose lives were regarded as expendable.”

Just last month, on June 16th 2012, many Guyanese, led by the PPP, rightly commemorated the Enmore martyrs, and their supreme sacrifice for the liberation of all Guyanese from colonial rule and arbitrary force.

But sixty-four years after Enmore, the PPP is in power in independent Guyana, and without Cheddi Jagan, who we believe would have fought against the degeneration that resulted in the police unleashing deadly violence on Lindeners on the evening of July 18th, 2012. As we all now know, on the first of five days of action organized by the people of Linden to protest steep increases in electricity rates imposed without consultation with residents and to bring attention to the economic realities their community faces, the police used teargas and shot into a crowd of hundreds of women, children and men amassed on and in the vicinity of the Wismar-Mckenzie bridge.

Three men were killed: 46-year old Allan Lewis; 18 year old Ron Somerset; and 18 year old Shemroy Bouyea. Another 20 women and men were sent to hospital nursing blunt trauma wounds and shooting injuries to the back, face, legs and chest: 34 year old Alice Shaw Barker; 47 year old Michael Roberts; 23 year old Hector Solomon; 33 year old Ulric Michael ; 56 year old Reuben Bowen; 38 year old Dexter Scotland; 52 year old Janice Burgan; 35 year old Yolanda Hinds; 45 year old Brian Charles; 26 year old Collis Duke; 35 year old Cleveland Barker; 25 year old Dwight Yaw; 39 year old Marlon Hartman; 24 year old Troy Nestor; 35 year old Jermaine Allicock; 39 year old Malim Spencer;  29 year old Shandra Lyte; 34 year old Andy Bobb Semple ; 24 year old Collin Adams; 21 year old Trelon Piggot. Two people are in critical condition. One woman was shot as she tried to rush young children to safety.

And in 2012 as in 1948, there is an attempt to whitewash the atrocity. Writing about the murder of the five Enmore workers in 1948 in his book, A History of Trade Unionism in Guyana, 1900 to 1961, Ashton Chase noted: “the police claimed justification for the firing on grounds that a riotous mob at about 10:30 a.m. on ‘massacre day’ rushed into the factory compound and right into the factory building itself, and were overpowering the police who felt compelled to open fire so as to save the valuable property of the factory from destruction or damage and to protect the lives of those engaged in work therein.” In The West on Trial, Cheddi Jagan described official explanations of the Enmore murders that were circulated before the setting up of the Bolland Commission of Inquiry as follows: “…the government had whitewashed the shooting of workers at Pln. Enmore. The police, it said, had been attacked and had opened fire in self defence.”

Today, in response to the murders of Allan Lewis, Ron Somerset and Shemroy Bouyea, and even as the government has agreed to a Commission of Inquiry into the Linden shootings, a news story in the July 19th issue of the state-owned Guyana Chronicle had this to say: “Kudos to our police which did their duty at great risk to the lives of ranks. You stood your grounds in the face of much provocation and danger and you did your duty to protect the peaceful citizens of Guyana and Guyanese once more say “thanks.”

The commemoration of the martyrdom of Enmore workers in 1948 is a refusal to accept that the workers, not the police or the state of which the police are a part, were to blame for their own deaths.  So too, today, we must categorically reject the efforts to whitewash the use of deadly force against women, men and children at Linden.  Those responsible must be held accountable.

We must also reject the government’s line that the opposition parties are to blame for the protests and the casualties of July 18th.  We must reject it whatever we think of the opposition parties because it is insulting to the people of Linden, a product of a political view disrespectful to “ordinary” people and an attempt to isolate Linden by making this into a party issue that can divide Guyanese. Linden has a proud history of self-organising. In the 1970s the Organisation of Working People, independently of party or trade unions that answered to the government of the day, organized bauxite workers and led many of the strikes that shut down the industry. Less well known is that Linden women have a history of organizing as mothers/carers, that housewives and children took to the streets in their thousands in 1983 at the height of the food rebellions, facing down riot police and forcing the release of twenty-four bauxite workers arrested for participating in a one-day-a-week strike. Both the OWP and the housewives allied with others across race and party and outside of Linden, most notably in the formation of the Sugar and Bauxite Workers Unity Committee.

Rising up against the electricity increases comes out of this proud history that holds many lessons for us today. In particular relation to women, what the history of their actions in 1983 shows us is that no mothers in Linden (or anywhere else) have to be led by political parties to protest: what leads them to protest is what they know from their daily lives – that the work of making ends meet is theirs, and that anything that increases that work is something that they must rise up against in defence of themselves, their children and their families.

The media, in their reporting and coverage of efforts to demonstrate solidarity with Linden, also have to do better. For the most part reports have focused attention on what either the government or political opposition are saying and doing. The protests in Georgetown on Thursday and Friday were organized by Red Thread to say what we have said before, that the struggle in Guyana is not about government and opposition parties. It is about we the people, starting with mothers and other carers, those who are always left to mourn their dead, comfort the ones left behind, and nurse the injured back to health .

Challenged about why we’re organizing protests against the violence in Linden we point to the sign outside Red Thread’s centre that reads “Solidarity with Linden mothers.” We are in solidarity with all Linden; the banner says “mothers” because our starting point is always mothers and other carers, the foundation of the whole society and economy. It is what we said in the statement we issued after the 2008 Lusignan massacre, in which we called on Guyanese to begin with ”those who continue to pay the highest price of all” and added, “It is time we learn to listen to the anguish of a mother’s cries, to recognize that her grief knows no race, no politics, no camp, only unspeakable loss and love.”

Violence of the powerful against those with less social power is always criminal and to be condemned – and there is too often no condemnation except when it directly concerns us or “our race”. The tendency of too many of us to respond to injustice only in relation to race, not to race as it interacts with class, and gender, and other social relations, always works in the interest of those with more social power. It keeps us divided from each other, and makes us all losers in the end.

The violence unleashed on the protestors by the state on July 18, 2012 has carried Linden and the country beyond the question of electricity tariffs. Violence is not violence is not violence. Whether in 1948 or in 2012 the violence of the state must be seen for what it is. The violence of the colonial state in 1948 carried that struggle well beyond the issue of cut-and-load to the central issue of how we will organize to live. It fuelled the nationalist movement that began in the late 1940s, led by working people across race. The violence of the state in 2012 demands the same courage – that we stand up and answer the question: How will we organize to live?

This moment is about Linden but it is about more than Linden. As the placards held in the GT protests by women of different races proclaimed – in hope and determination –  “We are all Lindeners”.

In The News

Parliamentarians should be nothing more than the people’s representatives

By Alissa Trotz

On Friday last, the Jamaican newspapers covered a performance by Sistren Theatre Collective, a 32 year old grassroots women’s organization in Jamaica. The play, ‘A Slice of Reality,’ dramatized the lives of poor women in order to make the argument for the legalization of abortion (Sistren’s executive Director, Lana Finkin, said it was a depiction of actual experiences drawn from two inner city communities in Kingston). What was striking about this story was that it was part of Sistren’s presentation to the Joint Select Committee of Parliament that has been hearing submissions since July of last year on the Report of the Abortion Policy Review Advisory Group (a group set up in 2005 to address, among other things, concern over the role of unsafe abortions in adolescent and maternal deaths).

As I watched excited e-mails fly up and down about the importance of Sistren’s intervention into parliamentary considerations, I could not help but think of the very different and recent experience of Red Thread and Grassroots Women Across Race on February 20th, when they attempted to attend the closing debate on the 2009 budget after picketing outside of Parliament against the decrease in the size of the promised single parents’ fund. I was at Red Thread that day, and was present for the discussion that took place before the women left for Parliament. We talked about who could go into Parliament in the context of what is deemed appropriate attire, as well as who might remain outside with the placards once some women went inside to hear the debate. Both actions made perfect sense together: to first stand in peaceful protest outside Parliament to remind the public of what was at stake; and then to witness the budget debate, as grassroots women whose lives are fundamentally affected by this issue.

Sometime after they left, the phone at Red Thread began to ring, at which point we learned that the police were preventing the women from entering Parliament. The reasons given were untrue and/or foolish: inappropriate dress (not true); following orders (“because I said so”). You have to ask yourself, aren’t parliamentarians the people’s representatives? What does it mean that grassroots women were denied entry on this most crucial of issues, or that a businessman was at the same time allowed to enter?

On February 24th, Red Thread member Andaiye wrote the Speaker of the House Ralph Ramkarran, requesting that he  “publicly affirm the public right to enter Parliament to listen to debates”, explain “what limitations, if any, the Standing Orders provide on that right,” and “take steps to ensure that the Guyana Police Force is aware of this right.” In a response three days later, Speaker Ramkarran replied that under Standing Order 108 (1), the public can observe parliamentary debates “under such rules as the Speaker may make from time to time”. He noted that the Guyana Police Force is responsible for the security of the Parliament Building and for ensuring that no breach of the peace occurs in the Parliament Chambers. Ramkarran closed by recognizing Andaiye’s contribution to the struggle to restore democracy in Guyana, and inviting Red Thread to visit the Parliament Chamber as his guest for a future debate of its choice. In certain ways a welcome response (particularly the Speaker’s ready invitation to make his response public), one wonders whether an invitation is the only way that one can be guaranteed access to parliamentary debates? Surely the struggle for democracy entails more than that?

In his letter Speaker Ramkarran said that – as a layperson – he could not comment on whether there was a specific policy by the police with respect to picketers seeking entry into Parliament once the picket was completed. Another letter was sent on March 2nd to Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee, requesting clarification on three questions (the Minister acknowledged receipt of this letter, but Red Thread is still awaiting a full response):

1. Do the police have a policy of preventing people who have picketed the Parliament from entering Parliament to hear debates after picketing?

2. If yes, is this a blanket policy applying in all such circumstances or are the police to use their discretion?

3. If there is such a policy, how does it match up to the promise of increased openness of the National Assembly and the long-established right in Guyana to sit in the gallery and listen to the proceedings, as in the courts?

Elder Eusi Kwayana has offered his own take on this question, reminding us that these are rights we have fought for and earned, not favours to be withheld or distributed unevenly. I close this week’s column by reproducing Kwayana’s comments in full below:

In 1952, a young woman poet in the East Coast Demerara Youth Rally (DYR) wrote in a poem:

“If the big things need attention
the little things need still more”

That young poet was a philosopher. She moved away perhaps with her husband to do farming elsewhere. I have never forgotten those lines. The DYR was a Youth organisation that some of us founded in those days.  Most but not all of us were PPP, and we were not an arm of the party. We had our programme and our own song, I was not an official and no one tried to tell us what to do. The DYR was banned by the Governor in 1953.

I want to remind readers of my recent recommendation for a Commission to investigate the abuse of women. I believe that an open and malicious abuse of women took place on February 20th when the police barred some women who had been picketing the budget debate from entering the chamber to listen to the people’s representatives. I now know that the women were Red Thread members and others, and that they had left their pickets outside with a woman who did not try to go through the sacred gates. Several issues arise out of this “little” thing.

1. The act of the police was a serious breach of the freedom of citizens to enter the Assembly and listen to debates without exception. In the past, Speaker Sase Narain even had to deal with hecklers, whom he suppressed without any expulsion that I can recall.

2. Mr. Christopher Ram’s refusal to agree to enter when the women were denied, highlights the discrimination against the activist women who had been picketing. They could not go into the place that had passed brave laws about their freedom and equality.

3. If the Speaker knew of the incident, it would have been a good opportunity to tell the country that the exclusion was purely the work of the police and to affirm the citizens’ rights of listening from the gallery, a space provided precisely for this purpose. He could have spoken of the citizens’ access to the deliberations he conducts in the name of the people

4. Members of the National Assembly certainly have the right to raise this issue by one means or another. Will they?
There were days when we called the police, behaving as those ranks did on February 20, “Burnham Watchman”. Now are they “Jagdeo Watchman?” In both cases they uphold not the law, but the President’s head!

Some will say that it is not discrimination against women. If not, it is equally unacceptable if it is discrimination against those who raise questions about the impact of the 2009 budget on poor people.

In The News

Making the Case for a Living Income Red Thread

By Stabroek News Staff

(This is one of a series of fortnightly columns from Guyanese in the diaspora and others with an interest in issues related to Guyana and the Caribbean)

To mark International Women’s Day, this week’s column draws on a Red Thread leaflet, which makes the case for higher old age pensions and public assistance.

We know that public assistance has been increased from $2470 to $4500 and old age pensions from $3,675 to $6,000. As we see with the stories below, even with the increases, the gap between households’ total incomes and what they need to survive is so high that many are barely surviving.

The household economy of P,

on public assistance

P is a 47 yr old single mother with a disability that confines her to a wheelchair and who is also hypertensive. She and her family – two children aged 12 and 17 – were left homeless after the 2005 flood and were living on the roadside in a shack built with pieces of discarded boards. Eight months ago they moved into their own home that was built for her by a charity. Her regular monthly income comes from two sources: public assistance of $2470 for herself and $2470 for her daughter; and payment of $6000 plus some basic food items to care for three children aged 2 – 5 years old whose mother works as a live-in domestic worker.

P augments her monthly income by filling occasional orders to make crocheted chair backs at Christmas time, monetary assistance from her women’s group to go to clinic and buy medication, and occasional assistance from friends. Sometimes her son – who had to drop out of school due to money worries and is now unemployed – catches fish in the nearby trench.

P buys what she considers the main food items such as rice, sugar, cooking oil, salt, flour, soap, and kerosene oil but she cannot afford items such as milk, fish, and meat. She tries to cook enough food in the mornings to make a snack for her daughter to take to school, plus lunch and dinner. If it isn’t enough there is no dinner. She has to regularly cut some things, for example, not send her daughter to school sometimes so she can buy food. She tries her best to keep her daughter in school by putting up a portion of the money she earns to pay for transportation but sometimes it is really not doable. The child often has to do without food or schoolbooks. Her daughter was out of school for a few months in 2007 and because of this, the public assistance P receives for her was delayed. She has not received any public assistance for her daughter since June 2007.

Since her disability makes it impossible for her to use minibuses, if P has no money for a taxi (which is usually the case) she has to get her son push her for miles when he is available. If not, she has to authorize people to collect the money on her behalf, which means waiting until they have time to go.

The household economy of K,

wife of man receiving old age pension

K, aged 54, is a mother of one son who lives by himself. She lives with her husband in their own house. She is diabetic and hypertensive. Her husband is a pensioner and he gets NIS and old age pension, amounting to $23,500/month.

In addition to being a housewife, K has a small business that she operates from two markets. In one of the markets her stall is way down at the back and people seldom go there. Many days she sells nothing. Due to this she decided to sell at the other market but did not give up the first stall since she uses it to store her goods.

She used to sell six days a week but some days she only sold enough to pay her stall rent which is $200 per day and her transportation to and from the market ($1720 a month), so she plans to start selling only on Saturdays. Her sales last Saturday only amounted to $3000. She doesn’t have a permanent stall at the second market so she has to find a space to sell each time.

K also rears chickens and ducks to get extra income to offset expenses. Her kitchen garden used to supply her with greens for the home but was destroyed by excessive rain. The only surviving crops are some boulanger plants and some celery. She collects medication from GPHC but prefers to buy it rather than paying passage to go for it and spending a lot of time waiting when she could be trying to make money.

In these two examples, it is clear that the women caring for these families contribute to the economy. The problem is that all their work is either unwaged or very low-waged. Until this is changed, public assistance and old age pensions should go much further towards taking up the slack.

The real cost to the national economy we should all care about is the cost not only these families but the whole economy pays when so many have to choose, for example, between whether to send their children to school or to give them food to eat.

We understand that when you add together all the people on old age pensions and public assistance the cost to the national economy will be high. However, the task is not to say that the national economy cannot afford higher public assistance and old age pensions, but to begin with what people need and then see where the money can be found to meet their needs.

In The News

Red Thread completes time use survey Amerindian women’s work burden heaviest

By Kaieteur News Staff,of%20the%20Red%20Thread%20Organisation

The Red Thread organisation has completed a ground breaking survey of women’s time use in several communities across Guyana with a view to among other goals, spur officials to value and measure unwaged work in official statistics.

In updating the media and other stakeholders on the project yesterday, member of Red Thread, Andaiye, explained that the project idea was born out of a decision taken at the 4th World Conference on Women in 1995, that unwaged work, which is mainly women’s work, must be measured and valued in official statistics.

The struggle for this agreement was led by the International Women Count Network (IWCN) and among governments, by CARICOM.

Andaiye however noted that apart from Trinidad and Tobago , no other Caricom country, including Guyana , has begun to implement the relevant clauses.

“This is in spite of the fact that the reason we led the fight among governments at Beijing for the recognition of women’s unwaged work was that during the preparatory meetings for Beijing, we made the analysis that women in the Caribbean carry a heavy burden of unwaged work, and that invisibility of unwaged work is a discrimination against women which fuels other forms of discrimination against women.

We said then that any campaign against poverty which does not begin with the connection between unwaged work and poverty is a campaign that will not make even a dent in poverty,” she noted.

The survey, which represents the first measurement of women’s time use in Guyana , was done by and with a purposive sample of mainly grassroots women across race in several communities. It was funded by CIDA.

The four women who conducted the survey are all employees of the Red Thread Organisation.

One of them, Joycelyn Bacchus, explained that the study which was conducted over a period of 15 months targeted women in Charlestown in Georgetown, Central Mahdia, Coop Farm and Campbelltown in Mahdia, Rising Sun, Bath Settlement, Number 40 Village and Number 41 Village in West Coast Berbice, Kara Kara and Constabulary Compound in Linden, Uitvlugt and Den Amstel on the West Coast Of Demerara and Buxton, Annandale and Better Hope on the East Coast.

Bacchus said the survey managed to achieve a good race\ethnic balance, with diaries completed by 37 Indo-Guyanese women, 31 Afro Guyanese women, 14 Amerindian women, 18 mixed women and one Portuguese woman.

“We were not attempting what people call a scientific study. We were pioneering a way for grassroots women to work with other grassroots women to record the details of the unwaged and low-waged work we do, which has been left out of the official statistics and is not considered by those with power when they make policies.

We went to women we knew of from the work we’ve been doing as Red Thread on the coast and in the interior. Since we were not setting ourselves to look at other women’s lives and not our own, we started by recording our own time use. Each woman we contacted did between one and three days diaries. We ended with a total of 151 days diaries from 101 women. Because this kind of survey has never been done before, it took us 13 months because there were many problems that had no previously worked out solutions. We invented solutions for people doing time use surveys in the future,” Bacchus said.

She explained that the majority of women who completed diaries were mainly housewives. Other occupations included self employment in the informal sector, domestic work, teaching, security guard work and small farming. In addition there was one each of a salesperson, bartender, cashier, counter clerk revenue collector, hairdresser, sex worker and a nurse. About half the women who participated in the survey were single women and grandmothers; the other half are women with husbands. The age range was from 17 to 70.

Another of the persons who conducted the survey, Halima Khan, said some of the problems encountered included overcoming hostility from some male partners, and working to build confidence in some women about the usefulness of the exercise as well as trust in how the information would be used.

“Once women started doing the diaries, we began to realize how much work we do and how essential our work is. In this way, the survey fulfilled its first aim.

It empowered all of us doing the diaries by enabling us to participate fully in defining work as we know it and producing information about work which is usually hidden and even treated with contempt,” Khan said.

She said it was realized during the survey that because women in the interior who are mainly Amerindians often have no access to running water or electricity, their work was hardest.

Khan said they met women who have to fetch water from as far as seven miles away to do their housework.

“In one Amerindian community we met a single mother – a widow with five children – the oldest is 8 years old and the youngest 4 months old – living in an open bottom house with what seemed to be a makeshift stage as their sleeping area and sand all around them,” Khan said.

The Red Thread Organisation says that now that the survey is completed, they will continue to work with IWCN to write up and publish a detailed report and the results, then immediately use them to seek recognition for the work of all women in the statistics and policy of CARICOM governments, and to urge officials to look at the implications of their policies and plans on women’s time use.

The organisation says, locally they will begin with the Poverty Reduction Strategy.

The organisation is looking for funding for their publication and also has plans of organizing a women’s anti-racist conference.

‘“ We intend to continue to use time use as a basis for developing understanding and communication among women of different race/ethnic groups of what we have in common as providers of unwaged and or low-waged caring labour, and what we are entitled to, can demand and together win as providers of this labour, on which the survival of the whole society and economy depend” Khan reiterated.