One unfortunate circumstance of our polarized identity-based politics is a contested history filtered through the lens of the separate and often conflicting narratives of our two major ethnic groups. Take the letter by Mr. EB John captioned, “It is impossible to omit the critical role sugar industry played in economic and social growth of Indo-Guyanese communities” (SN 4- 11-19). Now, in and of itself, that statement is true, but the seemingly inevitably comparison with the African Guyanese sugar workers in his letter, does raise some contentious issues.
As Mr. John points out, the Sugar Industry Labour Welfare Fund (SILWF) was established after WWII (1947 to be exact) by applying a levy on exported sugar, to be used for rehousing sugar workers. But he did not note that simultaneously, the system of “cut and drop” was changed to “cut and load”, which extracted more from workers’ wages than the levy and which precipitated the Enmore protest and massacre.
This SILWF initiative was a direct result of the Moyne Commission’s investigation in labour unrest in the Caribbean in the 1930’s due to the deprivations in the sugar plantations occasioned by Depression era plunging wages. The Commission was, in fact, taking evidence in British Guiana in 1939 when five sugar workers were shot and killed at Leonora Estate. The Commission’s Report, which recommended far reaching political and social innovations, was not circulated and implemented until after the war.
Mr John claims that “Extra Nuclear Housing Areas (ENHA) were exclusively constructed to accommodate INDIAN sugar workers and their families, supplemented by community centres and girls’ clubs.” But this was just not so. The ENHA were directed to accommodate ALL sugar workers and their families WHO WERE STILL LIVING IN BARRACKS OR LOGIES, because their living conditions had shocked the members of the Commission. Latrines, for instance, were over drainage canals, which could contaminate irrigation canals from where the drinking water was sourced. And the community centres and girl clubs were open to ALL who resided in the surrounding villages.
By 1947, however, most African Guyanese sugar workers had left the Barracks/logies and this circumstance ensured the ENHA ended up with mostly Indian Guyanese sugar workers. But African Guyanese sugar workers were the overwhelming majority of the skilled and better paid factory workers. They rented or owned homes generally adjoining the public road, where they settled/bought after Emancipation. On Plantation Uitvlugt, for example, one section between the Public Road and Bruda Dam housed a number of African Guyanese families on what was called “children property”. South of Bruda, mostly African Guyanese houses stretched south to form the “Casbah” section. There was one large “Barrack” on the Estate Rd housing a number of African and Indian Guyanese families and they were all housed in new “cottages” built from the SILWF Funds.
Several “cottages” dubbed “Bajan Quarters”, adjoined logies next to the sugar factory (“Letter A”) and housed a number of families from the 1929 WI brought to work on the sugar plantations from the smaller WI Islands between 1920-1928. The African “Bajans” were granted SILWF loans to build houses in the Casbah section. One vacant section of Casbah (behind the Scots School) were allocated as houselots to other African Guyanese families, as well as the two older sections which was regularized, and SILWF loans for building houses were extended.
Residents of ‘Letter “A”’ logies were allocated house lots in the cleared land between the Public Road and the Atlantic Ocean – dubbed “Ocean View” – and built houses with the SILWF loans. Other logies were relocated to ENHA lots created in Zeeburg, De Willem, Meten meer Zorg, Zeelugt and eventually Tuschen.
But what Mr John failed to mention was that following the Moyne Report, the government in 1946 launched a “Central Authority” to provide housing for the “working class” which was superseded by the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CHPA) in 1948. Financing was provided from the British
Guiana Building Society Ltd, (est. 1929) was incorporated in 1940 as the New Building Society. In 1954, the Housing Dept. was created and a vigorous housebuilding program commenced, with G$15 million spent between 1954 and 1959, producing some 3,500 houses for persons outside the sugar belt.
We shall not extend the analysis to the 30,180 houses the PNC built during 1970-1980; plus the “housing schemes”; and arranging for the nationalized Bauxite Industry to mirror the SILWF arrangement “to reward its supporters and suborn its opponents” as mentioned by Carl Greenidge in his book.