Kowsillia was murdered by a British stooge when she and other women were squatting peacefully on a bridge when a tractor driven by a scab drove straight into the women killing Kowsillia on the spot and injuring 14 others and maiming two permanently.
The reason for the strike was because cane cutters at Leonora estate went to the back dam for work and were told that the estate had work only for half of them. The workers pleaded that they had travelled a long distance and they should be able to get work. This fell on deaf ears. When they returned home, they formed themselves into a delegation and went to the estate, but management refused to negotiate with them.
This prompted GAWU to call a strike, which affected all the plantations. The workers were fed up with the MPCA who was not interested in their welfare. They wanted to change their unions and had submitted more than 14,000 notices signed by workers who no longer wanted the MPCA. This action did not find favor with the colonial masters who collaborated with the opposition forces to break the will of the workers and eventually destabilized the legitimate government led by Dr. Cheddi Jagan.
Kowsillia and others lived under British rule and was able to witness the different periods of struggle waged by the PPP. Firstly, the formation of the first political party, the winning of adult suffrage, the successive PPP govts of 1957 and 1961 which brought improvements for the masses of people. Unfortunately, our colonial masters and local reactionaries were not happy with these developments. Overt and covert actions were taken to remove the democratically elected government through violence, destructions and killings.
Kowsillia did not have the opportunity to see her children growing up, neither did she witnessed the successive rigged elections and the massive banning of essential food and commodities necessary for life and limbs. She did not live to see GAWU gaining recognition nor the return to democratic rule in 1992.
As we remember Kowsillia, we need to reflect on how the dynamics have changed with the restoration of democracy. While she was not an educated woman she had the political consciousness to be a part of the struggle for improved conditions for the workers.
However, under the PPP/C government adequate sums were provided in the national budget yearly for the social sectors especially education, health, housing and agriculture. Women broke all barriers because of the opportunities which were available to them.
Fifty-four years later, Guyana is once again undergoing similar situation. The PNC came to power with a UF coalition in 1964, which they ditched and embarked on a journey of successive rigged elections coupled with mismanagement, corruption, abuse of human and civil rights and an oppressive authoritarian dictatorship.
In 2015, they came to power again through another coalition which has become their jockey. The signs of a creeping dictatorship are everywhere. On the campaign trail in 2015 the APNU/AFC campaigned in the sugar estates and told the workers that sugar was too large to fail. The promised 20% which never materialized. Instead, they closed the estates and have more than 20,000 workers and their families on the bread line. Even the severance pay which workers are entitled to were denied.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day 2018, we do so against a situation where thousands of families are faced with hardships. The government has ensured that qualified persons who were hired by the previous governments were given the marching orders, sent on administrative leave or down-graded. The people were faced with massive taxation in two years, which they never had for 23 years.
It is opportune to remind ourselves that IWD came about as a result of the poor garment workers who were living on starvation wages and conditions that kept them in servitude. When they took strike against their employers it was because they were slaving without no improvements in their lives.
We use this occasion to remind women that they must stand up together against all forms of injustices. They have the right to work and provide for their families. They must expose all acts of discrimination and victimization using the social media and other mediums available to them. They must not allow themselves to be pushed against the wall. Women stand up and let your voices be heard.
Happy International Women’s Day