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former official of the Sudan Gezira Scheme; but it is not expected to come fully into operation for some years yet.
Dr. Jagan says that it is the aim of Sugar to force seasonal sugar-workers to abandon their more profitable rice farming so that they must work on the estates, and to do this Sugar resorted, between 1943 and 1947, to land confiscation, taking 3,000 acres away from resident workers.' This is a statement which must be answered. The history of Sugar in British Guiana shows
Loading sugar-cane into punts
that its trouble has always been not so much the pursuit of cheap labour as the pursuit of any labour at certain times of the year. There has certainly been a policy of keeping the labour on the coast. Having secured indentured labour the planters wanted to keep it. It would be economically to their advantage if there were a surplus of labour; and at some seasons of the year there is, but during the two harvest seasons there is as much work, and overtime, as can be taken. Unfortunately
1 In spite of this 126,000 acres were under rice in 1955, compared with 72,000 acres under sugar.
the rice crop is brought in at the same time as the sugar crop and the worker is torn between two forms of labour—with a bias towards rice, his own crop. That is the basis of Sugar's fear that Rice will interfere with its interests. But with the vast increase in population during the next fifteen years Sugar can no longer fear labour shortage. Dr. Jagan believes that Sugar is tying people to the estates in order to produce a surplus of labour so great that the industry will hold all mastery. In fact this large surplus which could only suffer and, perhaps, starve cannot possibly be an advantage to Sugar, and the industry has repeatedly cried out for the riverain lands to be opened up to absorb the increasing population.
Dr. Jagan says that the schemes for reclaiming and draining coastland have been frustrated by Sugar because they will make too much cultivable land available too quickly. The schemes he refers to are five projects planned in 1951 by Mr. Frederick Hutchinson, a British Government engineer. He does not say that two of the schemes are in fact in hand, or consider the possibility that other causes than the sinister influence of Sugar have made the scheme lag as a whole. A balanced article in the Daily Argosy puts the matter well. 'Indeed,' says the writer,
'though there was considerable controversy over the Hutchinson schemes at the time and Mr. Hutchinson left British Guiana a disappointed man, we do not believe there is any opposition to his plans today. Indeed, we doubt whether there was to the plans as such, only to the manner, sequence and scale of carrying them out owing to the huge sums of money involved and the improbability of being able to find them in the context of the day. Things have changed since then, however, and sums that then seemed astronomical have already come within our purview, with the prospect of more in the background if all goes well.'
No one in his senses, whether P.P.P., Sugar or Government, could possibly not see the necessity for these schemes, and Dr. Jagan's argument would have had more force if he had attacked the Government for not supplying the 'vast sums' rather than Sugar for disrupting the project. Colonel E. J. Haywood, a one-time member of the Interim Government appointed after the suspension of the Constitution, and a strong political opponent of Dr. Jagan's, said in a debate in the Legislative Assembly that the 'breathtakingly vast sum' required must be found, because it was 'no longer a question of whether Government
could afford the schemes, but whether it could afford not to carry them out.' The editorial pointed out that if the schemes were carried out only in twenty years' time it would be 'too late'; behind the laconic words lies a potential situation which those in authority in the Colony do not like to contemplate.
Dr. Jagan accuses Government and Sugar of reducing the market price of rice so that the sugar-workers will not have so much inducement to go over to peasant rice-farming.
This again is a deceptively simple statement. The fact is that the rice grown in British Guiana is of poor quality. The price of rice to the Guianese miller-i.e. to the farmer who has had his rice milled for a fee--is in the region of £1 17s. 6d. per 100 lbs., and that is well above the world average price for the same quality of rice and well above any price offered by markets of the Far East producing countries. Guianese rice is exported, after local needs are satisfied, exclusively to the West Indies, where rice is a staple food. If it were put on the world markets it still would not command high prices; its export price is already above world market prices for equivalent qualities.
"The sugar planters', writes Dr. Jagan, ‘are making huge profits.... The workers are sweated and millions of dollars produced by them go into the pockets of sugar kings in England.' Yet the Robertson Report says, a little vaguely, that its members 'did not get the impression that the sugar producers ... are making large profits... we were not surprised to learn that additional capital has had to be found... to keep the industry on a sound basis.' Dr. Jagan believes that the price of sugar in British Guiana-which already is a supported price designed to support a handicapped industry—is kept low, with consequent exploitation of the workers. The Venn Report (1949) says, 'In existing circumstances there is only one possible method by which the prices of the Colony's sugar can be raised, and that is by the granting, temporarily, of a subsidy or bonus ... from the Imperial Government.' It goes on to say that 'the margin of profit on sugar has practically disappeared.' The Venn Report suggests that a form of price support is the only way in which conditions on the estates may be improved. 'During the next critical years such assistance [the subsidy] would form the only possible means of meeting the cost of introducing the social improvements we have advocated.'
Price support has come in the form of the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement, an arrangement whereby the United Kingdom buys an agreed quota-in practice about two-thirds--of the exportable surplus of all Commonwealth sugar producers at a price settled each year. This Commonwealth price is related by means of a formula to the main items in the cost of production. There is no question of the Agreement's allowing inefficient producers to shelter in the lee of a subsidized security; the price is the same throughout the Commonwealth, and where operating costs are high profits are low. Moreover, only two-thirds of the exports are at the negotiated price; the rest must be sold competitively on the free market. In the early years of the Agreement 'world prices' were well above the Commonwealth price, and there was some grumbling; but the world price was by 1956 little more than two-thirds of the Commonwealth price. The fact is, of course, that most of the world's sugar is sold under some form of contractual agreement. Less than 15 per cent is offered on the free market. As Mr. R. R. Follett-Smith, Chairman of Bookers Sugar Estates Ltd., has written:
'Few of the suppliers to the world market itself, let alone those producers whose sugar never sees the world market, would be able to produce sugar economically if they were dependent on the world market alone.... Had there been no Commonwealth guaranteed price, not only would there have been great economic distress in the sugar-producing Colonies, but Commonwealth sugar production would have been greatly diminished and the United Kingdom would have been forced to buy dollar sugar at enhanced prices.'
From all this it is clear that to talk of huge profits going into the pockets of idle landlords in England is unrealistic. But only a study of the actual financial situation of Bookers can complete the picture. Bookers is a public company with interests in Canada, Central Africa and Trinidad as well as British Guiana. The dividend for 1954 was 24 per cent, and the net trading profit of the whole Group was £580,743, compared with £505,701 in 1953 and £660,677 in 1951.
Two million pounds has been invested in factory improvements in British Guiana in the past five years. This is satisfactory but it is not the picture Dr. Jagan would have one believe. It means that the sugar industry of British Guiana is
now stable, and this stability is already having its effect on the conditions of the workers. To quote Mr. Follett-Smith again,
'Those who worked in the industry before the war now feel that they can forget the era when they were condemned to the state of a depressed industry unable to provide any acceptable standards of living for its workers; when factories were patched and re-patched and when, with the rapidly increasing technical efficiency the very existence of an estate hung on the vagaries of an unstable world market. Planning can now take the place of improvisation; fear of the year ahead has vanished.'
Dr. Jagan has always smiled unbelievingly when Sugar pleaded poverty; Sugar no longer does plead poverty, and I am convinced that even if largely in a spirit of self-preservation-it intends to let the new prosperity that has come from the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement be distributed among all connected with the industry.
Dr. Jagan says that the industry must be nationalized, and that this was the objective of his party. In discussing this with me he told me that when he regained power he would not simply take over the estates, he would assume ultimate control and prepare for a gradual nationalization.(The precise way in which this was to be done, the source of the money which would have to be paid for any legal nationalizing of an industry in which such astronomical sums are tied up in assets, he did not say, and repeated questioning produced only a repetition of vagueness. Dr. Jagan is an avowed Marxist and although he told me that he is prepared to wait for the inevitable communization of South America before implementing his Marxian theories in their extreme form, I had the impression that he was willing to do almost anything, even if it entailed economic chaos and misery, in order to satisfy his strangely compulsive hatred of King Sugar.