The birth of the People's National Movement is often considered to have its origins from January, 1956, with such names like Kamaluddin Mohammed, Gerard Montano, Donald Granado, Donald Pierre, to name a few, being associated with the Movement's inception. This is incorrect.
Dr. Eric Williams never had initial intentions of entering into politics. He was first and foremost an academic: an historian and professor, first with a career at Howard University and subsequently at the Caribbean Commission . We are quite familiar with the name Caribbean Commission through Dr. Eric Williams' association with that body, only knowing that his contract of employment was not renewed. But what was the Caribbean Commission , which is important for us to know something about?
First of all, there was a Royal Commission in 1939, which prepared a report that summarised that there was a demand for better living conditions, which was becoming increasingly insistent among an expanding population at a time when world economic trends seriously endangered even the maintenance of the deplorably low-existing standards. The first and chief manifestation of the new regional approach, following the Royal Commission's report was the establishment in 1940, with the region, of a Comptroller for Development and Welfare . This officer , assisted by a team of expert advisers, was appointed by the Secretary-of-State for the Colonies and was employed and paid by the United Kingdom Government. He was, naturally, in close and constant touch with the Colonial Office and in particular with the West Indian Departments. His headquarters was in Barbados .
The position of the Comptroller and his organisation was unique: there was nothing similar in any other colonial region. The Comptroller had no authority over the territorial governments and does not intervene in their relationship with the Secretary-of-State. The main duty of his organisation is to be at the service of all the governments in the region, to provide them as required with assistance and advice in planning and executing social and economic development, and to advise the Colonial Office on schemes put up by the territories for the expenditure of money allocated to the region under the Colonial Development and Welfare Acts . Generally, the Comptroller and his organisation had an important part to play in promoting regional co-operation, especially in the economic field. Closely linked with the organisation was the Regional Economic Committee , on which all the Colonial government in the region, including British Guiana and British Honduras , were represented.
This was a purely British organisation serving the British Colonies in the region. But there are other territories concerned. The United States, for example, had overseas dependencies of their own which presented some of the same problems as British Caribbean Colonies, as well as U. S. interests by was of Americans living (serving) in various Caribbean territories (with land leases) as servicemen, particularly during a world war – World War II. In order to promote co-operation, an Anglo-American Caribbean Commission was set up in 1942, the British Comptroller being one of the Co-Chairman. In 1946, the French and Dutch Governments joined in what was thereafter called the Caribbean Commission . The headquarters was set up at Kent House, Maraval, Trinidad . Two auxiliary bodies were added: the Caribbean Research Council and the West Indian Conference , the latter consisting of delegates from all the territories concerned, together with officials and advisers.
However, there came a time when there was a vacancy for the position as head of the Caribbean Commission – the position of Secretary General. Dr. Williams, being Deputy Chairman of the Caribbean Research Council of the Caribbean Commission , felt that Albert Gomes had a major part to play in his not succeeding to that position in the Caribbean Commission and in his subsequent dismissal, as outlined in a correspondence, dated the 24 th May, 1955, written to Dr. Williams from the General Secretary:
“ Your service contract with the Commission, due to expire on the 21 st of June, 1955, will not be renewed. . . .
“ I have been directed by the Commission to convey to you an expression of its appreciation of the services which you have rendered during your tenure of the post of Deputy Chairman of the Caribbean Research Council .”
And so Dr. Williams felt that he would be out to get back at Gomes. Since Albert Gomes operated in the political arena, Dr. Williams felt that he would have to get at him there, and so decided to launch his entry into politics with his now-famous meeting in Woodford Square on the same day of his dismissal from the Caribbean Commission : the 21 st of June, 1955.
Prior to the termination of his contract with the Caribbean Commission , Dr. Williams met with his friend, Norman Manley, who was in transit in Trinidad on his way to British Guiana . As busy as Manley was, Dr. Williams just had to see him. The case was urgent, in that Dr. Williams had just been told by the authorities of the Caribbean Commission that his contract as Deputy Secretary General of that body would not be renewed. The contract was to terminate on the 21 st of June, 1955. Manley had intervened on two previous occasions to have it renewed. Anyway, the two men met at Piarco Airport and held talks. The next day a reporter said: “ The conversation is believed to have concerned Dr. Williams' future. Its outcome seems to have left unaltered Dr. Williams' declared intention to remain in the region and serve the West Indies . However, Dr. Williams declined last night to say what precise form that service would take .”
A few days later, a newspaper launched an attack on Dr. Williams, purporting to give the facts of his relationship with the Caribbean Commission . Dr. Williams found the report so distorted, and so misleading and unjustified, that he decided to answer the allegations in public. He called a meeting to take place in Woodford Square on the 21 st of June at eight o'clock in the evening- the same day of the expiration of his service contract with the Caribbean Commission.
The meeting was attended by a surprisingly great crowd of people, who had heard Dr. Williams explain the circumstances of his turbulent relationship with the Commission , through the years 1943 to 1945. He spoke of the role of the Commission , and highlighted the opposition to the work he himself was doing in respect of the West Indies . Then he told the cheering crowds: “ I will let down my bucket where I am now, right here in the West Indies, I will stay with the people who paid for my nine years of free education at Queen's Royal College and five years at Oxford .”
At the end of the public lecture on constitution reform in Trinidad and Tobago, at the University of Woodford Square , on the 19 th of July, 1955, Dr. Williams concluded, by saying:-
“ The constitution which I have proposed will encourage the essential pre-requisite for the future – a good party in Trinidad and Tobago . The constitution is a framework, the door which must be opened if the dynamic energies of our people, now confined, are to be released. The key to that door is needed. That key is a good party.
“ About my own intentions, with respect to which there is so much speculation, I can only say this:- Without in any way wishing to be either patronising or disparaging, I see no existing party as that key. I have, therefore, decided, if I do enter the political field, not to accept any of the invitations extended to me to join one of the existing parties, but to enter on the basis of a new party designed to offer the people of Trinidad and Tobago, whatever their race, class, colour or religion, for their acceptance or rejection, the key which they have not yet found and for which they are so desperately searching .”
It was the most rapturous reception Dr. Williams had ever received, and it was the first time that his speech had a political ring. No one could help the feeling that the territory was on the brink of something new, yet none, not even the most ardent supporter of him realised with what speed a new era was hastening in. A sudden change overtook the political scene.
Of this period someone has said: “ There was a man; here was a moment; and there was a cause .” The cause was Colonialism and its attendant evils; and the young lecturer had reacted to this all his life. Lecturing in Woodford Square , that was already, in mid-1955, was being referred to as the “ University of Woodford Square ,”
Dr. Williams had appealed to the masses by his manner of drawing attention to opened the people's eyes to what was happening around them, creating in them his own inward hunger for a solution to the problem.
Another factor which bore Dr. Williams up towards the crest of the wave was unrest in the teaching fraternity. In 1951, the Minister of Education and Social Services, Roy Joseph, stirred up great bitterness among teachers by altering the Education Code. Joseph had further angered the teachers by refusing to make education compulsory, and had also rejected the idea of encouraging state schools and phasing put the denominational ones. The, far from trying to make peace with the teachers after the Teachers' Union had passed a vote of “No Confidence” in him in May, 1951, Joseph came out in open war against this body, and even rejected a conciliatory call to him to address them.
The teachers in turn reacted with fury. They turned this fury not only on Roy Joseph, but on the Government who had made him the Minister for Education and was supporting him – and of course the central figure of the Government was Albert Gomes. Gomes and his POPPG were now bearing the brunt of the raging storm.
Not un-expectedly, the teachers joined those people who saw Williams as a potential saviour and were foremost among those who were pressing him now to come out and lead. Just at that juncture a letter in the press said: “ The time is come for us to declare our maturity and takeover from those at the helm who see none of our national visions and who are unable to plan for the good of a West Indian nationhood. Whither Dr. Williams ?”
John Shelford Donaldson, as head of the People's Education Movement of the Teachers' Economic and Cultural Association allowed Dr. Williams to lecture under the auspices of the Association. He would undertake a series of public lectures, including lecturing at the Public Library.
Apart from being the Political leader of the P. N. M. and launching numerous meetings throughout the country, Dr. William's responsibilities were increased when he was selected, being unemployed, as the editor of the Movement's newspaper – PNM Weekly – which released its first newspaper printing on the 14 th of July, 1956.
Author: Mark A. Mc Peanne
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