UNC at the crossroads

By Mickey Matthews

 Dr ERIC Williams responded to the challenges posed by the upheavals of 1970 with a brand-new manifesto called “Perspectives for the New Society,” promising popular control of the economy. He delivered only an empire of state enterprises, the product of misdiagnosis that left unaltered the traditional orientation of the economy to export specialisation but one, nonetheless, directed to the economy. Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar may miss the economic dimension of the revolt at the polls against her government on July 29 if she ascribes it to jealous interests fighting like crabs in a barrel.

This will extend common misinterpretation of the allegations of corruption and cronyism levelled against her government. Whereas these clearly came from aggrieved business interests undone by the fierce competition for shrinking opportunities for investment, they also reflect an eclipse of offshore expansion. It is the failure of the Government to understand these issues, and to head off rising discontent over them by policies aimed at onshore stimulation that fed the rebellion. 

It may well be a revolution in the sense that it has changed perceptions, leaving the UNC as party and institution to adapt or go under. The voters in the Chaguanas West by-election spoke on behalf of all of Caroni/Naparima and the broader UNC constituency.  The defeat of the People’s Partnership is the moral equivalent of the Black Power uprising against the PNM.

The obvious link between the two events is the embarrassing repudiation of these ethnic regimes by their home constituency and the repression to which they resorted. Though not by any means bloody, the assault by Persad-Bissessar on the young ILP leaders was as brutal as that Williams inflicted on those within the Black Power movement. 

For the event that begun with the desecration of the Catholic cathedral as the February Revolution however, there are other considerations making this categorisation an uncomfortable fit. Among those are the facts that the one event did not have the large marches of the other, or its starry-eyed fervour of the youth. Above all, this upheaval driven by enduring surpluses instead of scarcity and deprivation defies the West Indian tradition. However, the margin of the upset suffered by the People’s Partnership suggests bottled up frustration sufficiently high to threaten an implosion and the country was lucky for it to have found release in an election not anticipated by the political calendar. 

Like the PNM, the UNC constituency realises the futility of representation in its name at the portals of power. It is providential that this realisation should be shared with such roundness by these constituencies given their ethnic differences. Clearly people within both camps perceive their own camps unequal to the task of providing viable governments.    

This development took the country by surprise. There are simply precious few capable of compelling political expression to alert opinion. The problem is compounded by the absence of institutional links between the Government, which sits in the capital, and the source of its power on the plains of Caroni/Naparima. The Chaguanas Regional Corporation, which should be an autonomous administrative and cultural centre for these plains, effectively exists as a department of the Ministry  of Local Government. 

Additionally the UNC as  party is lifeless outside its election mode. All this amounts to an absence of agencies as the medium for stating interest and though it is true for entire country the case is aggravated where people used to pin their political expression onto the sugar industry and, because of sugar’s role in the country’s history, compelled everyone to take notice. This was so much the order of the day  in what is now called the UNC constituency that Basdeo Panday once shut down the industry to announce his ascendancy there.

 Perhaps the country knows less today about the civilisation that is building cities from Pasea to Mon Desir, and onshore producers like Sasha and S M Jaleel than it did when sugar was king. 

There are the winner-takes-all-elections to remind that this civilisation exists and can come to town, but there is nothing for the weighing of Wayne Kubalsingh and the Reroute Movement who supplied the yeast to elevate July 29 from a moment of protest to one of affirmation, by their insistence that Central Trinidad’s angst for the Manning administration went beyond ethnicity to include issues of policy and, by indicating that there are now Trinidadians for whom Trinidad and Tobago is worth dying.

There is no better manifestation of the coming of age of a constituency than it rebels against its leaders. Unmistakably, that bequeathed by Bhadase and the Capildeo brothers, first as the DLP, then the ULF and now the UNC has done so gloriously. The constituency carved out by Dr Williams after its own coming of age, it is said, simply aged. It is anybody’s guess what will happen to the UNC hereafter. Much hinges on what PM Persad-Bissessar does. She would have done well if she replaces the 2014 budget with one  that unleashes the resources for on shore production upon which she sits.


• Mickey Matthews is a 

member of the Tapia 

House Movement

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