People's National Movement / Our Party / History / The Formative Years of the PNM

The Formative Years of the PNM

People’s Education Movement
of the Teachers’ Economic and Cultural Association Ltd.

On the very day Dr. Williams received notice of his dismissal by the Caribbean Commission, he held his first discussion about the formation of a political party in Trinidad and Tobago.  It was decided that he would give a public lecture in Woodford Square on his relationship with the Caribbean Commission. Dr. Williams contacted two “teacher friends,” John Shelford Donaldson and Donald Granado, who agreed to hold the meeting under the auspices of the People’s Education Movement of the Teachers’ Economic and Cultural Association. The meeting was carded for the evening of the 22nd of June, 1955. The basic strategy, pending the discussions and organisations of a political party, was to reach out to the masses.  The crowd that turned up to hear the lecture was estimated at about 10,000 persons.

Dr. Williams, in his fifty-one page lecture, had the “rapt attention” of the audience. Two highlights of his speech were the following statements made by him:-

“I stand before you tonight, and therefore, before the people of the British West  Indies, the representative of a principle, a cause, and a defeat.  The principle is the principle of intellectual freedom.  The cause is the cause of the West Indian people.  The defeat is the defeat of the policy of appointing local men to high office.”

Towards the “grand finale” of his lecture he concluded to thunderous roars of approval:-

“I was born here, and here I stay, with the people of Trinidad and Tobago, who educated me free of charge for nine years at Queen’s Royal College and for five years at Oxford, who have made me whatever I am, and who have been or might be at any time the victims of the very pressures which I have been fighting against for twelve years. . . . I am going to let down my bucket where I am, right here with you in the British West Indies.”

His speech was the beginning of great accomplishments for the masses, who already could feel the winds of change, realising that a government was on its way out and a new order was soon to come.

The lecture was repeated at the Harris Promenade, in San Fernando, one week later, to just as large a gathering of the masses – in their several thousands – listening in the rain as Dr. Williams spoke.

This was the first in a series of seven public lectures with the following topics discussed that were launched in the University of Woodford Square and further repeated throughout Trinidad:-

  • Lecture #2: Economic Problems on Trinidad & Tobago, 5th July; 1955;
  • Lecture #3: Constitution Reform in Trinidad & Tobago, 19th July 1955;
  • Lecture #4: The Historical Background of Race Relations in the Caribbean, 16th August;
  • Lecture #5: The Case for Party Politics in Trinidad & Tobago, 13th September, 1955;
  • Lecture #6: The Pros and Cons of Federation, 5th January, 1956;
  • Lecture #7: Further Thoughts on Federation, 17th January, 1956.

Prior to his dismissal, Dr. Williams sensed something was wrong with his career and began privately contemplating the formation of a political party.  He tried again and again to convince Dr. Patrick Solomon to re-enter into politics, but Dr. Solomon initially refused, until Dr. Williams’ persistent and continuous attempts to convince Dr. Solomon to do so. So all this time Dr. Williams was privately trying to put matters in perspective to form a political party.  He got to know a very close friend of Dr. Solomon, one Eustace Piggott, who was a member of Solomon’s Caribbean Socialist Party, and who Dr. Williams initially met at Solomon’s home in Bossiere Village. Piggott was the outward going type of person, somewhat fronting, as we would say. He used to go to look for Dr. Williams, and a friendship was soon struck up.

Dr. Williams one day told Piggott that he wished to meet some “grassroots” people.  Piggott rounded up a few such persons, who included, Henry Harvey Picou, Vincent Boyce, Samuel Worrell and Ephraim Joseph (later to become a Councillor of Arima).  An informal “get-together was arranged for one Sunday morning in April / May at Piggott’s residence at no: 1, Foncette Road, Cascade, where Dr. Williams was able to meet with these persons.  Based on their discussions, Ephraim Joseph threw out a challenge to Dr. Williams to form a political party.  Dr. Williams said he was not really considering that, and at least was not ready yet in any case.  The grouping did, however, feel that that was Dr. Williams’ intention for wanting to meeting with them, but that he wished to be diplomatic about the whole affair for the time being.

In continuing his lectures, one was arranged to have Dr. Dom Basil Matthews debate Eric Williams in the Public Library.  Count Finbar Ryan, D. D. (Doctor of Divinity), had sent Matthews to challenge Dr. Williams, in order to try to expose Dr. Williams.Dr. Matthews on that occasion wished to discuss part of the philosophy of Aristotle.Dr. Williams said that in order to understand the philosophy, one had to discuss Aristotle’s philosophy in its entirety.  Eventually Dr. Matthews had to withdraw from further debating Dr. Williams.  It is of interest to note that after Count Ryan left his apostolic assignment in Port-of-Spain, as Archbishop, that Dr. Williams indicated that he wished for a local Archbishop and duly, proposed Dr. Dom Basil Matthews.  However, this proposal was rejected by Rome, and another local, Anthony Pantin, was subsequently appointed the first local Archbishop of the Port-of-Spain Archdiocese.
After coming out of Caribbean Commission that he started to talk more about forming a political party.

In another one of his series of seven lectures, on party politics, after comparing Trinidad & Tobago unfavourably with Jamaica, Dr. Williams ended on this powerful note that brought Pericles to the University of Woodford Square:-

 “The people of Trinidad & Tobago must either be kept down in the ditch in which they are or they must be pulled out of it.  My colleagues and I lack the qualifications to keep you in the ditch.  We believe that we can help to pull you out of it, and that the way to do this is by the organisation of a party such as I have described – a democratic party of men and women of honesty and incorruptibility, of all races, colours, classes and creeds, with a coherent and sensible programme of economic, social and political reform aimed at the development of the community as a whole, dedicated to its service, appealing to the intelligence rather than to the emotions of the electorate whose political education it places in the forefront of its activities.

“Such a party will hold up to you the ideal of the ancient democracy of Athens which, limited though it was by slavery and the subordination of women, still represents one of the greatest achievements of man, I leave you tonight with a tribute to this small democratic state handed down to us in one of the simplest and at the same time most profound historical documents, The Funeral Oration of Pericles.”

Supporters of Dr. Eric Williams got busy, preparing for the upcoming general elections.  They were busy trying to form a new party, which they intended asking “the Doctor” to lead.  People were calling on “the doctor” from all sides, and although he was a little deaf (in one ear), there was no doubt that he was hearing this message loud and clear.  The POPPG of Albert Gomes was stepping up its campaign too, and Albert Gomes was beginning to look at the “little man” – Dr. Williams.

And so Dr. Williams began the busy task of working out, the details with a few colleagues, the basis of a new political party, working steadily on a draft party constitution and a draft programme.

In July, 1955, there was an initial fifty foundation members of the new grouping called the People’s National Movement, holding weekly meetings.  This number of foundation members was increased by another fifty, making it a hundred.  At this juncture, Dr. Williams asked each of the one hundred members to contribute $100. each to defray costs incurred in the new grouping.  Eventually, to raise more funds, this number of foundation members increased from one hundred to two hundred prior to the Inauguration in January, 1956.

An interim executive of Party Officers was chosen, comprising:

  1. Interim Chairman:  Dr. Ibbit Mosaheb
  2. Vice Chairman: Wilfrid William James Alexander?
  3. 2nd Vice Chairman:                                                                           
  4. Lady Vice Chairman: Isabel Ursula Teshea (Mrs.)
  5. Political Leader: Dr. Eric Eustace Williams
  6. Deputy Political Leader: Dr. Patrick Vincent Charles Joseph Solomon
  7. Education Secretary: De Wilton Rogers / Dr. Elton C. Richardson
  8. Public Relations Secretary: Andrew T. Carr
  9. Labour Relations Officer: Samuel F. Worrell
  10. General Secretary: Donald Casimir Granado
  11. Assistant General Secretary: Kamaluddin Mohammed
  12. Treasurer:  Arthur Napoleon Raymond Robinson

The nucleus party meetings were held at various locations, such as at Greyfriars Church Hall on Frederick Street, Port-of-Spain, through the kind assistance of Hugh O. B. Wooding, who only asked that a contribution be paid for electricity use in conducting the meetings on evenings.  Other locations of such internal party meetings were at Woodbrook Friendly Society Hall, through its President, Eustace Piggott, and at a high school in Oxford Street.  At this point, foundation members began to surface, such as Wilfred Andrew Rose, Andrew T. Carr, Ulric Lee, Donald Casimir Granado.

Dr. Williams, at this period, consulted with Norman Manley of the People’s National Party in Jamaica, who vetted the P. N. M. Constitution.  Manley was respected by Dr. Williams.  He, Manley, was known to preach to the people in the hinterland in Jamaica.  

While Dr. Williams had sent the P. N. M. constitution to be vetted by him,Dr. Williams had in the meantime gone to Martinique to give a lecture in French.  While there, Manley had sent back his comments to Trinidad for Williams. Upon his return,Dr. Williams was very pleased with the manner in which Manley had reviewed his proposed party constitution.

Again, Dr. Williams was busy with other affairs.  This time, in October, 1955, he had to go to Geneva to attend the International Labour Organisation’s conference on plantations.  At this conference, he was to come face to face with Albert Gomes.

Williams arrived back in Trinidad in late December, 1955.  On the 29th of December he addressed another large crowd, cheering crowd in the University.  Reporting on his mission abroad, he told of his encounter with Gomes at Geneva and said: “I propose that plantation workers get sick pay.  Gomes opposed it.  It seems to me he is Minister against Labour.”

Gomes, on the other hand, had accused Williams at Geneva of rummaging in the waste-paper basket of the past.  And referring to Williams’ popularity Gomes had told him: “You are enjoying your honeymoon.  Wait until things get rough!”

And Dr. Williams was sure that things were certainly going to get rough in 1956, for he had decided to plunge into the fray.  He announced, to rapturous applause, that he would accede to the request to lead a new party, and that the new party’s programme was in the final stage of draughting.  He told the people that the Party would need a newspaper to spread its views, and so an appeal for funds was about to be made.  The party had no name yet, he said, and was not even officially formed, but that it existed.  He  said that the Chairman was Dr. Ibbit Mosaheb, a former student of his at Howard University.  He told the crowd that the party was all set to go.

The crowd erupted with enthusiasm, and it was as if everybody knew that this was the dawn of a very long day, a period that would come to be known as “The Eric Williams Era.”

On Sunday the 15th of January, 1956, the People’s National Movement was founded, holding its Foundation Members Conference (Inaugural Conference) at the Good Samaritan Friendly Society Hall at no: 106, Duke Street, Port-of-Spain. 

The Inaugural Conference approved The People’s Charter, the name the P. N. M. gave to its fundamental principles.  It emphasised:-

“We are not another of the transitory and artificial combinations to which you have grown accustomed in election years, or another bandwagon of dissident and disappointed politicians each out merely to get a seat in the Legislature.  We stand or fall by our programme – a comprehensive social security programme for the general welfare of all the people of Trinidad and Tobago and their families.  Nor are we an ordinary party in the accepted narrow sense of the word.  We are rather a rally, a convention of all and for all, a mobilisation of all the forces in the community, cutting across race and religion, class and colour, with emphasis on united action by all the people in the common cause.”

It must be noted that in the last part of the above quote: “…cutting across race and religion, class and colour, with emphasis on united action by all the people in the common cause” that we are to find similar reflections from the People’s Charter in the national anthem pertaining to “cutting across race and religion” where it is mentioned (in the national anthem) that “ev’ry creed and race finding an equal place,” and where in our national coat-of-arms we find another similar reflection from the People’s Charter pertaining to our national motto of: “Together We Aspire – Together We Achieve,” where it is stated in the People’s Charter of “united action by all the people in the common cause.”

The People’s Charter, reflecting on the topics of the public lectures given by Dr. Eric Williams of the Teacher’s Education Movement, in 1955, announced several objectives that lay the basis for the development and transformation (politically, economically, and socially) for Trinidad and Tobago, pertaining to:-

Immediate self-government in internal affairs;

  • A British Caribbean Federation, with Dominion Status in no more than five years after its establishment;
  • International labour standards for all categories of workers;
  • A Public Service Commission;
  • Re-organising of the economy;
  • A bicameral legislature;
  • A National Housing Board;
  • A National Health Insurance Scheme;

After the Inaugural Conference of the 15th of January, 1956, there was not much time to prepare for the great event of the public launching of the Movement in the University of Woodford Square a mere nine days later. 

On Tuesday the of 24th January, 1956, the People’s National Movement was, indeed, publicly launched at the University of Woodford Square, at a public rally that started at 8:00 p.m., and which was attended by several thousand persons. 

The “University” that night looked a wondrous place to behold.  Special lighting was installed at some of the main entrances to Woodford Square and over a considerable area around the bandstand, including the lanes running east, north and west of it.  The bandstand itself was beautifully lit and decorated with a profusion of leaves and flowers of the Balisier, the P. N. M’s emblem of fertility of the mind and of ideas.

The colours of the P. N. M. draped the posts and dropped in billowing folds over the rostrum end of the bandstand; colours of black, white, brown and yellow, arranged vertically, symbolising the multiracial aspect of the community and the interracial policy of the Movement.

A voluntary staff of some sixty to seventy men and women sat before three hundred running feet of table space.  The trestle tables, borrowed from several sources, were arranged in some six sections along the pathways and under the trees, and the staff attended to enrolments in the party and handed out copies of the Constitution of the P. N. M. and the People’s Charter to prospective members, the Charter being available for sale to the general public.

The “University” looked a veritable fairyland, but one of the helpers, surveying the scene before the meeting began, could not help being effusive in his admiration.  “This looks like a beautifully illuminated Japanese garden,” he said, by way of expressing utter satisfaction with the results of the planning committee’s work.

On that night, under the chairmanship of Learie Constantine, executive and official members of the party were presented, and among the speakers were the Party Chairman, Learie N. Constantine, W. Andrew Rose, who read the Charter in its entirety, Arthur N. R. Robinson, who spoke on the Constitution, and Dr. Eric E. Williams, who, in his own inimitable way, dealt mainly with the policies and principles of the Movement.

The meeting was a tremendous success.  What was said was received with keen interest, disciplined behaviour, judicious applause and an occasional quick repartee, which have since characterised P. N. M. public gatherings.  Hundreds remained afterwards to enrol and to form the usual knots of conversing groups.
The People’s Charter – A Statement of Fundamental Principles – was well received, and it is still worthwhile recalling after half a century, in brief, the aims and objectives of the Movement announced on that fateful night in January, 1956:- 

  1. Immediate self-government in internal affairs.
  2. A British Caribbean Federation with Dominion Status in not more than five years after its establishment.
  3. Eradication of graft, corruption, and dishonesty from public life.
  4. Elimination of racial and other forms of discrimination from our society and promotion of interracial solidarity, inviting all sections of the community, irrespective of race, class, colour or creed to work for the commonwealth
  5. Promotion of the political education of the people.
  1. Adoption of the international standards worked out for all categories of workers.
  2. Provision of more and better homes, schools and social services for the population.

Reorganisation of the economy to make the fullest use of all the resources of Trinidad & Tobago, both physical and human.
It is good to re-state these ideals.  In a few short years of its coming into government, the P. N. M. had implemented many of these laudable objectives.
After this auspicious occasion at the “University,” the launching of the Movement was taken throughout the territories of Trinidad & Tobago.  Dr. Williams placed great emphasis on his appearances at Woodford Square.  The People’s National Movement had taken over the political education programme of the People’s Education Movement.Dr. Williams spoke at all the meetings on several subjects, including the Bandung Conference and “The Voter and The Vote.”

Between the 24th of January and the 14th of June, 1956, it is recorded that 86 meetings were held.  It was a great task, but most rewarding.