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Our march towards nationhood! Remembering the T&T revolution of 1970

Today, 21 April, 2017, marks the 47th anniversary of the Trinidad and Tobago Revolution of 1970, led by the National Joint Action Committee for a New and Just Society in Trinidad and Tobago.

Under the astute leadership of the late Chief Servant Makandal Daaga, the people’s movement emphasised the absolute importance of the principles of mobilization, consultation and participation in the process of nation building. The movement recognised the absolute necessity of the broad-based involvement of the population in the building of any truly just society.

Photo: NJAC chief servant Makandal Daaga addresses the crowd in Port of Spain on 21 April 1970. (Courtesy NJAC)
Photo: NJAC chief servant Makandal Daaga addresses the crowd in Port of Spain on 21 April 1970.
(Courtesy NJAC)

The period 26 February to 21 April, 1970 witnessed the most comprehensive mass mobilisation in our history. It was a revolutionary experience which was based on the mass education of the people and in their participation in the decision making processes.

Mass public meetings and demonstrations were held throughout Trinidad as well as Tobago to inform and mobilise the population. These measures, along with the publication of a host of pamphlets and the circulation of vast numbers of books covering very diverse topics, ushered in a new consciousness.

It was a consciousness which restored African pride, whilst enhancing the appreciation and pride of Indian and other groupings in their heritage. There were also strong elements of national and Caribbean consciousness.

When Trinidad and Tobago became independent, the menace of racism was still very prominent. Social and economic status, educational and employment opportunities as well as access to fair and equal treatment by law enforcement agencies and the judiciary were still largely determined by race and colour. Race had a dominant influence on the dignity and respect one enjoyed.

The rise of the new consciousness went a long way in restoring a sense of humanity and pride among both the African and Indian sectors of our population. It curtailed the overbearing inferiority complexes which dominated the lives of the vast majority of our citizens during the pre-1970 period.

Some deep psychological wounds, however, still remain and we have much ground to cover, both as a nation and within the global community.

Photo: Students vent their feelings during the funeral procession for Basil Davis on 9 April 1970. (Courtesy Embau Moheni/NJAC)
Photo: Students vent their feelings during the funeral procession for Basil Davis on 9 April 1970.
(Courtesy Embau Moheni/NJAC)

The movement’s pursuit of justice and equality induced favourable conditions for greater human dignity, self-respect and cultural appreciation. For instance, in an interview in the documentary “70: Remembering a Revolution,” Professor John La Guerre stated that among the Indian sector of our population there was a resurgence of pride in and practice of their traditions and culture.

The movement’s position on self-appreciation is stated in NJAC’s ‘People’s Declaration of Policy’, (pg. 26), “Our different cultural expressions must contribute to the building of a united nation…  We must be able to perceive unity in diversity, a unity which comes from our common situation, our common purpose and destiny as a nation.”

The mass demonstrations which crisscrossed our nation did more than win support for the cause. They also exposed the conditions of life in different parts of the country, giving rise to a better understanding and appreciation of each one for the other. This led to bonds of solidarity within the population, thus cementing the sense of “Brotherhood” and “Sisterhood” as enunciated in NJAC’s Principles for the New Society.

The family was extended to incorporate the entire nation as the movement promoted the harmony which is so integral to the building of a united nation.

Of great concern to NJAC was the continuance of the colonial economic structures in the years after “independence.” Foreign domination of our economy made a mockery of the very term “independence.” In 1970, our economy was still dominated by foreigners and a small, local white elite. Ownership of the economy in 1970 is reflected in the following statistics:

Photo: A public demonstration outside of the Royal Bank of Canada in 1970. (Courtesy NJAC)
Photo: A public demonstration outside of the Royal Bank of Canada in 1970.
(Courtesy NJAC)

• 100 per cent of the commercial banks were foreign owned

• 90 per cent of the oil industry was wholly owned by foreigners

• 60 per cent of the money made in transport, storage and communications went to foreigners

• 43 per cent of the earnings in construction went to foreign firms

• In the wholesale and retail distribution sector, foreign ownership was dominant in the larger establishments, eg the Cannings group, Bookers (Ross, Stephens, Woolworth, to name a few),

• Approximately half of the land held in estates of over 200 acres was owned by foreigners,

• In Tobago, which was an agricultural economy, 71 per cent of the best land was owned by either foreigners or a small local elite.

The National Joint Action Committee recognised that there could be no real political independence without economic independence. In its ‘Conventional Politics or Revolution?’, NJAC stated, “The Political System has never been geared to meeting the Needs of the People here because the Economic System was organised to serve the People Abroad.”

The response of the movement was the mobilisation of the population to demand people’s control of the “Commanding Heights of the Economy,” with the slogan, “We do not want crumbs, We want the whole bread.”

This position is documented in NJAC’s ‘People’s Declaration of Policy’. Here NJAC states, that “Ownership by the people must be dominant in the economy …” and “The People must exercise effective control over the economy.”

Photo: NJAC leader Makandal Daaga (centre) holds a press conference in 1970. (Courtesy Embau Moheni/NJAC)
Photo: NJAC leader Makandal Daaga (centre) holds a press conference in 1970.
(Courtesy Embau Moheni/NJAC)

The economic achievements of the 1970 Revolution can in no way be described as ideal. Serious inroads were made, however, including the following:-

  1. An expansion in the state sector  by over 800%,
  2. Localisation of all foreign banks as well as the establishment of our first wholly-owned commercial bank, the National Commercial Bank, which morphed into First Citizens
  3. Localisation of the insurance sector
  4. Expansion in the capital base of credit union by over 1,000% during the decade of the 1970s
  5. Establishment of the National Insurance Board in 1971 arising out of the demands of the Chief Servant Makandal Daaga
  6. Establishment of the National Petroleum Marketing Company Ltd in 1972
  7. Nationalisation of Tate & Lyle to become Caroni 1975 (Trinidad) Limited. This was in keeping with a decision made at a People’s Parliament held at the Couva Car Park on 12 March, 1970.
  8. Sale of shares to the citizens of Trinidad & Tobago by a number of foreign-owned companies, such as WITCO and Cannings
  9. Curtailment of the then prevailing stigma that “black people can’t run business,” which led to the expansion of the small business sector. This gave rise to the creation of the “Drag Brothers,” initially located on Frederick Street and then evolving into the “People’s Mall,” first housed on Queen Street and now on Independence Square.

The economic achievements outlined here opened up new opportunities in both the private and public sectors. Previously locked doors were now opened to those who could only have dreamt of a managerial position in the period prior to 1970.

Critical to the New Society was the realisation of the goal of national unity. The race politics of the 1960s had to give way to a more enlightened philosophy based on the elevation of all people. On 12 March, 1970 approximately 40,000 persons participated in a 26-mile hike through Caroni down to Couva in what came to be known as the “March to Caroni.”

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago citizens march for racial unity on 12 March 1970. (Courtesy Embau Moheni/NJAC)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago citizens march for racial unity on 12 March 1970.
(Courtesy Embau Moheni/NJAC)

The “March to Caroni” was the most powerful display of the possibilities of national unity since the era of Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler. Demonstrators were welcomed with refreshments by the Indian population and, in a massive show of brotherly love, the residents of Couva opened their homes to those demonstrators who could not get back to north Trinidad.

Most significantly, a state of emergency was declared on Tuesday 21 April, the day of the planned return march of the Indians into Port of Spain. The leaders of the movement were arrested and detained on Nelson Island and the Royal Jail under the emergency powers.

As we remember those historic days in our fight for peoplehood, we must unearth their relevance to the present situation. Our people live in grave trauma today, as the nation seems to be adrift in treacherous waters.

By comparison, the confident cries of the masses for “Power to the People” have given way to a resignation to the worst while we hope for the best. The greetings of “Brother” and “Sister” have been replaced by the “borderline” and a determination to hurt, maim and destroy each other. While 1970 witnessed an unprecedented 56% reduction in crime, we now witness a diametrically opposed reality, where crime has assumed frightening proportions and our nation seems to be at a total loss as the grip of this scourge suffocates our people.

Let us be inspired and guided by this watershed moment in our nation’s history to earnestly face our nation’s current challenges. For our own survival, we must discard the pettiness from among us and consciously aspire to the ideal of “one people, one nation”.

As Brother Daaga stated in 1972, let us establish a nation which is built on:

“… the psychological basis of Man, so that the old person who has given his life to the society can be cared for; the child who is coming up will be seen as the fruit of the nation to be nurtured; the man and woman would be provided with food, shelter, education, clothing and employment. And in return we demand of that man that he gives of his best.”

Photo: A demonstration at Woodford Square during the Trinidad and Tobago Revolution of 1970.
Photo: A demonstration at Woodford Square during the Trinidad and Tobago Revolution of 1970.

About Embau Moheni

Embau Moheni is the Deputy Political Leader of the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC) and Chairman of the National Action Cultural Committee (NACC). He is a former Minister in the Ministry of National Security under the People's Partnership Government. He was twice arrested as a teenager during the uprising of the early 1970s.

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