HISTORY OF THE NATIONAL JOINT ACTION COMMITTEE
“NJAC was born of the people…nurtured and maintained by the people. To destroy NJAC you have to destroy the people” Makandal Daaga
Since its formation as a federation of organisations in February of 1969, the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC) has been at the forefront of the movement for a New Society in Trinidad & Tobago and the Caribbean.
As we got involved in the struggle to change fundamentally the oppressive society into which the party was born, we soon changed its structure. We became a unitary organisation building units of NJAC all over the country, but maintaining a close associated status with groups which were former members such as certain progressive trade unions.
Within the first year of its existence NJAC was able to firmly establish itself as a people organisation. We organised and mobilized people, struggled and demonstrated around community issues, industrial issues as well as issues of national regional and international concern. Our involvement with the people spread from the North of Trinidad to Central and South Trinidad in this period. In 1970 the organisation spread to Tobago.
By February of 1970 the government felt threatened enough by the organisation to make a serious effort at repressing it. But when they attempted this, by imprisoning a number of its leaders on February 27th 1970, following a militant demonstration the day before, their action backfired on them.
People from all over the country responded to the call of NJAC and there followed two months of turmoil-daily mass meetings, demonstrations, rapidly spreading strikes affecting major industries, various other forms of peoples protests, opens signs of disaffection in the armed forces. The government seeing itself on the brink of collapse sent for American troops, assistance with arms from Venezuela, Britain, and the United States of America and declared a State of Emergency on April 21st, 1970.
The people took to the streets in defiance of the Emergency regulations, the army mutinied and American ships loaded with troops hovered around in our waters. Over fifty people many of them leaders of NJAC had been seized in pre-dawn kidnappings and imprisoned on Nelson Island. The army surrendered and the government gained control of the situation through armed repression.
THE MASS MOVEMENT
But the impact of the mass movement lead by NJAC and its ideological direction left a permanent influence on the society and had reverberations through the Caribbean.
Our people went through a tremendous political awakening. They now saw their goal not just in terms of changing a bad government, but changing an entire system based on the exploitation of Man.
The shock waves of the Civil Rights movement and the Black Power rebellion in the United States had tremendous effect on the social consciousness of the late 1960’s in Trinidad & Tobago as well as the rest of the Caribbean. In addition, there were the reverberations of the anti-colonial and anti-imperialist movements in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
The existence of Black governments in the region could not disguise the economic, social and cultural reality of Caribbean dispossession and European (including American domination). Trinidad & Tobago, under the government of the Peoples National Movement, despite the constitutional trimmings of Independence since 1962, remained a disturbingly colonial society.
NJAC was able to give a relevant ideological dimension to the new Caribbean consciousness. People now related their problems fundamentally to a history of external domination and the continuance of imperialist control. They recognised that the internal economic and social structures, the imposed patterns of culture, were all set up to serve an international system of exploitation, headquartered in the United States of America and the Western European capitalist countries.
They saw the need for the unity of the oppressed in the country. Fundamentally in the racially plural situation of Trinidad & Tobago, Africans and Indians, the two major Black groups, had to over come the divisions of the past. In fact, the upheaval of 1970 produced the healthiest relationships between these two groups in the society since the period of struggle in the 1930’s
Under the leadership of NJAC, during the 56 days of the Trinidad & Tobago Revolution, our people sought to take their destiny into their own hands, to put an end to the unjust organisation of the society, that left 15% unemployed according to official figures, another 15% underemployed, wages in most areas of the economy depressingly low, unions strangled by laws, housing critically short, all public utilities shamelessly inadequate.
Our people saw their struggle as part of the struggle of the entire Caribbean. They understood their relationship to other peoples for freedom. In particular, other peoples who have experienced the cultural, economic, and political subjection of colonial rules and are up against imperialist forces that still mark out the areas of Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean as field of plunder.
THE REACTION OF THE STATE
The government then led by the Peoples National Movement, scrambled within their limitations to find answers to the demands of the people. The adopted the language of the movement with its focus on the people.
They reacted to the demands of people ownership and control of dominant sectors of the economy with nationalizations and partial nationalizations of important areas, by putting pressures on banks, insurance companies and other foreign enterprises to localize, by introducing a pathetic little “ Peoples Sectors” in the economy.
The government tried to get a camouflaged involvement of the people in an exercise for Constitutional Reform. But the people were not convinced that this regime was genuinely prepared to answer the demand for Power to the People.
The government introduced an Unemployment Levy (on business and high income groups) to be used to alleviate the critical unemployment situation.
ACHIEVEMENTS OF 1970
Foreign and Local companies began to sell shares to workers. They hurriedly stopped the most obvious practices of discrimination in employment in the private sector on the basis of race and colour.
The churches, in particular the Roman Catholic Church, began to speak in terms of its social responsibility and began to implement projects in depressed communities.
The period was one of cultural revival which brought greater pride in self to both Africans and Indians.
It also brought many people from different levels of the society into closer, positive communication with each other.
THE IMPACT OF 1970
What is seen as the impact of 1970 is not the impact of 1907 alone. NJAC became deeply rooted among the people since 1969 even though it made its major national impact in 1970. And we have never ceased intense activity in all the years of our existence.
NJAC’s long record of involvement in community struggles which have centred on issues like housing, land, social amenities, and labour goes back to April 1969 when we were involved in successfully organising and mobilising the people of Five Rivers in the north of Trinidad and the people of Montserrat in central Trinidad.
In the first case a land syndicate was threatening to throw people out of their homes. In the other, a British firm, Tate & Lyle, was threatening the agricultural lands of the village. NJAC’s activity with the people saved these situations.
NJAC has also been a major force in the struggles of labour. Beginning with the Bus Strike in 1969, the first major blow at the notorious Industrial Stabilisation Act, continuing through 1970 with the strikes in the sugar industry, the Water and Sewerage Authority and stirrings in every major industry in the country, followed by the Strikes in Fed Chem and Dunlop, in Badger, in Oil and Electricity in 1971, coming right up to confrontation at Point Lisas in 1981, NJAC has been directly involved in very many of the major struggles of the workers.
In 1975 we formed our own union, the National Action Union (NAU), to concentrate on this side of organisation. Under the auspices of the union we have taken up the cause of the unemployed as well as the employed. Our mobilization to get jobs has several times forced the government to open projects to relieve the distress in particular communities
The NAU opened in North and South Trinidad an economic enterprise, Kumasi Kool Spot, where local food and drinks were served. This has now been transformed to Kumasi Catering Services. Apart from this the NAU gave guidance and practical assistance to a group of retrenched workers to set up their own worker managed company, which operated for a number of years.
The National Joint Action Committee has an outstanding record of cultural achievement. In practice we were able to make a crucial link between culture, in the true sense of the word, and political development. The Institution of the People’s Cultural Rally, which combined traditional African and Indian arts forms, indigeneous arts and political raps, strongly projected this unity of culture and politics.
Concepts of social organisation were reflected in institutions like African Naming Day and Wedding ceremonies which emphasised the relationship between individual and community while developing a more positive self image in the very culturally dispossessed African community.
The “ Black Traditions In Art” were programs featuring progressive local artistes. They continued steadily from 1975 to 1981 (later revived in 2004) and they were notable for having introduced the first ever calypso concerts.
Sports Days which we organised in many communities , provided another institutional from to build closer relationships, to further political education of communities and to sharpen peoples awareness of the importance of their physical development in the building of the nation.
Our lecture programs on questions of political and economic importance, history and social relations have done a lot for the development of the society.
Our wide range of publications includes booklets of economic analysis, political analysis, history, LIBERATION, the newspaper of the organisation, many area papers and special bulletins.
Other methods of mass education have been our extensive use of films and videos in support of regional and international struggles.
OUR APPROACH TO ORGANISATION
Even more important than individual achievement has been the method of approach of the party. It is an approach based on faith and confidence in the people, an approach aimed at instilling self-confidence in the people, concepts of self reliance and collective responsibility, an approach aimed at building institutions to reflect the new philosophy of change.
Musch emphasis has bben palced on the Peoples Parliaments, whre the people discuss their issues and take decsisions on a curse of action. This was a development of 19070 and provided the format for much of our mobilization throughout the years.
Out of people Parliaments, action committees were formed in several communities, even without the direct participation of the National Joint Action Committee.
In 1981, for the first time, the National Joint Action Committee took the decision to contest General Elections.
Our decisions came after a series of 600 People’s Parliaments where we were in consultation with our people. We have since been involved in General, Local Government and Tobago House of Assembly elections.
In 2010, the National Joint Action Committee joined the People’s Partnership political coalition, in advance of the General Elections held that year on May 24. The coalition would prove victorious at the polls, with NJAC becoming part of the resulting People’s Partnership coalition government.