A report on the cost of food for each sitting of Parliament, being $700,000, has triggered a particularly sharp debate about the cost and the alleged supply of alcohol. The Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo, confessed that he consumes the food. He said: “I eat the food. What do you suggest? I don’t eat the food? I eat the food…I like eating too. And it’s not like it’s fancy food. It’s not fancy food…” The problem the teetotaler Mr. Jagdeo said, confirming the traditionally austere leadership of the PPP, was the alcohol. “It’s not just the food. It’s the huge amount of alcohol that gets consumed and imbibed in Parliament…fancy, fancy, liquor.” Mr. Jagdeo noted that Opposition members would hardly ever, if at all, utilize alcohol provided by Parliament Office. “They do eat. We eat. I eat the food,” he emphasized, “..but it’s the alcohol part that I have a problem with.” But the politics intruded. Mr. Jagdeo suggested that it was some Government members who excessively imbibed during sittings. After suggesting that the cost of the alcohol might be as much as the cost of food, he recommended that members purchase their own alcohol.
If the Leader of the Opposition was concerned that MPs would be drunk on their feet or otherwise in Parliament, he should not worry. The public, viewing debates, would assume that MPs are drunk anyway – Government Members, with power, and Opposition Members, seeking it.
Cheddi Jagan returned from studies in the United States to a British Guiana in 1943 that was a cauldron of poverty. The report of the Moyne Commission, which investigated poverty in the region in the 1930s concluded that “for the laboring population, mere subsistence was increasingly problematic.” The report was so explosive that it was not published until 1945. It weighed heavily in subsequent developments. In 1946 Cheddi Jagan, Janet Jagan, Jocelyn Hubbard and Ashton Chase, the latter two of whom were active trade unionists, formed the Political Affairs Committee (PAC). In 1947 Cheddi Jagan fought and won a seat in the Legislative Council.
The cauldron of poverty was being stirred by decades of intensified industrial unrest, prompted by the new found strength of organised labour. The British Guiana Labour Union (BGLU) was the first to be registered in the British Empire in 1922. The Man Power Citizens Association (MPCA) was registered in 1937 and represented sugar workers. The Transport Workers Union (TWU) was established in 1938 and superseded the BGLU as the largest and most militant in the city. In 1947 bauxite workers went on strike. In 1948 the successful Teare Strike led by the TWU, stopped the trains and boats and closed down the country for two weeks – unprecedented in a colony. In 1949 the Enmore strike of sugar workers took place during which five sugar workers, who became known as the Enmore Martyrs, were shot and killed. This heightened labour activity was also a feature in the Caribbean region and was prompted by a decline in sugar prices on the world market which further exacerbated poverty.
Inspired by events that were occurring in the wider world and influenced by progressive views while he was a student in the United States, Dr. Cheddi Jagan returned to Guyana in 1943, then British Guiana, intent on becoming politically involved on behalf of the poor and disadvantaged. He chose the trade union movement as an entrance point. Ashton Chase and Jocelyn Hubbard, both trade unionists, were sought out to join with him and Janet Jagan to form the Political Affairs Committee (PAC) on November 6, 1946, as a study and discussion group. Branches emerged in various places including Kitty, Buxton and Enmore. My father, Boysie Ramkarran, joined the Kitty Group in 1947. Ashton Chase, at the 50th Anniversary celebrations of the PAC said that my father was the Secretary of that group. Eusi Kwayana was active in the Buxton group.
Amidst unrest and great and increasing poverty in the Caribbean in the 1930s and 1940s due to the Great Depression and drop in the price for sugar, the bauxite workers went on a long strike in 1947. In 1948 the successful Teare strike of transport workers took place followed by the Enmore strike of sugar workers. Having already won a seat in the Legislative Council in 1947, these events, and in particular the Enmore strike, motivated Cheddi Jagan to speed up the establishment of a political movement to struggle for universal adult suffrage, social justice and independence.