HISTORY OF THE
P.N.P YOUTH ORGANISATION
EARLY FORMATION 1969-1970
THE ORGANISATION UP TO 1972
1972 TO 1973
1973 TO 1974
1974 TO 1975
1976 TO CONGRESS 1977
In 1967 the People's National Party suffered its second electoral defeat at the hands of the Jamaica Labour Party. This defeat however was more disastrous than that of 1962.
As a result, the Party established a special Appraisal Committee to examine the reasons for the defeat with the view of re-organising and restructuring itself, if necessary.
At the same time, shortly after the 1967 General Elections, a PNP group was formed by students of the Mona campus of the U.W.I. Comrade Keeble Munn, the Member of Parliament for South Eastern St. Andrew, was invited to one of the group's meetings. Arising out of discussions of the meeting, it was proposed that one member be selected to work with the Party as a member of the Appraisal Committee. Comrade Leroy Cooke was selected. He later became the National Organiser of the P.N.P. Youth Organisation (PNPYO) and later, Deputy General Secretary until his resignation in September 1977.
At the first meeting which Comrade Leroy Cooke attended, the chairman of the Appraisal Committee, Comrade P.J. Patterson, requested that he prepare a document as to how the P.N.P could be made more attractive to young people.
Early Formation 1969-1970
The PNP Youth Organisation was born out of a meeting organised by Comrade Cooke for Party Leader, Comrade Michael Manley to meet with sixth-formers of secondary high schools of the Corporate Area and other young people. The meeting was well attended and the Party Leader took the opportunity to outline the programme and policies of the Party. He also outlined the importance of young people becoming involved in the Party and made sharp criticisms of the then Government of the JLP, and its policies.
The youth and students questioned Comrade Manley on many issues, including the Party's ideological direction. He did not commit himself or his party as to their ideological position or thinking, but gave the clear and firm impression that his and his leadership would be progressive and was committed to serious changes within the country.
He was particularly vocal about the nationalisation of the bauxite industry, which was a sore point with many progressive young people at that time. He cited the case of Guyana, which, with the aid of a World Bank ban and foreign technology, had developed its own bauxite industry and over which it had national control.
Out of this initial meeting, the basis was laid for future meetings of the youth and students, the majority of who were interested in becoming involved in some activity or another.
The first such activity was a Youth Rally held at the Excelsior High School Auditorium in 1969. The rally was very poorly attended and the main topics were centred on young people and politics. The Youth Organisation remained in its embryonic form until 1970. The main activities of the embryonic PNPYO during the course of that time were a project in Hope Bay, which consisted of running a summer school; assisting a peasant farmer; community projects and organising young people. During this period numerous contacts were made, both with individuals and youth clubs, but there was no real organisation or structure of organisation.
One of the reasons for this could be attributed to the position of the Party, which was paying only lip service to the Youth Organisation. This was, perhaps, a conscious secret of the PNP's leadership that it would not be wise or necessary to develop a viable youth organisation before the 1972 General Elections, but rather after the elections. The Party had learnt that the youth had a tendency to be the radical elements of the Party. Also, the Party's leadership was at the very least concerned, if not afraid, that what had happened with the Young Socialist League might have repeated itself in that sensitive election period.
It was also decided that the Party would not be entering the election campaign under any ideological banner, but would depend on agitating for change and by exposing the incompetence and malpractice of the then JLP Administration. The Party was therefore not desirous of having attached to it anything that would be labelled 'socialist' before the elections and it was already obvious that such a youth organisation was destined to accept the principles of socialism.
The Organization up to 1972 General Election
Further, the Party did not really need to organise the young people. Although they needed and wanted their moral support because the JLP Government had seen to it that the electoral enumeration process was not held after 1969, thus rendering all Jamaicans under the age of 24 years disenfranchised, where the general elections of 1972 were concerned. Despite not having a viable organisation and not having the franchise, some young people went out, nevertheless, and actively campaigned towards the PNP's electoral victory and were very instrumental in achieving this.
1972 to 1973
After the 1972 electoral victory, the Party became more tolerant of having a well-organised youth organisation. It was obvious that the Party's leadership now recognised the strategic and potential importance of such in terms of its (the Party's) mid and long term goals, and also that most of the social and economic problems were concentrated amongst the ranks of the youth.
Very shortly after the 1972 elections a meeting of young PNP activists, particularly those who had participated in the election campaign, were summoned to a meeting at Jamaica House with Comrade Michael Manley. Prior to this meeting a smaller group of comrades had been meeting and directing their thoughts towards the path along which they believed the youth organisation should develop. Comrade Cooke was directed to prepare a document, which was entitled "Proposals for the PNP Youth Organisation".
Amongst the clauses in that document was one which stated that the PNPYO was to have a clearly defined status within the Party's framework, with mutually recognised and acceptable boundaries of power. The idea was that the youth must be able to play a parallel rather than a conflicting role with the parent Party.
In the proposed constitutional structure, the Youth Organisation also requested a guaranteed number of representatives at the levels of the National Conference, National Executive Council and the Executive. In addition, a Vice President of the Party was to be elected by the Youth Organisation from their membership.
The Party Leader was impressed with the document and, as far as he was concerned, the basic facts were acceptable along with the principles and cause of action as outlined in the document, upon which he promised his wholehearted support.
Arising out of this common understanding and agreement between the leadership of the Youth Organisation and the Party, the stage was set for the holding of the Organisation's first conference at the Excelsior High School's Auditorium on Sunday, July 30th, 1972.
The conference was a tremendous success, both in terms of attendance and content. However, two youth movements - the Youth forces for National Liberation and the Alliance of Anti-imperialist Youths - urged the PNP Youth Organisation not to be partisan or linked with the PNP, but to remain an independent youth group. In pamphlets later circulated, they attacked the PNP as being the lackey of foreign and local capitalists.
The next step was the preparation of the Organisation's constitution, which was to have been ratified by a sub-committee of the Party.
Not all sections of the Party welcomed the Youth Organisation with the same degree of enthusiasm as its leader as they viewed it with much suspicion. As a result, all attempts to have the draft constitution discussed with any seriousness were frustrated by the sub-committee.
The PNP Youth Organisation, in assessing itself, realised that although having widespread support and allegiance, it was not organised and remained a central core mostly operating out of the Party's headquarters. Realising this, the Youth Organisation embarked upon its establishment as a viable organisation whereby it could exert more pressure and influence in getting its constitution accepted. Apart from its own internal organising, the newly launched PNPYO started to become publicly involved in national issues. For example, in late 1972 it organised a massive pro-government demonstration outside Gordon House in support of the Government's austerity measures; demonstrated over the killing of Delroy Star by the Police in the following year, which resulted in the launching of an enquiry into the same; and the launching of an attack against the Jamaica Flour Mills and the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce for holding the Government to ransom over its refusal to meet the company's demand for price increases. In its strongest statement up to that point, the Youth Organisation condemned both bodies and labelled them "rapacious and bloodsucking capitalists".
Rather, there would be a private sector as distinct from the public sector, which would comprise the commanding heights of the economy which would be owned and controlled by the state whilst the private sector would operate under co-operative principles. This explanation met with the acceptance and approval of the PNP Youth Organisation.
The end of 1975 saw the emergence of a wave of violence launched against the PNP and, in particular, the PNPYO. It also saw in November of that year, the PNPYO becoming an active member of the United Front of Progressive Organisations which was initiated by the South West St. Andrew Citizen's Association as a response to, particularly, deal with extremely high levels of violence in that constituency.
1973 to 1974
During this period, the PNPYO virtually continued along the trend of outspokenness, et cetera, which had become a characteristic in 1972. In June 1973, the government decided to hold Local Government elections and offered capitalist, Eli Matalon as a candidate for the Eastern Kingston constituency. In so doing it effectively backtracked on its promise not to hold any national elections until all eligible youth were given the franchise. This sparked an up roar from the Organisation, apart from expressing disapproval at the selection of the particular candidate, it issued a public statement condemning the Party and the Government on their double standards and paying lip service to the rights of young people.
The public condemnation of the Party and Government drew the Party's immediate dissatisfaction. Also, it resulted in the creation of a rift in the Organisation's ranks.
Without a meeting being held, the two major architects of the statement, Comrades Luis Castriota and Paul Burke were purged from the Organisation or rather, informally expelled.
Arising from the expulsions, the Youth Organisation adopted a low profile image while carrying on with its internal organising. In the middle of 1974, the Organisation made a fresh attempt to reorganise itself at Vanguard Congress held at the Casa Monte Hotel. Around that same time, the Organisation's organ, 'Youth-1', edited by Comrade Winston Davidson, was first published. Comrade Sheldon McDonald was elected National Chairman, with Comrade Ruel Cooke being retained as National Organiser.
Along with leadership, two other factors were to contribute to the growth and development of the PNPYO:
- Firstly, the naming of the Vice-President, Comrade Anthony Spaulding, who was also in charge of youth, and
- Secondly, the Party's re-declaration of to its socialist principles under its philosophy of "democratic socialism".
These, along with the fact that the Party's General Secretary, Comrade D.K. Duncan, who was actively involved in seeing to it that the Youth Organisation grew and developed, laid the path for a strong, viable and ideologically clear PNPYO.
1974 to 1975
By 1975 the Party had begun to draw strong criticisms from certain quarters for its socialist intentions. Such reactionary factions included spokesmen from the ruling class, the Gleaner, the Chamber of Commerce and the Jamaica Manufacturers' Association.
As the criticisms grew and as the contradictions developed, the PNPYO began to find itself more and more in a position to attract young people, many of whom had previously dismissed the PNP as equating with the JLP. These youth were interested in strengthening the YO and, in turn, the Party from the organised campaign to publicly discredit the People's National Party.
The PNPYO always operated along ideological lines and this by itself was another contributory factor to its own growth. This was evident at the Organisation's second Annual Conference held for the first time at the National Arena in July 1975, and which was tremendously successful and well attended.
During the course of the year, the PNPYO was to regain its vocal ways and re-launch its agitation work. The Organisation was instrumental in organising the re-possession of the Mandito Estate in Westmoreland and the Flynn Estates in Islington, Portland.
Despite its growth and success, the Youth Organisation was still without a full national structure. An inner group, known as the Task Force, and which operated mainly in the Corporate Area, spearheaded the Organisation's work.
It was this body, comprised of the more ideologically advanced youth in the Corporate Area, which was responsible for the bulk of the work done in the Organisation, particularly up to the end of 1975 and up until the national elections of 1976. It was this group that spearheaded the launching of the Western Belt in early 1975, the Eastern Belt in November 1975 and the Northern Belt in mid 1976. During the course of the year, Comrade Sheldon McDonald resigned as Chairman in order to lead the first batch of construction Brigadistas to Cuba on a one-year scholarship. Comrade Luis Castriota, who became the Acting Chairman, succeeded him.
Following the Conference, the Organisation sought to organise and establish itself more effectively on a national basis. Thus, the first National Council Meeting with a true national basis was held in October in the form of a retreat at the Canaan Training Centre, St. James.
The meeting was very important and indeed a turning point for the Organisation. It was used to ratify and elect national officers. Comrade Luis Castriota was elected Chairman, Comrade Dawn Lindo, Assistant Secretary, Comrade Franklin Williams, Treasurer and Comrade Sefton Johnson, Vice Chairman. At the same time, Comrade Leroy Cooke, then National Youth Organiser announced his resignation from the position.
Apart from the elections, fundamental structures were established. These included the positions of Provisional Parish Chairmen, the establishment of the National Executive and various sub-committees, including Finance and Fund-raising, Culture and Recreation, Development and Welfare, Discipline, Defence and Intelligence, and Education, Research and Political Organisation.
The Organisation also adopted its Statement of Principles of which one fundamental clause stated that the Organisation was, firstly, committed to socialism and secondly, to the Party. A Vanguard Code-of-Discipline and Conduct was also adopted.
The retreat concentrated on the Party's philosophy of "Democratic Socialism". There was much concern and doubt as to whether it was reformist or if it was supporting capitalism, and, at the same time, state capitalism under the guise of the philosophy. Much resentment was also directed towards the 'prefix' "democratic". The Council was, on the whole, sceptical of the philosophy of "Democratic Socialism".
The fears, cynicism and scepticism regarding the Party's philosophy were temporarily relieved at its conference held in 1975. During its 'closed session', the newly elected National Executive reassured the Party and the Youth Organisation that 'Democratic Socialism'
1976 to Congress 1977
1976 was certainly the most active and important in the history of the Youth Organisation. There were a number of activities in which it engaged. However, the two most significant were:
- The tremendous work it did in ensuring that fellow youth were enumerated, registered and actually voted, and
- The determined firm stand it maintained against the violence launched against it, the Party and the Jamaican people by the CIA in conjunction with their local lackeys.