STREET PROTESTS BY THE OPPOSITION
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From the beginning of February, the local press, particularly the Chronicle, which backed the UF, whipped up hostility against the government. The paper urged Burnham and D'Aguiar, PNC and UF leaders respectively, to unite and called for a general uprising to force the Government to either withdraw the budget or resign. Soon the paper was printing letters from persons calling for the violent overthrow of the government.
There were large PNC-UF demonstrations in Georgetown of mainly Afro-Guyanese during the first week in February. A large fleet of trucks owned by D'Aguiar's soft-drinks, beer and rum firm was used to ferry demonstrators from one point of the city to another. The demonstrators were also fed liberal amounts of free beer and rum provided by D'Aguiar.
On the 9 February, the Minister of Finance, Dr. Charles Jacobs, announced in the House of Assembly that discussions on the budget would be further deferred until representations on it made by various organisations were considered. Immediately after, Burnham and D'Aguiar led their members out of the chamber to join with a large crowd of their supporters in and around the Public Buildings.
After the walkout, Dr. Jagan, the Premier, made this prophetic statement to the House. It was later broadcast on national radio:
"It has come to the knowledge of the Government that violence is actually being planned on a general scale by certain elements acting for a minority group. In addition, it is understood, that attempts against the Premier's life and the lives of certain of his Ministers and supporters are contemplated. These acts of violence are intended to secure the overthrow of the legally elected Government by force and the tax proposals in the budget are being used as a screen for the general strike for Monday, February 12. Since there is no likelihood of this strike call being widely supported by the workers, certain elements of the business community plan to shut down their business houses. The intention is in effect to stage a general lockout on the excuse that the strike has created conditions which prevent continued business operations. Every step possible is being taken to bring the civil service in on this strike and if these designs are successful, the total result will be to cause wide-spread dislocation of the colony's economy. Such a course of action will be very likely to end in riot and violence. The people who plan this operation must be aware of this. It seems that they are seeking to cause turmoil and unrest in order to halt our march to independence and the economic well-being for all. This small clique is determined to preserve their positions of privilege. They want to create another Congo here. They talk about freedom and democracy but are determined to use unconstitutional means to achieve these ends. They feel that they can depend on foreign support. In the circumstances, the Government intends to take energetic steps to forestall this plan and I am now appealing to all reasonable public-minded citizens not to allow themselves to be persuaded or fooled into taking part in what can only be a disastrous and futile effort on the part of a small misguided and selfish element in the community to turn back the clock of history."
The walkout of the opposition gave the signal for demonstrations and hooliganism in and around the Public Buildings. A large crowd of PNC supporters was led by Ptolomy Reid, then a director of Bookers. The entrance of the Public Buildings was blocked by the crowd and as Government legislators departed they were violently threatened. Dr. Jagan had difficulty in leaving by car; demonstrators with pickets blocked the passage and Reid himself pushed a picket stave through the car window.
Clearly, the PNC wanted to gain power by any means. The PNC propaganda that the PPP's policy was intended to benefit only the Indians was nullified by the fact that the African working class would have benefited more since the revenues from the proposed taxes were intended to finance industrialisation in the urban areas where the Africans were heavily concentrated.
By opposing the budget, D'Aguiar and his UF were no doubt claiming that they were protecting the interest of the business community. The Georgetown Chamber of Commerce, many of whose members were backers of the UF, called a meeting in which it urged it members to encourage their employees to strike. Kit Nascimento, D'Aguiar's personal assistant and general manager of the Chronicle, suggested that employers should pay their employees who would go on strike. And M.B. Gajraj, brother of Rahman Gajraj, Speaker of the House, called on businessmen to stop selling non-taxable commodities such as sugar, flour and oil, and to halt credit to their customers. He reasoned that this would cripple the people and put tremendous pressures on the Government. Economic chaos would result and people would withdraw their money from the banks thus forcing the Government to reduce the tax on savings.
The UF and the PNC capitalised on the visit of the Duke of Edinburgh who visited the country during the first week in February. They mounted large demonstrations in Georgetown and strung banners with anti-Government slogans in order to catch the eye of the British press pool accompanying the Duke.
The TUC played a leading role in aggravating the situation. It claimed that it was not consulted on the budget proposals. Because of this, the Minister of Finance had postponed considerations of the budget in the House and arranged a meeting with the TUC for the 15 February. However, the TUC leadership was so tied up in joining with the PNC and the UF in political demonstrations, that even before the discussions could be held, it called a general strike to begin on the 13 February, no doubt to assist the opposition to remove the Government by force.
On 11 February, a large crowd demonstrated on Bourda Green and on the Parade Ground with slogans such as "Axe the Tax", "Choke and Rob Budget", and "Slavery if Jagan Gets Independence". On the following day, a large crowd gathered near the business office of D'Aguiar who seized the opportunity to make an inciting speech. The PNC also held a meeting in Georgetown and urged support for a TUC demonstration planned for the 13 February when the general strike was due to begin, even though workers were already locked out from their working places on the 12 February.
On the 13 February, gangs of PNC and UF supporters openly went about the streets threatening, intimidating and molesting workers, particularly Indians, in stores and other business places. The TUC by then had called its general strike, but it failed to get support from the majority of the workers, especially the sugar workers who stood steadfastly behind the Government. Whatever support the strike had was concentrated mainly in Georgetown.
There was a partial shut-down of the electricity plant which led to temporary shortage of water. Later that day, the Civil Service Association (CSA) called a strike even though negotiations relating to salaries and leave conditions were going on between the union and the Government. Despite the fact that the CSA could present no grievances against the budget, its President W.G. Stoll felt "it was in the fitness of the things that the CSA and the TUC should make common cause against the common adversary". The TUC demonstration followed and a rally was held at the Parade Ground.