“I knew him very well. In the party he was invariably uncontroversial, low-key, well-mannered, and always very cautious and measured in his speech.
A perfect description of the late George Michael Chambers, the country’s second Prime Minister and political leader of the People’s National Movement (PNM), by foundation member Ferdie Ferreira in his book Political Encounters 1946 -2016.
Chambers made a dramatic entrance into the political arena in 1966 with the nomination of a party group to stand in the general election in the newly formed constituency of St Ann’s East.
He got the green light on George Kangalee, who received majority support from party groups in the constituency.
It was a baptism of fire for the newcomer who finally ended his political career as Prime Minister and political leader of the most powerful political organization in the Caribbean, the PNM.
Chambers, born October 4, 1928, died at age 69 on November 4, 1997. Ironically, he died at the same age as his predecessor, Dr. Eric Williams.
His first government appointment was as Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Finance under ANR Robinson, who was the deputy political leader of the party.
History would later reveal that the two men faced each other in political battles as leaders of opposing political parties.
At the party level, he served as deputy general secretary until his appointment as deputy political leader for political matters by Williams at a convention on September 26, 1971.
He was one of three MPs appointed by Williams after the departure of then Deputy Political Leader Robinson. Errol Mahabir held the post of deputy leader for party and election matters while Kamaluddin Mohammed was responsible for legislative matters.
The period 1970-1981 was extremely tumultuous politically within the PNM, and throughout the country. In 1970, there was unrest due to mass protests in Trinidad and Tobago by several groups, stemming from racial issues at a university in Canada. That same year, Robinson resigned from the PNM on September 20, 1970 and formed his own party, the Democratic Action Committee (DAC).
The 1971 general election on May 24 saw a no-vote campaign that resulted in the PNM winning all 36 seats in the House of Representatives. In 1974, there were further convulsions in the PNM when Williams announced that he was resigning as political leader of the party the previous year, on September 28, 1973.
Chambers the political strategist
The party set in motion its constitutional demands to replace Williams. All party groups have been invited to nominate candidates for the position of political leader between Karl Hudson Phillips and Mohammed.
It was in this exercise that Chambers demonstrated his qualities as a leader and political strategist when he ordered party groups in his constituency not to make any nominations.
His strategy worked very well for him as no internal elections were held. Instead, at a special convention on February 12, 1974, a motion was moved not to accept Williams’ resignation. A committee was given the green light to bring him back to the convention and continue to run the party.
Chambers played a major role throughout the episode as it was Daniel Reid, St Ann’s East Constituency Chairman, who moved the motion which resulted in Williams’ return to the unchecked cheers of party members at the agreement.
When the party took hold and the government continued to function, Chambers held several key ministerial portfolios – minister of finance, education and ending with his mega ministry of trade, industry and commerce, as well than the Ministry of Agriculture, Lands and Fisheries.
It was by holding both portfolios that Chambers became a political giant. He served as Governor of the Caribbean Investment Corporation. During this period, the then Manufacturers Association, under the chairmanship of Mervyn Assam, embarked on promoting and developing a leadership role in the Caribbean under Chambers’ leadership.
He called on manufacturers to revamp and revamp their production and quality as they received export tax incentives to market their products throughout Caricom. Since then, local manufacturers have held a dominant role in Caricom.
On September 13, 1976, the PNM won its fifth general election after a stormy campaign organized by the then United Labor Front (ULF), which included several union leaders with Basdeo Panday at the helm.
Prior to the 1976 general election, the PNM government promised constitutional changes following a national consultation led by Sir Hugh Wooding.
At the party level, Chambers took the lead when his constituency sparked constitutional change by proposing a motion to the General Council to turn T&T into Republican status.
Williams had said he was taking a back seat during the 1976-81 period and said he had his sights set on the 1981 general election.
political leader and prime minister
However, on March 29, 1981, Williams died at the official residence, and the next day President Ellis Clarke announced the appointment of George Chambers as Prime Minister of T&T.
He was officially elected political leader of the PNM at a convention on May 9, 1981, and in his inaugural speech he put the stamp of his own personality on announcing major changes at the national level with the statement, “What is just must be kept”. good, and what is bad must be righted”.
Chambers developed his own style by wearing a shirt-jac suit, moving away from the traditional jacket and tie.
Barely seven months after becoming prime minister, he led the PNM into battle in the November 9, 1981 general election against a formidable opposition, the Organization for National Reconstruction (ONR), led by the former PNM attorney general, Karl Hudson Phillips, alongside with Williams’ close and trusted friends Ferdie Ferreira and Ivan Williams.
He made a memorable and dramatic statement to his opponents: “Them bad guys too, not a fucking seat for them. The PNM won 26 seats, including Caroni East and Princes Town. The ONR lost all the seats they contested.
The current Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Rowley carried the PNM banner to the Tobago West seat while I contested and won the Arima constituency.
The election results made it clear that the people were ready to give Chambers a chance. The ULF won ten seats.
In 1983, the government of Grenada faced an internal coup by forces made up of young militant academics determined to depose Prime Minister Eric Gary. The United States of America invaded the island. The United States won the support of the majority of Caribbean countries, with the exception of T&T and Guyana.
Chambers has ignored several calls from T&T and the region to support the invasion since he was president of Caricom, but he stood his ground and upheld our nation’s longstanding diplomatic policy of non-interference in affairs. interiors of a sovereign country.
Indeed, the record reveals that Chambers totally refused to partner with the United States in the illegal, immoral and unconstitutional invasion of Grenada on October 25, 1983. This period was part of the difficult task for the new Prime Minister who has encountered major challenges with the declining trend of the economy due to the drastic drop in oil prices.
Position on the T&T economy
He appointed a high-level committee headed by renowned economist William Demas which he described as the “Adjustment Imperatives”, with the aim of implementing fundamental changes in all aspects of the country’s governance.
Several unions protested against the measures adopted by the Chambers, with civil servants being the main protagonist, demanding a 15 percent increase in their salaries.
The 65,000 strong union has embarked on a fierce campaign against the PNM government, and Chambers in particular.
This resulted in the PNM’s first electoral defeat at a general election in December 1986, losing 33 seats, including the St Ann’s East constituency of Chambers.
However, less than three months after the massive defeat, Chambers was vindicated when the new National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) government under Robinson implemented a draconian budget by cutting civil servants’ salaries by 10%. and eliminating the cost of living. Allowance (COLA).
History will reveal that it was the PNM government led by Patrick Manning that restored civil service salaries at great cost to the taxpayers.
As a political leader, Chambers never took his eyes off the party, and it was during this controversial and acrimonious period that he ensured the presence of the PNM in Tobago when, for the second time, a convention was took place in the sister island.
He assured that there was an organic link between the political leader and the constituencies, as well as party units like the women’s and youth leagues.
There was a close relationship between the Women’s League and PM Chambers as he attended several activities under their auspices, including the annual conferences.
Chambers will be remembered for his courageous and patriotic stance regarding the invasion of Grenada, his bold decision to set the stage for local manufacturers to dominate the Caribbean with their products, and most importantly, his consistency in interacting with members. and party supporters will be the hallmark. of his outstanding political career. He instilled national pride by naming national monuments after our own local heroes, namely Williams, Audrey Jeffers, Uriah “Buzz” Butler and Claude Noel were just a few.
He also set an international record when he announced that August 1 would be a public holiday in commemoration of Emancipation Day, making T&T the first country in the world to officially recognize the celebrations.
The late Lloyd Best was among many nationals who described Chambers as one of the best finance ministers in the country.
What also stands out about Chambers’ personality is his dignified posture after 1986, when the PNM lost a general election for the first time. He immediately resigned as political leader and never involved himself in national discussions or party affairs.
A man of the people, honest, simple lifestyle and love for T&T, George Michael Chambers left an unblemished record, and I sincerely hope he receives due recognition as the party celebrates its 66th anniversary.
—Ashton Ford is the former general secretary of the PNM.