Senator Wade Mark speaks to The Checklist. about the history of the UNC and some of his most memorable experiences in the party.
L.D: What was it like being on the very first UNC platform?
Senator Mark: The United National Congress was born on Sunday April 30, 1989 at the Jean Pierre Complex. I spoke on the platform the day the party was launched. I will never forget that Sunday when the UNC flag fluttered in the breeze on that platform. I remember John Humphrey, Kelvin Ramnath, Roodal Moonilal who was the Youth Officer, Wendy Bailey from the People’s Popular Movement (PPM) and Basdeo Panday distinctly.
At the time, I was campaigning for a local by-election in Guaico-Cumuto for a fellow called John Agitation. I remember being called an honorary Indian while I was campaigning. John Agitation was our first warrior in the battle against the forces of oppression and exploitation. We were launched on April 30, 1989 and on May 1, 1989, International Working Class Day, John Agitation brought victory to the UNC and we got our first seat in the local government body.
We beat the NAR who was in government. We beat the PNM who was in opposition. This new baby on the block was victorious. I could never forget that sterling and stunning victory by John Agitation on behalf of the UNC.
L.D: How do you feel about being the 1st male Afro-Trinidadian on the UNC platform?
Senator Mark: I feel very proud. I was one of the first Afro-Trinidadians to become a member of the UNC. The UNC leadership at that time was Indo-Trinidadian, with a white man called John Humphrey. There is a saying that a drop of dye placed in a glass of clear water helps to change its entire complexion. I am proud and elated to have been that drop of dye. I can tell you the slings and arrows that came my way from people of African descent when I became a member of the UNC. What they didn’t call me, they forgot.
I’ve lived to see many other Afro-Trinidadians coming forward and joining this great party. But when the party first started on April 30, 1989, I was the lone male Afro-Trinidadian on that platform, and I had with me the lone female Afro-Trinidadian, a sister called Wendy Bailey. She didn’t last too long in the UNC. She spent a few months and then faded away because you must have a certain kind of strength to withstand the slings and arrows.
We are on the way to becoming an institution that will remain forever planted in the hearts and minds of the working people. The UNC is here to stay. The UNC is here forever. The UNC is the future. And just as the day follows the night, the sun will rise again.
L.D: How was the UNC formed?
Senator Mark: When Basdeo Panday and the others were expelled from the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) in 1988, they formed the Caucus for Love, Unity and Brotherhood (CLUB 88). The patriots of CLUB 88 went throughout Trinidad and Tobago and campaigned in every street and back-road, bringing to the attention of the working class why they must form their own instrument of defence against the forces of oppression and exploitation.
After eight months of intense campaigning, a major rally was organised to get a mandate from the people for the formation of a new party to defend the interests, needs, aspirations, hopes and dreams of the ordinary working people. On October 16, 1988, over 40,000 people came together at the Aranguez Savannah in the rain and the mud, and gave CLUB 88 the mandate to form this new party which became known as, the United National Congress (UNC).
L.D: How were the name and symbol of the UNC chosen, and what do they mean?
Senator Mark: Between October 1988 and April 1989, we held competitions inviting the people of Trinidad and Tobago to suggest a party name and design a symbol. A lady from Cedros won the competition to select the name of the party. The rising sun against the background of the Trinity Hills symbol came from a gentleman from Woodland. The Trinity Hills represented Trinidad and Tobago and the rising sun gave permanence to life. Nothing can exist without the sun. The people have always been involved in this party from its very birth. Both the name and symbol of the party came from the people.
The name “United National Congress” represented the rainbow people that we call T&T; the Indian working class, the African working class, workers from the sugar industry and workers from the oil industry, marrying in unity for a better society. We took “National Congress” from the “Indian National Congress” led by Mahatma Gandhi and the “African National Congress” led by Nelson Mandela, and we added “United” marrying the Indian with the African. We represented the best of the subcontinents.
“United” means to keep forever in our minds our long sought dream for unity. Without unity there will be no progress. “National” means that unity is in the interest of all the people in the nation. “Congress” means we are reaffirming our commitment to consultation and participation by all our people in the decision making process, particularly as it affects the lives of our people and to ensure that everyone shares in the national patrimony.
The United National Congress will always be committed to unity and harmony in this sea of diversity.
L.D: What are the governing values of the UNC?
Senator Mark: Freedom, equality and social justice are the three governing values of our great and glorious party. We believe in freedom and liberty. We believe in equality. There must be equality of opportunity for everyone in our nation. And there must be social justice for all.
There is a saying that a drop of dye placed in a glass of clear water helps to change its entire complexion. I am proud and elated to have been that drop of dye.
L.D: Can you give me your view on efforts to destroy the UNC and why they won’t work?
Senator Mark: Many efforts were made to destroy our party. I will never forget Team Unity with Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, Ralph Maraj and Trevor Sudama. We had many internal conflicts in our party. But the people always decided what they wanted. And I am proud to know that I have played a very significant part, and role in keeping the UNC as a united force.
We have gone through a lot of traumas, trials and tribulations. The Congress of the People (COP) tried to destroy the UNC, but they could not. They are now almost like a ghost. Their effort led by external forces was to rip asunder the UNC, and to allow the COP to replace the UNC. But the UNC represents the dreams, hopes and aspirations of the working man and woman of our country. And that is why they cannot destroy the UNC.