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Monday, April 24, 2006
Working People's Alliance (WPA)

Brief History of The Working People's Alliance

Posted April 7th 2000 - David Hinds

The WPA was founded in 1974 as a pressure group and became a political party in 1979. The alliance originally was composed of four pressure groups -- African Society for Cultural Relations with Independent Africa (ASCRIA), Indian People's Revolutionary Associates (IPRA), RATOON and the Working People's Vanguard Party (WPVP). The WPVP left the alliance in 1975. ASCRIA was an Africanist or Black Power organization led by Eusi Kwayana, a former leading member of both the PPP and PNC. IPRA, the Indian equivalent of ASCRIA, was led by Moses Bhagwan, a former leader of the PPP's youth section and a leading party member. RATOON was a leftist radical organization based at the University of Guyana and led by economist Clive Thomas; and WPVP another leftist group, was led by former PPP chairman Brindley Benn. Historian Walter Rodney joined the WPA in 1974 upon his return to Guyana.

The WPA originally declared itself an independent Marxist party. However,since 1984, when it rewrote its programme to reflect a more broad based and inclusive party, it has referred to itself as Rodneyist, a reference to the philosophy of its slain leader, Walter Rodney. Although it has espoused socialism, the party never developed close ties with the socialist bloc countries, opting instead to be a member of the Socialist International.

The WPA is Pan-Caribbean in outlook. Its allies in the region have been those socialist groups that evolved out of the Black Power Movement such as the New JEWEL Movement (NJM) of Grenada, and the Antiguan Caribbean Liberation Movement (ACLM) of Antigua. According to the party's original manifesto, its aim is to bring about an alliance of the working people, farmers and progressive professionals, and to strive for genuine Caribbean unity.

The most distinguishing feature of the WPA, and perhaps the main reason for its influence in Guyana, has been its commitment to multi-racial politics.

It is the only party in post- colonial Guyana that has been able to appeal to both major race groups in the country. The WPA stands for "the genuine multiracial power of the working people."

During the authoritarian period, the WPA treated the PNC as the single biggest obstruction to Guyana's progress. Consequently, it did not seek compromises with the government and expended a lot of energy to bring about opposition unity. The party's attitude to the PNC regime was largely confrontational, leading to a virtual war between the two entities. In the process, the WPA's most influential leader, Walter Rodney, and two other party members, Ohene Koama and Edward Dublin, were assassinated. Other members and supporters were imprisoned, victimized and harassed by the government.

The WPA's methods of protest were civil disobedience and non-cooperation.

Towards this end, the party organized marches, pickets and other demonstrations even when laws enacted by the PNC forbade these activities. The party deliberately set out to break those laws as a form of protest. Even though the WPA did not have direct control over the trade unions, it was able to influence strikes, especially among the bauxite workers. Other forms of protest used by the WPA were hunger strikes, street theater, and mass propaganda. The WPA's organ, Dayclean, was deemed by the government to be the most subversive paper.

The WPA has remained a relatively loosely organized party. There is no single leader; instead the party has a collective leadership that is dominated by academics. However, Walter Rodney, Eusi Kwayana, Clive Thomas, Moses Bhagwan and Rupert Roopnarine have been the most powerful leaders. While the party has been able to attract considerable support for its protest activities, its membership has remained relatively small due mainly to the fear in the society during the authoritarian period and the resurgence of open race-based politics in the post-authoritarian period.

The WPA's programme and policies announced at the time of its formation in November 1974 states:

1. The Working People's Alliance will teach and fight to bring about the unity of the working People - Workers, landless peasants, the unemployed, housewives, students, progressive professionals, working producers, small traders, craftsmen and self employed toilers.

2. The Alliance will develop out of the struggle of the people, a political line of the working people based on the theory of their emancipation.

3. The Working People's Alliance will fight for an economy which will be controlled by the working people for their own benefit, in which every citizen has the right to work and in which exploitation and exploiting classes are abolished.

4. The Alliance stands for genuine multiracial power of the working people expressed in organizational forms which guarantee the nature of this power. The Alliance hopes to benefit from the work being done in this respect by its member organizations. The Alliance will address itself to the contradiction between the Indian and African sections of the population and to the exclusion of the Amerindians from the political process.

5. The Alliance will join the day to day struggles of the people. In this connection it is setting up a Workers and Farmers Advisory Service, which will give expert advice to workers, trade unions, farmers' and tenants' organizations and similar groups in their bargaining and other problems.

6. The Alliance shall help to strengthen and deepen the unity of the Caribbean masses through solidarity with the emergent people's organizations. It opposes the official integration movement, which is neo-colonialist, the growing unity of the people's liberation movements in the Caribbean.

7. The Alliance stands for the destruction of imperialism and its neo-colonial systems and the revolutionary unity of all subject and liberated peoples.

8. In pursuit of these objectives, the Working People's Alliance and its member organizations will encourage association and cooperation with any individuals and groups on a principled basis.

9. The Alliance believes in socialism through a revolution of the working people. It seeks to help to equip the working people with what they need for this struggle. Whether a particular government is to be overthrown or not is a decision for the working people in the course of struggle. In the short run the WPA is concerned at the drift of the political situation towards an anti-popular and anti-working class dictatorship. It will have the duty to do its share in mobilizing the people against such a development, because the working people need democracy and civil rights in order to advance their struggle.