July 18, 1926
Ashton Chase was born in Georgetown, British Guiana, and received his primary education at St. Andrews Scots School and his secondary education at what was then Alleyne High School. Possibly because Chase's grandmother was an executive in the British Guiana Labour Union (BGLU), the first union in the colony, which had come into existence in 1919, Chase was associated with trade union activity and served as assistant secretary of the BGLU before his entry into the political arena in British Guiana. An early admirer of Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow, the father of trade unionism in the colony and founder of the BGLU, Chase later became a founding member of the Political Affairs Committee (PAC), initially a shadowy group that met in a house located in a suburb of Georgetown and that was beyond the gaze of colonial authorities. The PAC sought to analyze political and trade union social developments using political education as a major tool, and to mold and form political opinion from the perspective of scientific socialism.
The PAC, which was also designed to be an ad hoc entity, eventually morphed into the People's Progressive Party (PPP), the colony's first mass-based political party, which viewed trade unions as a focal point for rallying the masses, with Chase becoming one of its central figures. Chase became minister of labor, industry, and commerce in the first PPP government in 1953. He was instrumental in introducing a labor relations bill in September 1953 after a sugar workers' strike by the Guiana Industrial Workers' Union (GIWU), whose president was PPP minister of health Dr. Joseph Prayag Lachmansingh. The GIWU was seeking recognition by the powerful Sugar Producers' Association, which had recognized the Man Power Citizen's Association, then viewed as a company union. The strike, which had the support of PPP leaders, led to much concern from the Americans, who feared that what they regarded as a politically motivated strike action might spread to other territories. The British also deemed it necessary to provide emergency powers to the governor on short notice in order to preserve public safety and maintain essential services. However, while the labor relations bill also occasioned the ire of the local establishment, especially the business community, Chase felt that the government was on solid ground because the intention to introduce a bill of that nature had formed part of the PPP's election manifesto.
Though viewed as a moderate by the governor, the British removed Chase and the PPP government from office and suspended the constitution in October 1953. In Chase's view, the suspension of the constitution changed the character of politics in the colony and corrupted the thrust for change. Some people, unable to withstand the pressure, compromised with the demands of the political situation, which resulted in an upsurge of right-wing influence and the emergence of socialism without socialists, referring to the idea that socialism should be actualized by socialists, that is, by individuals who have read about, understand, and believe in the application of socialist principles so as to bring about improved social change. By making this observation, Chase was suggesting that this was no longer the case.
After the suspension of the constitution, Chase went to England in 1954, where he read law and was called to the bar at Gray's Inn in 1957, the same year that he graduated with a bachelor of laws degree with honors from London University. Following his return to Guiana, Chase served as a member of Parliament from 1964 to 1968, after which he never held political office. Chase was appointed senior counsel in 1985 after the death of President Forbes Burnham, who had long denied Chase that distinction. In 1991, though, he came out of political retirement to be the consensus presidential candidate in the 1992 general elections, conceivably the fairest election held since 1968. At the 1992 elections, however, the PPP led by Dr. Cheddi Jagan garnered the most votes, and Jagan then became President of the Republic of Guyana, after being out of office since 1964.
In addition to serving from 1970 to 1974 as a member of the Public Service Commission, from 1971 to 1973 Chase was vice president of the Guyana Economic Society. On various occasions he served as president of the Guyana Bar Association from the 1980s to 1998 and as a member of the Council of Legal Education (a body responsible for training attorneys in the Commonwealth Caribbean), including a period as the council's chairman from 1992 to 1998. An acknowledged expert on trade union law, after his retirement from politics Chase published Trade Union Law in the Caribbean, Glimpses of the Growth of Trade Unions in the Commonwealth Caribbean, and Guyana—A Nation in Transit—Burnham's Role.
Chase, Ashton. A History of Trade Unionism in Guyana 1900 to 1961, edited by Audrey Chase. Ruimveldt, Demerara: New Guyana Company, 1964.
Chase, Ashton. 133 Days towards Freedom in Guiana. Georgetown: Guyana, n.d.
maurice st. pierre (2005)