June 30, 2006
The annual Labour Day Celebrations took place on Monday, June 19, 2006, to celebrate the politicization of the labour movement in Trinidad and Tobago; to commemorate the struggle of former union activists; and to address some of the major concerns of the working class including: the rising cost of living, inflation, and the further polarisation between the middle and lower classes despite the recent economic boom. The ongoing tensions between workers and employers in several key sectors as well as the dissention between the leadership of National Trade Union Centre (Natuc) and the Federation of Independent Trade Unions (FITUN) were also mentioned on the platform.
This year's observances marked the 69th anniversary of the events in the mid-1930's among workers in various industries in Trinidad which led to the disturbances in the oilfields which culminated on June 19, 1937 in Fyzabad.
The labor movement in Trinidad and Tobago was pioneered by persons such as Captain Andrew Arthur Cipriani who had served as commander of the West India Regiment during World War I, Tubal Uriah 'Buzz' Butler, a Grenadian at birth who came to prominence in 1935 when he led a "hunger march" from the oilfields to Port of Spain and others who recognized the importance of collective unionism in treating worker discontent and the abuses they faced by their employers.
The situations of worker abuse, underpayment for labour and racism were exacerbated in the 1930's during the worldwide economic depression and as a result, the living standards of the working class worsened considerably. In this regard, workers became more and more influenced by Butler's radicalism and moved away from Cipriani's moderate policies which seemed to be taking them nowhere at the time. Hence, between 1934 and 1937, there were strikes and riots on the sugar plantations and in the oil fields in Trinidad and Tobago and this extended throughout the Caribbean.
Although this type of radicalism is largely absent from the politics in the country, the memory and the importance placed on previous struggles are greatly appreciated and remebered annually by union activists from all over the country. In fact, the statue of Butler in Fyzabad is a constant reminder of his display of heroism and the purpose of the continous struggle.
The day's activities started with a marathon from San Fernando to Fyzabad which finished in the late morning period. The finish line, which is customarily situated at the historic Charlie King Junction, is the symbolic birthplace of the labour movement in Trinidad and Tobago. Participants in the race, which comprised of the very young, the very old and a few moko jumbies in between braved the merciless sun to finish the race and were supported by persons that lined the streets and also by those who looked on from their houses. (Labour Day Races Results)
After the race, members of different unions gathered at the starting point, Avocat Junction, to prepare for the march to Charlie King Junction. Union members gathered in their thousands and marched through the sun and rain until they reached their destination.
Noticeable, however, was the separation between some of the unions during the march. It was apparent that not even this historic occasion could have united members of the Natuc and FITUN. The agreement between Natuc and the government on the implementation of the controversial Occupational Safety and Health Act seemed to make the split irreparable between both sides earlier this year.
Despite the visible scission in the major trade union organisations, this did not disrupt the days proceedings and the various speeches that ensued. Guest speaker was Trinidad and Tobago born union leader and President of the Transport Workers' Union (TWU) Local 100, New York, Mr. Roger Toussaint. Other speakers included Errol Mc Leod and David Abdulah who spoke at length about the current situations and challenges facing the labour movement to date.
One of the most symbolic moments was the laying of the wreath at the gravesite of Uriah “Buzz” Butler. Heads of the various labour movements and other well wishers were present at that time. It is hoped that the memory of past heroes such as Butler would mend the wounds of unions today and would redirect the focus to the tenets of the struggle.
Labour Day Celebrations 2006 in pictures
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