Labour Day Greetings and Remarks

Labour Day Greetings and Remarks Delivered by
His Excellency Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona OTT, SC,
President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago
at the Street Drama Performance on The Life and Times of Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler
at the Charlie King Junction, Fyzabad – June 17, 2016

 

Fyzabad, this now nondescript oil town is one that has been denied its true relevance as the genesis of social revolution in Trinidad and Tobago and this has been the result of indifference, apathy and sometimes plain simple ignorance on the role this oil town played in the social transformation of Trinidad and Tobago.  The Office of the President in the circumstances felt there was a need to celebrate Labour Day through a street drama performance on the Life and Times of Tubal Uriah Buzz Butler at this defining corner where Charlie King, a Police Officer lost his life when he attempted to arrest the Chief Servant, Tubal Uriah Buzz Butler.   We today will be experiencing an unprecedented, historical display of street theatre, an initiative of the Office of the President in collaboration with the Oil Field Trade Union (OWTU) celebrating the Labour Movement and its part in our Nation’s social transformation.

There are so many anecdotes about the trials and tribulations of the Chief Servant and what is taking place today, encapsulates what English author Terry Fratchett described as the importance of knowing one’s history.  Yes, an English Author because historically we are so much entwined with the English. He stated, “If you do not know where you come from, then you don’t know where you are, and if you don’t know where you are, then you don’t know where you’re going.  And if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re probably going wrong” and I shall add, you are probably lost.  This display of street theatre created through the genius of playwright Zeno Obi Constance and his band of actors and actresses seeks to trigger in all of us a greater appreciation of our social history and trigger in the young a thirst for a knowledge of themselves, to better understand themselves, that can result in a more confident, proud and inspiring Trinidad and Tobago citizen.

Dr Walter Rodney, the Guyanese intellect, assassinated allegedly through executive action, wrote in 1972 a seminal treatise ‘How Europe Underdeveloped Africa’, a book that highlights the severe exploitation of Africa and its resources for the benefit of Europe. However, there is a flip side, that no one in Trinidad and Tobago or the wider Caribbean is prepared to write, another treatise How the Caribbean developed modern day Europe.  Slavery resulted in absolute exploitation of the resources of the Caribbean region for the benefit of the European Core Nations.  That journey or rather that human rights debacle, from enforced labour to indentured labour tells a sober and sombre tale of man’s inhumanity to man and all our forefathers were victims.

Historically, the plantation system pioneered sugar, tobacco and cocoa cultivation and created a new merchant class in Europe who invested in what grew up to be the Industrial Revolution and soon the absentee planter class or ‘suga lobby’ and as David Rudder put it ‘Here comes a world that don’t need islands no more’.  We are the seeds of our own destitution.

Tubal Uriah Buzz Butler fought in the trenches for the rights of a disadvantaged and marginalised working class, those who suffered in the oil fields, that were really mine fields of danger.  Men lost their sight, their limbs and their lives because of adverse working conditions buttressed by low wages.  Despair and desperation made good bed fellows.  The two dominant ethnic groups became integrated in Trinidad and this culminated with the election of Krishna Deonarine as the first President of the Oil Field Workers Trade Union (OWTU).  Yes, you are wondering who is Krishna Deonarine.  He was Adrian Cola Rienzi, Labour leader, barrister, Queen’s Counsel, trade unionist, politician and a real game changer.

He took the name “Cola Rienzi” from a 14th century Italian patriot who struggled for the rights of the peasants. When the oilfield workers rioted in 1937, Adrian Cola Rienzi, who had a most cordial relationship with the leader of the oilfield workers, Uriah Butler and was the legal representative of Butler’s party, showed great solidarity with Butler who went into hiding from the British Colonial Masters.  It is interesting that while Butler was in hiding, Rienzi mediated between him and the government.  On July 25, 1937, in order to keep high morale and solidarity among the oil workers in the absence of Butler, Adrian Cola Rienzi formed the Oilfield Workers Trade Union.  The workers made him their President-General.  Theirs is a remarkable story of unity and solidarity between and among the ethnic divide.  Race did not divide us then and therefore it must not divide us now.

In that perceived constant struggle between trade unions and the corporate world where sometimes trade unions often criticise corporate entities sometimes there is a light in the tunnel, a magic moment of mediation and reconciliation that takes place on the altar of patriotism and nationalism. In passing it will be remiss of me on this weekend of labour day celebrations that I do not express my heartfelt gratitude to the Chairman of the ANSA McAL Group, Norman Sabga who rallied his forces to ensure that the Order of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago Medal, given posthumously to Adrian Cola Rienzi not suffer the ignominious legacy of being peddled like a trinket on the world market.  I have to admit I did feel disappointed that no Trade Union was standing in that queue to retrieve this trade unionist’s legacy and symbol of his struggle, the Order of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago Medal.  I will give credit where credit is due and I have to thank the OWTU for coming on board without reservation, supporting the Office of the President to the hilt in this street theatre production.  Gentlemen, you can now sing Redemption song!

It is convenient for some to confine Butler to the lesser stage of Labour Leader but his vision for his people was larger than that.  He took on the might of the British Empire, unafraid and unapologetic.  Sometimes we don’t appreciate what a dangerous life Butler lived for the working class when he was charged with sedition.  Historically, especially in colonial times, there was a thin line between sedition and treason and treason carried the death penalty.  He was stubborn and clear that his people were exploited and that their long hours in the oilfield were both dangerous and largely unrewarded – he was Kitchener’s original Jericho.

Fifty-four years is a short time in the history of a Nation and that is the length of time since independence in 1962.  If, however we include the formative years when Butler grappled with the old Order and courted warships and jail house time, then we truly begin to have a better appreciation of how we came to have those things today that we now enjoy and take for granted.

Butler was possessed of a clear understanding of the uniqueness of his time and the kind of challenge he had to endure given the socio-economic nature of his time.  He was the right man for that juncture of history – he made the labour movement happen without giving up on the greater cause of Nationhood.

In celebration of Labour Day 2016, in these trying economic times, we must work hard and continue to work hard if we are to achieve the model labour and industrial practices that will make us proud.  On Labour Day, we need to recapture that diminishing legacy left to us by our forefathers by a genuine work ethic that does not fall short.  I have personally experienced such a work ethic when I found out that my uncle Gregorio Marchan who worked his way up from labourer to Chief Construction Engineer in the oil companies TPD, BP and Tesoro never took one-day sick leave in the 41 years he worked. Have a happy, blessed Labour day 2016!

In closing, I would like to thank all you for attending here tonight especially those of you who brought your children to witness such a vibrant display of historical energy.  I urge you all to continue exploring the rich historical tapestry that is the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

I thank you.

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