OWTU History


1937 - 1947 

In 1937, the working class of Trinidad arose in a wave of anti-colonial sentiment. It was obvious to all that conditions for such an uprising existed in the colony. Poverty was the rule rather than the exception, unemployment was, even in those days, high. Workers slaved away in the producing fields and in the refineries, under backward and dangerous conditions. The work was hard since there were few machines to ease the burden of labour. Working hours were long, many injuries to life and limb, and little or no compensation. Housing was a major problem, health services almost non-existent, and malnutrition rife. Wages were next nothing, some workers only earning seven cents an hour. the words of one worker who wrote a heartfelt letter to "PEOPLE" Newspaper - "For years now we have been appealing to them (the management of the Oil Companies)! more wages to meet the Cost of Living, and we want to make it known that it is not since the rise in the Cost of Living that our wages cannot meet our need but years before, and now is worse through the increase in the Cost of Living."

 On top of these conditions was an unsympathetic Colonial Government whose interests were bound hand a foot to the big Oil Companies - United British Oilfields Trinidad Ltd. (UBOT); Trinidad Leaseholds Ltd. (TLL Apex (Trinidad) Oilfields Ltd., and Kern Oilfields, who we in the main, British owned. The antagonism was heightened by the overt racist attacks on the workers by the white boss and managers. This attitude was typified in the comment b one manager - "THESE BLACK DOGS ONLY BARK - THEY CANNOT BITE." Total subservience for the working class was the order of the day.


The workers themselves, though, were deeply conscious of their plight and realised that the only way out w~ to fight back. They had nothing to lose. It was in this milieu that TUBAL URIAH BUZZ BUTLER emerged to voice the sentiments that the workers had been developing for some time. He provided the leadership necessary to transform the idea of struggle into reality.

 He held hundreds of meetings throughout the oilbelt during the period 1936-37. The response was nothing short of tumultuous. Workers looked upon Butler as a "SAVIOUR. His meetings provoked much discussion and debate amongst the thousands who came out to listen to the Chief Servant. After these meetings, workers would spend hours in the fields1 in the shops, and on the streets - discussing their problems and deciding what must be done. This whole period then was one of a mass political awakening and agitation, Butler was telling the people to prepare for action - for it was only action that would alleviate their problems. The tension was high in the weeks prior to June 1937 - the working class was on the move, preparing itself to strike a blow for the new dawn.


What happened is now well-recorded history. The strike began in the Apex Oilfields in Fyzabad, in the early hours of the morning of June 19th 1937. Within a few hours, it had spread to most oilfields, the word of the strike being re­layed by contingents of workers on bicycles - organised as an effective communication network. And on the evening of June 19th, while Butler was addressing several hundred workers at Fyzabad, an attempt was made to arrest him. Butler asked the rhetorical question - "MUST I GO COM­RADES?" and, as true working class people protecting their leader, the workers responded by attacking the police killing one of them - the infamous CHARLIE KING.

The struggle soon became nationwide embracing workers from the sugar plantations, as well as those who laboured in Port of Spain. The workers were struggling to improve their very quality of life - better wages, improved housing, proper provisions for health, a workmen's compen­sation ordinance and unemployment compensation were but some of their demands. The call for "Home Rule" was another rallying cry of the workers, as they believed at the time that the achievements of Home Rule would be a step forward in their struggle to determine their destiny. Demonstrations, marches and acts of sabotage were the means that the workers thought best capable of bringing about their objectives. The colonial Government reacted in a fashion characteristic to its nature, by bringing in troops and marines, who, coupled with the local police set about viciously crushing the uprising. The uprising lasted until July 2nd by which time armed forces of the capitalists had killed fourteen (14) people and left hundreds of others wounded. A temporary halt had be8n put on the aspirations of the people.


It was out of this political situation that the Oilfields Workers' Trade Union was born, and from its inception, it was imbued with the spirit of the 1937 movement. The Oilfields Workers' Trade Union was created because the workers needed an organisation to defend their interests against the employers. It was a natural - and historic - step for the oil-workers to take. Established on 25th July, 1937, and re­gistered on the 15th September, 1937 the Oilfields Workers' Trade Union, soon became a word on the lips of every oil-worker and his family. After a number of clandestine meetings held on Lum Tack Hill in Fyzabad, the first official meeting was held at one Mr. Williams' quarters, Coon's Town, Forest Reserve, Fyzabad, on the 15th July, 1937. The minutes of that historic meeting give an indication of the events. 

The Conference to establish the Union was held on the 25th July, with representatives from most of the fields attending. Immediately after, the Union wrote its first letter to the employers. Sometime after, the Rules of the Union were drawn up, and the first Central Office at No. 16 Coffee Street was established. The Blue Shirts which have become Synonymous with the O.W.T.U. did not begin to appear until early in 1939.

 In the next few weeks a flood of workers signed membership forms and paid their first dues. Organisers went into the fields to hold meetings with oilworkers and to enlist them as members. Every night, the Executive travelled to another part of the oilbelt giving "stirring speeches" and en­couraging people to join. In all of these meetings, the support was overwhelming, the crowds could hardly be accommo­dated in the premises - rented or borrowed for the meet­ing. One newspaper reported that in a meeting in Barrackpore "Over 600 men and Women came to the meeting. More than 100 new members were enrolled and so anxious were workers to join the OWTU that they were almost fighting to reach the table where the Secretary/General sat, to sign up.

 Banner headlines in the "PEOPLE" proclaimed - "Crowded oilworkers Meeting'; 'Members Display United Stand" Workers flocking into the Movement".

 Membership reached One Thousand; Three hundred and fifty (1,350) within three weeks of the founding, and continued to multiply. What was significant too, was that many meetings were held under the auspices of the OWTU and the All Trini­dad Sugar Estates and Factory Workers Trade Union – of which Adrian Cola Rienzi, was also first President. The close working class links between the workers in oil and Sugar had its beginnings with Butler in 1937.

Because of the warrant for his arrest, Butler went in "hiding" and was in fact out of the mainstream of the early organisational work of the Union. The person whom Butler entrusted with that responsibility was Rienzi, and he and the other Executive Officers openly canvassed Support in the name of Butler." In fact, it was generally understood by workers that on Butler's return to public life he would be at the helm of the OWTU - as it was his rightful place as leader of the working class. This however, was not to be.

Butler had come out of hiding on 27th September 1937 in order to give evidence before the FORSTER COM­MISSION, on the undertaking by the Governor that he would be free. He was however, immediately arrested and was not released until May 1939. Throughout this period, the Union had consolidated its position in the Oilfields. 


On his release, Butler was given a Hero's Welcome, and to the Surprise of many was made - not President General of the Union but General Organiser. The differences be­tween the philosophy of Butler and that of Rienzi, Rojas and company, were beginning to appear.

 Butler immediately threw himself into his activities as General Organiser - mobilising the workers for another con­frontation with the Companies in order to win better wages. The Executive of the Union, headed by Rienzi, did not ap­prove of Butler's militancy They in fact were already showing signs of compromise with the Employers. According to the Acting Governor, the Executive had "developed a real sense of responsibility." When the workers at the Trinidad Lake Asphalt Operating Co., went on strike on the 26th July 1939, Butler supported them, the Executive did not. As a result, Butler was twice called before the Executive to explain his position. He refused to go, sending excuses on both occa­sions. The Executive then turned their backs on the hero of the working class and expelled him from the Union on 3rd August 1939.

 The split between Butler and Rienzi came about essentially because of two different views of working class struggle. Rienzi had wanted the Trade Union as an institution of the workers - to become what the Colonial Officials had desired - "an organised means of collective bargaining through which the claims or grievances of the workpeople could have found ample means of expression." It was in fact the opinion of the Governor that had these Trade Unions existed prior to 1937 "The disturbances might have been avoided". Butler's view - and that of the workers - was the opposite. They needed a fighting organisation that could bring the companies and the Colonial Government to their knees. The workers felt that only in this way could they effect a fundamental change in their lives.

 Rienzi, in pursuing the reactionary view, and his own selfish interest (he wanted to join the status quo in the colonial Government machinery) went as far as to suggest to the authorities that Butler be arrested for sedition. These two different philosophies have persisted until today, one being represented by the Leadership of the Trade Union Congress (AC Rienzi), the other embodied in the O.W.T.U.


This was one of the periods in the Union's history that is best forgotten. A period when the O.W.T.U. was used for the opposite purposes for which it was created. It was also a period when the Union was severely weakened, for with Butler's expulsion, over 90% of the oilworkers ceased membership. By their actions the workers categorically stated that they saw their future lying in militant action, and not with the compromising "reasonableness" of the middle-class leadership that Rienzi typified. Their rejection of Rienzi was similar to their rejection of Cipriani some years before. Working class consciousness had taken some steps forward.

 The period between 1939 and 1946 were the war years. A time when the working class of Trinago and the capitalist world over had to suffer tremendous hardships in order to upkeep the imperialist's predatory war. Many workers left South Trinidad and moved to Port of Spain to work on the "Base" because things were hard in the oilbelt.

The situation with the OWTU was no different. Most of its members had left after the expulsi9n of Butler and the Union consisted mainly of officers and a few loyal to Rienzi and Rojas. In this period, too, we saw the final capitulation of Rienzi - as he accepted an appointment to the Executive Council. He became a (Colonial) Government man - a logical step from the politics of compromise he had been practising for some time. 


Butler himself was detained once again, on the pretext of his being a danger to the war effort. As a result his own movement suffered from a lack of organisation and direction. The OWTU somewhat filled the breach, for in 1945 (at the conclusion of the war) they negotiated their First Indus­trial Agreement with the Oilfields Employers Association of Trinidad (the umbrella group which represented all major oil companies). That the Union was able to negotiate a Collec­tive Agreement which affected all oilworkers, while it did not have more than a fraction of the workers as its members, is due to the fact that the companies (and the Colonial Government) found that the outlook of the OWTU was, at the time, more agreeable to them than Butler. 

The Colonial powers believed that by containing the workers within an institutional framework such as a Trade Union they would be able to muzzle the strength of the work­ing class and channel that strength into talking around a table. They were to succeed for a while, but the working class was able to later fashion the Trade Union to suit their own pur­poses.

The 1945 Agreement besides being the first agree­ment for the OWTU also made Industrial Relations history since it contained the very first Cost of Living Allowance Clause negotiated in the country. In those days it was ~ cent for every 5 point rise in the C.O.L. Index. By now, too, John Rojas was President General of the Union, succeeding Rienzi in 1943. He was to hold that post for nineteen years. 

1946 again saw disturbances in the oilbelt. This time however, the OWTU played a role which put yet another stain on its record as champion of the workers' cause. Butler was released from jail on April 9th 1945. His return from de­tention on Nelson Island passed without notice from the OWTU Executive. The working people however, gave him a fitting welcome. According to an old Butlerite a "Carnival Spirit" pervaded the oilbelt, their hero had returned to lead them once again. Also to meet him were, according to an oil-worker, "the politicians - Dr. Solomon, Dr. Pitt, Roy Joseph and others - who were vying for political honours." 


Butler immediately began another round of political agitation. His Union, which had been formed as the alternative to the OWTU in 1939, was revived. He then waged a struggle with the companies to get his Union - the British Empire Workers, Peasants and Rate Payers Union recognised as the representative of the oilworkers. The companies refused to accept his claim, even though it was obvious to all that he had the support of the majority of workers. He appealed to the Governor to get the company management to agree to a poll but the Governor stated that the "employers and the Unions disapproved of the methods pursued by Butler's Union' and were unwilling "to have any dealings with Butler". 

The will of the workers denied, Butler decided to organise a strike in the oilfields with the dual aim of forcing the companies to recognise the Union, and bring about the improved working conditions and a substantial wage increase. The latter was a particularly serious bread and butter issue for the workers as inflation was rampant and the 2c. per hour increase that the O.W.T.U. had negotiated late inl945with the oil companies had only returned oilworkers' wage to the level of 1929. In fact workers were expecting a 2c. per hour in­crease every year, but "because of the war" this was not effected. 


The standard of living of workers was therefore at a new low. The strike, which began on December 19th 1946, was effective mostly in the Deep South and particularly Point Fortin and surrounding areas. The refinery in Point, owned by UBOT was totally closed down as were most pro­ducing fields. The workers were intent on winning their struggle. They did not, however, reckon with the dastardly move that John Rojas - President General of the O.W.T.U. was to make. 

Immediately following the strike call, the OWTU issued an instruction telling oilworkers not to strike! Then, when it became apparent that his instruction alone was not sufficient, Rojas and other Union officials openly recruited people to break the strike! Under heavily armed police guard he drove busloads of workers (scabs) into the fields and re­finery in order to defeat the workers' struggle. 

The unholy triumvirate of Rojas (and the OWTU), the Colonial Government (in the form of the police) and the companies broke the back of the strike. Rojas obviously re­alised that the O'WTU would not have developed with Butler heading a strong rival Union. In addition the Company and the Government wanted to remove Butler from the scene and they perceived that the best way was to erode his support. A defeat to Butler would have precipitated this. 

By the middle of January 1947, the striking workers had to begin to go back to their jobs. Those that stayed out continued to carry out the militant action - spreading oil on the roads, burning buildings and on the 17th January, two oil wells were set afire. The Government invoked Emergency Powers and removed Butler to Port of Spain. The strike was thus effectively broken. The companies then went on a vin­dictive campaign and refused to give many striking workers back their jobs. Some were never to get employment for the rest of their lives in the oil industry. 


As a living reminder of the suffering that these Oil­workers and their families underwent, there stands a com­munity right on the edge of the Point Fortin refinery. Known as Strikers Village, it is a good example of the contrast be­tween the wealth of the Oil Industry symbolized by the re­finery, and the stark poverty that is characteristic of this village, a stone's throw away. 

The 1946 strike by oil workers was only one of many strikes organized by the workers between November 1946 and the middle of 1947. Dockworkers, sugar workers and City Council workers were the other sections of the working class that attempted to free themselves from poverty. The role of the OWTU in the oil strike was similar to that played by other Unions led by "reasonable" Trade Unionists - Albert Gomes, C.C. Abidh and others. It was to be another decade before the working class was on the move again. 

1946-1947 closed a sordid chapter in the history of the Union, many Oilworkers as a result of Rojas' action mis-trusted the OWTU. It was only circumstances that forced them to move back into the fold of the blue shirted army, and it took more than two decades for the Union to embrace "Buzz" Butler once again. 

Oilworkers were now faced with a predicament. On the one hand they had serious misgivings about the OWTU, after its unforgivable role in the strike in 1947, On the other hand, their conditions demanded a Union. All the problems they  struggled against in 1937, continued to exist - the wages were exploitative, job security a myth, the companies remained unconcerned about Health and Safety on the job and fringe benefits were far from fair. Moreover, they recog­nised that individual workers could not deal with the giant companies by whom they were employed. They knew too, from bitter experience, that the employers intended to recog­nise but one Union - THE OWTU. Reluctantly, then, the workers came back into the Blue Shirted Army, and they did so out of the sheer need to survive. 

The influx of members into the Union in the period 1948-50, strengthened the OWTU in two ways. It increased the size of the Union tremendously, and the new members brought with them the militancy of the Butlerites. This deve­lopment had the effect of forcing JOHN ROJAS and the Ex­ecutive, to take a stronger and more militant position towards the companies. According to one oil worker who aptly des­cribed the relationship between leadership and rank and file "Whenever he (Rojas) came down here, we had him do what we wanted. He had to park aside, and we order him out of the car and he had to lead us in our demonstrations." 


In the first few years of the 1950's, the OWTU had therefore, recaptured some of the fire for which it was first known. Marches and demonstrations were held regularly -and with tremendous support from oilworkers and their families. Every May Day, in particular, the OWTU would show their solidarity with the workers of the world in their struggle to free themselves from the shackles of capitalism. An interesting feature of this period was the tremendous strength and activity of the Union's Women's Auxiliary who were always in the forefront of all the demonstrations. Often too, they would take the initiative and organise their own marches and protests. 

Rojas, encouraged these demonstrations as they gave him an air of militancy. It is significant that throughout this period, the Union never called an official strike - an action that gives credence to the belief that Rojas' mili­tancy was at the time mere trappings. 

There were also, a number of external influences on Rojas, the Executive and the Union. For one, Rojas was a member of the WEST INDIAN INDEPENDENCE PARTY (WIP) along with persons such as Lennox Pierre, John La Rose, Walter Annamunthodo and others, known for their working class ideology and leftist views on political change. He was also, at the time, close to Cheddi Jagan, whose PPP in Guyana (then British Guiana) was maintaining a strong anti-imperialist position. Because of these connections, the Government and Press often subjected him to attack and pressure. Hostility was especially strong on the question of the OWTU's affiliation to the World Federation of Free Trade Unions (WFTU) an international Trade Union body whose leadership was in the hands of the socialist countries. Rojas was eventually to buckle under the pressure and affiliate instead to the American-backed ICFTU. 


The OWTU, due to its renewed spirit, was winning benefits for its workers, benefits which had never been achieved by any Union in the country. In 1950, workers of T.L.L. went on a militant campaign due to the intransigence of the company in the settlement of the negotiations. A march was held from Pointe-a-Pierre to San Fernando to show the company the strength of the workers. Eventually, the largest increase of the day - 1 Sc. an hour, was won for the workers. In addition, workers were to receive Subsistence and Meal Allowances for the first time. In 1952, a Disturbance Allow­ance was won, and Vacation Leave conditions improved. The Union was succeeding in certain measure in defending and fighting for the interests of its members, and carving out its record of getting the best conditions for workers. 

The influx of members also had another important effect. For the cons~6usness of workers was attuned not only to attempting to bring about a better day for oilworkers but also to ensure that their institution, their Trade Union had real democracy. For the workers understood all too clearly that without democracy their Union would become merely a hollow shell, an instrument unable to bring about the benefits that were theirs by right.

If the period between 1949 and 1954, could he cha­racterised as a period of increased activity for the OWTU the next few years witnessed the Union undergoing a struggle for internal democracy that was to culminate in 1962 with a new leadership. This period was an extremely important one in the Union's history since it gave birth to the leadership of George Weekes and the Rebels, as well as laying the foundation for the militancy that has made the OWTU the vanguard trade union in the country - and indeed the Caribbean. 


Decision making was far from democratic. Workers were not actively consulted, nor did they participate in discussion or debate on any of the issues that affected them. The Union machinery had become a bureaucracy. 


The system was also open to much manipulation, and this was particularly obvious in the proceedings of the Annual Conference of Delegates - the highest body in the Union. Devised as the means whereby the workers could gather and discuss and decide upon the policy and direction of the Union the Annual Conference was turned by Rojas, into a mockey of democracy. The Conference lasted but a day, more than half of which was taken up by debauchery and playing to the gallery. A commentator (and Union activist) wrote:-"The Annual Conference of Delegates, previous to 1956, were among but a day's outing for the delegates. It began on a Sunday at about 10.30 a.m. with the Chairman's address in which he attacked all those who opposed his policies and actions and stamped them as "traitors wanting to break up the organisation."

This was followed by addresses from some Govemment Officials and Officers of other Unions lasting to about 1.00 pm. Then, came a lunch period stretching for two hours during which the liquor flowed. At 3.00 p. m. or later the Conference is resumed with about half the delegates gone and others thinking of leaving The General Secretary reads a report that has nothing about policy, programme or finances. There were no budgets or financial statements. This discussion on the General Secretary's Report was really some ten to fifteen minute speeches by the Chairman and other members of the Executive. During this period, delegates, some well under the influence of alcohol, kept leaving, and by 5.30 p.m. there are less than forty at the meeting. 

If the Executive wants some amendment to Rules and if Executive Officers are to be elected these are rushed through and then at 6.00 p. m. a motion is passed leaving the rest of matters to be dealt with by the General Council. 

The charge of undemocratic  practices was to be one of the cornerstones around which the struggle against the old leadership was to be built. But there were other issues that made the members dissatisfied with Rojas and company. Rojas had left the WIIP in 1954. At the same time, his much vaunted militancy and critical public statements began to waver, possibly as a result of the constant harassment and pressure to which he, and others, in the WIIP were subjected. This vacillation was manifested in the Union's dealings with the Companies on behalf of the workers. Workers were be­coming more and more suspicious of the representation they were getting and there were many who felt that "sellouts" were taking place. 


One such instance was the oilworkers' struggle to get a Pension Scheme implemented. The workers claim was simple -- they wanted a decent Pension on which they could live in their twilight years. This was something they richly deserved after working many years producing tremendous wealth from which others benefitted. A lot of work was done1 by the more militant sections of the workers as they can­vassed the viewpoints of members on what they wanted. 

Texaco, which had entered the Trinidad Oil Industry in 1956, by buying out the former T.L.L. proposed a totally ridiculous Pension Plan which the majority of workers re­jected outright. Yet, the Executive thought it fit to accept the Company's offer, and this sparked off an immediate protest by thousands of workers. A mass demonstration was held in San Fernando, ending up outside the Union's Headquarters on Lower Hillside Street. Speakers at that meet­ing denounced the Company's insulting offer as well as the treachery of the Executive. By their action the workers demonstrated their resolve not to settle for a worthless Pension and in the face of their strength, the Company and the Executive  recanted. Nothing nrore was heard about the Pension Plan for several years, as the Executive made no further attempt to secure a proper retirement scheme for its members. 

Then there was the political bankruptcy of Rojas. In 1955, the Union bought the Palms Club in San Fernando. A big official opening was planned, and to the consternation of all, it was announced that Albert Gomes, was to open the building. 

Though he claimed that he had been cornered into inviting Gomes, the then Minister of Labour, Rojas could not extricate himself from the condemnation of many workers, for by this time, Eric Williams and the PNM had arrived on the scene in Trinago and were exciting the people with visions of nationalistim (visions that have never become realities} while Gomes was seen as the antithesis of the national movement. It was, therefore, a retrograde step for the OWTU to associate itself with him and his politics. 


There was thus growing disenchantment within the ranks of the membership, and a group of workers at Pointe-a-­Pierre, decided to begin a campaign to rectify the problems. They started slowly, doing education work by raising issues with workers in their Branch. Through this patient work they were able to succeed in first winning one post in the branch, then in 1956 they were able to win most of the branch offices. 

This group of dedicated workers had styled themselves the "REFORMISTS" and they held regular caucuses (known as "Cabinet") to discuss the affairs of the Union. By securing the leadership of the most powerful branch of the OWTU, they demonstrated their maturity and set the stage for a union-wide struggle to reform the anti-democratic practices and the complacency that was eating away at the very fibre of the OWTU and what it stood for. 

The campaign was launched at the 1956 Annual Conference of Delegates, and the news of the internal struggle soon reached the press. It was in fact to be the newspapers, in a role characteristic of them, that labelled the Reformists as the "REBELS" - a name which has remained to this day. It is in fact a name that aptly describes the militancy of George Weekes and others who sought in 1956 to transform the OWTU into a democratic institution and it is therefore of little surprise to anyone that the name "REBELS" quickly replaced "REFORMISTS". 


The 1956 Annual Conference was indeed a turning point. The Pointe-a-Pierre Branch delegation raised issue after issue in a manner never before seen at Conferences. Questions concerning the Union's finances - irregularities in the Account­ing Procedures, Squandering and waste etc. were directed to the Executive and answers demanded. Changes in the Con­stitution and the Rules of the Union were proposed with the object of bringing about greater democracy into the organisation The question of voting, to enable each worker to parti­cipate by popular ballot in electing the Executive of the Union, was put to the delegates gathered. Views concerning the direction and policy of the OWTU were espoused, and criticisms of the existing situation levelled at the leaders.

The motions moved by the Pointe-a-Pierre delegates were not successful, as the Conference was still controlled by Rojas loyalists. The Rebels were however, successful in giving the Conference some substance in its deliberations. For the first time the conference lasted three (3) days, and this was solely due to the tremendous amount of debate provoked by Pointe-a-Pierre. The eyes of many workers were opened. They now began to understand the importance of democracy, and members recognised that all was not well with the existing policy of the OWTU. This wind of change, which had sprung up, soon had telling effects.

 Not understanding the nature of the Movement against his leadership, Rojas decided to destroy it by harsh measures. Three members of the Pointe-a-Pierre Branch -WALTER ANNAMUNTHODO, CECIL MITCHELL and HUGH NOR­TON, were expelled from the Union in 1957, for "PLOT­TING". This move received much publicity from the Press and did nothing to bolster the image of Rojas amongst his member­ship. In fact, when Annamunthodo fought his case all the way to the Privy Council - and won - workers were more than ever convinced of the need for a change to be made.

(Incidentally, this case made industrial relations history as it was the first time that a worker appealed a case against a Union in such manner). Thus Rojas' attempt to weaken the Rebel Movement failed abysmally. 


The second effect of the campaign begun in the 1956 Conference of Delegates was the now famous strike in 1960. On  29th June 1960 the Union called the first official strike in its history and shut down Texaco. In the next few days, the operations at Shell, BP., Apex and in other fields, were also brought to a standstill. The issue at hand was the breakdown in negotiations between OWTU and the Oil Com­panies - particularly Texaco and Shell, for a new Industrial Agreement. The Union at first, proposed a 40% wage in­crease, and then moderated this to 30%. Texaco originally sug­gested a 2% increase, and later increased to 4% in a move that indicated its total contempt for the workers and their depen­dents. In addition to the dispute over wages, the Union and Company were deadlocked over hours of work - the workers wanting a 44-hour work week, severance benefits and retro­activity. 

But more than the issues of increased benefits, the tremendous confidence that workers were gaining in them­selves and their Trade Unions underlined the strike. This confidence and the new militant leadership that the Rebels had injected into the Union (even though they were not Executive Officers) -- enabled the industry-wide strike to last for a record eighteen (18) days (longer even than Butler's strike in 1937). More than 10,000 oilworkers displayed a unity and commitment that had not been experienced in the Labour Movement for years. Workers demonstrated exemplary discipline, pickets were effectively organised, strike bulletins were distributed to keep workers up-to-date on developments.


In order to combat the force of the anti-worker propaganda on the radio and in the newspapers - the Union organised a series of meetings throughout Trinidad. In addition, they published  a paid advertisement entitled "HERE ARE THE FACTS!" which summed up the Union's case in these words:-"The Union has asked for this rise in pay because it believes that today, industrial projects under a Capitalist Society must be operated on the basis of a reasonable sharing of profits between the workers who produce the wealth and the shareholders who provide the tools. This is the only acceptable alternative to socialised control of industry and it is particularly important when, as is here the case, the oil and the labour are provided by the underdeveloped and backward island like Trinidad while the shareholders are mostly wealthy foreigners.

 The slant of the media attempted to cause division between the striking workers and the rest of the community, and this they did by portraying the OWTU as reckless persons holding the country to ransom. That argument is now a familiar one to the blue shirt army and one which seeks only to hide the harsh realities of the mammoth financial benefits that the Oil Company extracts from their operations in Trinago - all at the expense of the working people.

 So the 1960 strike taught the OWTU the valuable lesson of stating its position on the multiplicity of issues that affect the working class of Trinago. For this forthright, principled stand, the union had gained respect and  admiration from large sections of the population. The strike also marked the establishment of the sophisticated arguments in support of the union's claim for which it is now famous. In that year Jack Kelshall, in addition to a senior official of the International Federation of Petroleum Workers, assisted in preparing the union's case. 


Largely because of the tremendous unity and mili­tancy of the workers, coupled of course with an impreg­nable case, the Union was able to secure a record 22% General Wage Increase, along with a reduction in the working hours to 44 hours a week. Many workers felt that more could have been gained if some of the leadership, and in particular JOHN ROJAS, had more resolve to continue the fight. In fact, the strike ended in an unusual way with Rojas making a snap announcement to the striking workers. Rojas came out of the strike with his reputation far from improved. Indeed, it was due to the workers' insistence as well as the tremendous amount of agitational and educational work done by the Rebels that forced Rojas into taking strike action. Left to his own devices, a strike would probably never have been called. 

The 1960 strike, therefore, did two main things. First, it drove another nail in the coffin of the old leadership of the OWTU represented by Rojas. Secondly, it infused the members with renewed zest and confidence in themselves to confront the multinational giants. For this, it will be for­ever remembered by oil workers. 

There was one other major issue that caused dis­affection in the Union, and in fact, which led to the final de­mise of Rojas and his Executive. Retrenchment in the Oil Industry was taking on serious proportions, and more than Two Thousand oil workers were laid off their jobs between 1959 and 1961. While this was a serious threat to the liveli­hood of the Union's members, and to the Union itself, the Executive failed to take any strong steps to arrest the situ­ation. Meetings were held with Company officials and pleas made to Government but with little avail. The arguments put forward by the Companies (particularly BP and Shell) were that land production was dropping, new wells were not pro­fitable to open up and that the Oil Industry internationally was in recession. The Executive, or at least Rojas, seemed to accept these arguments as reasonable, for they did not seek to expose the true nature of the oil multinationals who continued to make tremendous profits on their worldwide operations.


On the other hand workers in the Union had gained experience in 1960 in winning their demands through mili­tant action and they felt the leadership was selling them out. The issue came to a head in 1962.

 British Petroleum had laid off thirty-eight (38) workers and the matter was discussed at the 1962 Annual Conference of Delegates. That body instruct­ed the General Council "to examine the matter of the BP retrenchment and to take strike action if necessary." However in a meeting with the company's management, Rojas and the General Secretary Joseph Houlder settled the issue by accept­ing that twenty-two (22) workers would be given employment with a contractor. This was not in keeping with the decision at the Annual Conference since it was known that workers laid off from the Oil Companies and hired by contractors had no job security at all. Often the company and the con­tractor used this as a ruse to placate the Union, and within a week or two the very workers would find themselves on the breadline once again. And so, the Palo Seco Branch debated and passed a VOTE OF NO CONFIDENCE IN THE PRESIDENT AND GENERAL SECRETARY OF THE OWTU. On March the 27th, 1962, this action was discussed at the General Council, which took the momentous decision of approving the No Confidence Motion in Rojas and Houlder

 John Rojas, recognising at last that the membership were in serious doubt as to his ability to lead them wisely, tendered his resignation on the 13th April 1962. He had been in the Union from its inception, and had been President General for nineteen (19) years. With his resignation, an era had come to an end. 

THE PERIOD: 1962 - 1969

 Elections for all the Executive posts were held on the 25th June 1962. It was the first time in the Union's history that every member was entitled to vote for the leadership of his choice. It was a red-letter day for the working people of the country for oilworkers put their faith in the leadership of GEORGE WEEKES and his team of "REBELS". Their faith was based on the knowledge that the Rebels had restored democracy to the OWTU. Indeed, the very fact that each worker could vote for an Executive was as a direct result of the campaign that had begun in the Annual Conference in 1961, when the motion to change the voting rules of Union was finally successful. 

The Rebel team in their Manifesto (another first in OWTU history) pledged that "we will at all times irrevocably obey and act upon the orders and instructions of the Annual Conference of Delegates and the General Council of the Union in so far as is constitutionally possible and shall at all times faithfully perform the duties of our office without fear favour, partiality or ill-will and to the best of our judgement and ability" The pledge that was made 15-25 years ago to defend the interests of the Union's members "without fear or favour" has been upheld to this day. And it has been because of the unwavering and uncompromising leadership of the OWTU over the last 15-25 years that has caused it, and GEORGE WEEKES in particular, to be singled out for much condemnation and attack.

The first crisis that the new leadership had to face was a battle to save the jobs of hundreds of its members employed at British Petroleum. The Company had planned to immediately retrench three Hundred and fifty (350) workers for "economic reasons." Having seen so many workers lose their jobs previously without a fight from the Union, the new leadership was not prepared to let the same thing occur again. When other avenues failed to get the Company to alter its position, the Union with the full support of all the BP workers served Strike Notice on the Company. And on the 17th February 1963, all 2,600 workers at BP responded to the Union's call. The strike was to last a marathon fifty-seven (57) days.

 During the period, the Union's Executive did all in its power to get BP to save the jobs of the workers, thereby putting them in a position to call off the strike. BP however was adamant. The Government intervened, yet even talks with the Prime Minister and the Labour Commissioner, failed to produce a just settlement. In fact, it was only the decision of the General Council to call out all Union members to support their colleagues at BP that gave the Union's negotiating team the strength it needed to bring about a settlement with the company. The OWTU had indicated to everyone that it stood firm on the principles of justice. They were able to save the jobs of many persons who would otherwise have lost them. More than that, they were able to put a stop to the wild retrenchment that was taking place in the Oil Industry. That itself was a remarkable achievement.

 Throughout the strike, attempts were made to sabotage the Union's efforts to defend its members. Newspaper edito­rials tried to paint a picture of subversion and destruction of the economy and the society, yet never a word was mentioned about the survival of the retrenched workers, their wives and children. As usual, the capitalists were concerned only about their profits. 


Due to the pressure being exerted on the Government from the Oil Companies and the business sector generally, an announcement was made that a Commission of Enquiry would be set up to investigate subversion in the Trade Unions. Thc Report of the Commission (popularly known as the Mbanefo Commission) was to surface some two years later in the most opportunistic fashion. One of the members of the Commission was McDonald Moses, founding member of the OWTU who was a close friend of Rojas, and who also had capitulated to the side of the employer class.

 One of the fore-most instigators of this enquiry was none other than John Rojas, disgraced leader of the OWTU. Rojas had for some time been making noises about "Communists" in the trade union movement. In fact, some six months previously, he had used the Senate as a forum to warn of these "communists" who controlled several key Trade Unions and who were plan­ning an "overthrow of the Government." The 1963 BP strike, therefore, only provided the pretext to carry on a "com­munist witch-hunt" along the lines of the infamous Mc Carthy in the United States. Essentially, it was an attempt to destroy the Progressive Trade Union Movement and the OWTU in particular.

 Within the Union, various elements, no doubt inspired by the anti-Communist drive, and supported no doubt by the CIA, attempted to discredit Weekes and the Rebels with a series of pamphlets printed under such nefarious names as "The Anti-Culprits and Subversives Exposure Association" and "The Oilworkers Free Trade Union Group. "In the pamphlets, the general theme was that Weekes was "communist" and was leading the Union to destruction. The workers were totally unmoved by these ridiculous accusations, and the attacks did little more than strengthen the support for the Rebels. For the Oilworkers knew only too well the capabilities of the Rebels in "holding the fort". In 1963, for example, the Union had successfully negotiated a substantial wage increase in addi­tion to cutting the work week .to forty hours. More than that, they got a Pension Plan instituted at Texaco -a first in the oil Industry. Under the Rebels, oilworkers were receiving the best representation possible, and far from destroying the Union, it was being strengthened. 


1965, was to be a most important year in the history of the Union - and of Trinago as a whole. For 1965, wit­nessed another attempt by the working class to unite. The issue that sparked off the events of 1965 was a strike by the tasker drivers at the Ste. Madeleine Sugar Factory. These workers, who were all members of the All Trinidad Sugar Estates and Factory Workers Trade Union, were protesting the lack of action on the part of their Executive to process a number of long outstanding grievances. Bhadase Maharaj, President of the Union, reacted in a most vicious manner by bringing in scores of strike-breakers under the armed protec­tion of Caroni's Estate Police. The move was reminiscent of Rojas in 1947. 

The workers immediately mobilised their colleagues in the fields and in the other factories, and by the 8th March, 1965, all sugar workers had gone on strike. The workers' objective was to rid themselves of the corrupt and sell-out leadership of Bhadase Maharaj. In their struggle for demo­cracy, the sugar workers turned to George Weekes to assist them. It was a natural and logical step for them to take, based as it was on the record of Weekes and the OWTU. Weekes was also President of the National Trade Union Congress - the umbrella body of the Trade Union Movement. The N.T.U.C. was at the time a united body, but the incidents of 1965 were to see an end to that unity.

 As soon as the sugar workers brought their problem to Weekes, he raised the issue in an emergency session with the NTUC Executive. The Executive agreed to stand with the workers and wrote both Caroni and the Government, request­ing a meeting to discuss the crisis with a view to finding some solution. To this day, neither the company nor the govern­ment met with the NTUC.


 Instead, the Government declared a STATE OF EMERGENCY on the 18th March. Originally restricted to the county of Caroni, it was later extended to Barataria, osten­sibly to enable the police to put CLR James, under house arrest. By declaring a State of Emergency, the Williams' Government sought to prevent the sugar workers from being led by progressive Trade Unionists. That would have strengthened the growing disenchantment amongst the work­ing class about the pro-imperialist stance of the PNM. As Williams himself put it: -"My outstanding responsibility in Parliament  

    was the Industrial Stabilisation Act  intro­duced in a State of Emergency  The subversive elements in the society, with James in the forefront were at work, the background was an open attempt to link the Trade Unions in oil and sugar."

 The very fact that the largely Indian sugar workers wanted to join with the largely African oilworkers was too serious a threat to those that controlled the society. Some twenty years before, the working class had attempted, under Butler, to forge that very unity. That led to the Colonial Government employing every device available to divide the working class in order to rule. And not least of these tech­niques was the establishment of a Westminister style Parlia­ment, complete with Political Parties led by opportunistic politicians who appealed to the working class on the basis of race. In 1965, Williams did not hesitate to use force to pre­vent that historical unity, and it was to take another decade before the oil and sugar workers got another opportunity to link arms again.


 Immediately  after declaring the Emergency, the Government laid before the House of Representatives the Mbanefo Report on Subversive Activities. The Commission of Enquiry, set up in 1963, after the BP strike had presented its Report to the Governor General in January, 1964, yet it was not disclosed until March 18th, 1965. The reason was obvious. The Government hoped that its contents would further justify their strong-handed actions in the sugar strike. Moreover because the Report resurrected the "RED SCARE" the PNM regime hoped that Weekes would be rejected totally as a Trade Union leader. It was an opportunistic and sinister move by the Government - and one which was to eventually fail.

 The PNM regime did one more thing which planted it firmly on the employers' side of the fence. It introduced the Industrial Stabilisation Act which, amongst other things, out-lawed strikes. This move was in fact contrary to what Williams himself had said in 1960 - "Industrial democracy is based on the right of workers to withhold their labour by way of strike, even though the community is thrown in turmoil"

 When the Governor General assented to the Bill on March 21st, 1965, a blow was struck against all workers in Trinago. They now had their only weapon taken away from them, and were forced to deal with a frustrating sys­tem of arbitration that culminated in the Industrial Court -a Court designed to serve the capitalist.


 The Bill itself was hurriedly drafted and passed in both houses in the space of twenty-four hours. It is significant that it received the support of the Opposition DLP, even though this Party was supposed to represent the interests of the sugar workers who were their main constituents. Also supporting the Bill with great enthusiasm was Senator John Rojas, who in his speech continued to berate the "RED MENACE". His position, as that of the DLP indicated clearly an anti-worker position.

 One more significant event was to occur. Leaders of some Trade Unions, though they had in Congress Executive meetings supported Weekes' position in trying to solve the sugar crisis, turned traitor to the workers. They publicly dis­associated themselves from the official NTUC position, and proceeded to castigate Weekes and the General Secretary of NTUC, Eugene Joseph. In fact, two Unions - the Seamen and Waterfront Workers Trade Union and the Union of Com mercial and Industrial Workers, were taken out of Congress by their leaders because they disagreed with Weekes. Faced with the treachery of his fellow Trade Union leaders (Manswell, Stanford, Tull and others), and recognising that the forces of reaction were desperately trying to destroy the OWT'J as a progressive Trade Union, George Weekes, resigned as President of the NTUC on the 24th March 1965. That date marked a serious division in the Trade Union Movement, one side supporting the PNM and the capitalists, the other firm in its belief of true independence.


 History will also record the OWTU's consistent and principled stand on the ISA. It began with the General Coun­cil's call to workers for a token two-hour strike on the day of the presentation of the Bill in Parliament to protest its passage. Later on the Union was to bring down a legal expert - JOHN PLATT-MILI-S QC to fight the Union's claim that the ISA was unconstitutional. Platt-Mills made the Union's position clear. "However, the other matters of the complaint affects so many different parts of the Act, and may be said to per­meate the whole, with the result, in our opinion, that it must be held that the Act in its entirety must be set aside as being unconstitutional We think rather that if contrary to our view of what is just and correct in law, it were ever sought to put the Act into operation in its different forms, there would be revealed a number of anomalies and contradictions which would show that it could not be operated efficiently."

 The Union fought the case all the way to the Privy Council and lost because the judicial system had to support the Govern­ment in keeping the lid on the Industrial Relations crisis facing the country. The working class, however, continued their militant action and disregard of the ISA. By their action they were able to expose the ISA as a disreputable piece of legislation.

 It is easy to understand the concerted effort to des­troy Weekes and the Rebels in these early months of 1965, since elections were to be held for all the Executive posts on the 17th May, 1965. Yet despite all the frenzied attacks from all sources, not forgetting the aspirant to office FABIEN LESALDO, and his CIA inspired Oilworkers Free Trade Union Group, the Rebels won another landslide victory. Democracy and freedom had been preserved in the OWTU.


Such was the importance of the OWTU in the minds of American big business that they openly tried to subvert the Union. Following their support for Lesaldo in 1965, they threw their weight behind Urilton Pierre in 1968. The quote from this letter written to the C.I.A. organised AIFLD in May 1968, clearly demonstrates what forces the Union has had to be up against.


"In the Caribbean, most of our activities have bee concentrated in Trinidad. The Oilfields Workers' Trade Union is our largest affiliate in this area. During the past few year its leadership has come under increasing communist leadership, if not under the direction of communist leaders.... We have a full-time office established in Trinidad and its Purpose is to preserve the OWTU for the democratic trade union movement.  During the next few months, an election will be held in this union which could well determine the course. which it will take in the future.


Its present leadership is being challenged by a group of leaders who are dedicated to the free trade union movement. The petroleum industry is one of the most vital industries in the Caribbean and Central America Many new refineries have been built in this area and they are the target for trade union activity for the organisation."


The next momentous event in the Union's history was the battle in 1967 to save the livelihood of thousands of workers at BP and Shell, whose jobs were being threatened once again with retrenchment. This time BP wanted to trench no less than 1,500 and Shell 350 workers. The implications of this programme of retrenchment were alarming. For two thousand men to lose their jobs in a country already beset with soaring rates of unemployment and underemployment meant that many would never find useful employment again. That spelt destitution to their families. This retrenchment would therefore affect the quality of life of well over ten thousand citizens of the country.


A massive campaign was launched to save the work jobs, and the cry went out around the oilfields "NOT A M MUST GO!" Demonstrations and meetings were held by members in support of their beleaguered colleagues and the General Council constantly met to discuss the workers' plight. He lines from the "Vanguard" newspapers (The "Vanguard was a paper printed and published by the Vanguard Printery owned by the OWTU.) Begun in the early days of the Union it was closed down after a few years. It was reestablished the Rebels in 1965 and ran weekly until 1971) indicated seriousness of the matter. 

The Union held discussions with the Prime Mini and other top ranking Government Officials, in addition spate of meetings with the Companies - both privately under the aegis of the Labour Commissioner. Yet BP failed to agree to the Union's position on retrenchment and remained unconcerned about instituting an up to-date Pension P even though the Union had submitted proposals some years previously. While these talks were underway, both companies offered an "incentive" plan in order to encourage workers to retire early from their employ. The carrot dangled before the workers was a lump-sum payment. Though the Union recognised the pitfalls of this strategy, many workers, against their Executives' warning, accepted the companies' offer. Some were to regret their decision for they soon had nothing left and were unable to find any alternative employ­ment.


Eventually, the case reached the Industrial Court, where the Company held the advantage. The Union, in order to secure the best possible defence for their comrades, enlisted the services of a well known British Socialist - DR. CHARLES FEINSTEIN, Lecturer in Economics at Cambridge University. Though the Union's team argued a watertight case concerning the profitability of BP, the Court, in a Judgement that lent credence to the Union's charge that it was an instrument of the employer class, ruled that BP could begin to retrench workers.

Even though a retrenchment order was given, it should be noted that BP was not in fact allowed to lay-off all the workers it had planned to. Similarly with Shell. In all, some 411 men were laid off and a little more than 300 accepted the Company's inducement to retire early. The jobs of the other 800 men were saved.

  It is clear that the Union's relentless efforts to secure the livelihood of its members succeeded in preventing lay-offs on as wide a scale as planned. More significantly, had not the ISA been passed, outlawing strike action, the Union may very well have been able to take a stronger position thereby forcing a better deal. Instead, the issue was resolved in the Industrial Court. This was not the first, nor was it to be the last occasion on which the Court and the mechanism of the state was used to frustrate justice for the workers.  

There was another theme that arose out of the retrenchment issue, and that was the call for the nationalisation of the Oil Industry. As early as 1937, oilworkers - through their spokesman BUTLER - had advocated nationalisation of the Oil Industry. In those days however, the working class's pleas were dismissed as the rantings of a "madman" (Butler).

  Again in 1963, following the BP strike, the OWTU submitted a lengthy memorandum to a Commission of Enquiry appoint­ed to investigate the Oil Industry. Contained within that Memorandum, was an analysis of the Oil Industry in Trinago and an outline of the adverse role that the multinationals played in the country's development. The document called for the establishment of a NATIONAL OIL COMPANY, to carry out production that the major companies did not wish to undertake for "Economic Reasons" - though it was demon­strated that these activities were in fact profitable. 

In 1967, when the retrenchment of workers in the Oil Industry again came to the fore, Weekes and the OWTU quickly realised that a local Oil Company - owned by the Government - was a necessary step in rectifying the worsening situation in the industry. The call went out for a NATIONAL OIL COMPANY, to take over BP's operations. In a document submitted to the Prime Minister, the Union stated - "The crux of the Union’s case is that the nation cannot afford to have treasures hidden underground, while workers starve, merchants go bankrupt, and the Treasury remains deficient." It was a clear position on the need for local ownership and control of natural resources, which would have had tremen­dous positive implications for the lives and destiny of the Trinagonian people. It is a question that remains as true to­day as it did one decade ago.

  Though the Union was able to prove the feasibility (the desirability was never an issue in question) of such a nationalisation, the Government abdicated its responsibility and did not take over BP. Several months later, they nego­tiated with the Tesoro Oil Company of Texas, to establish Trinidad Tesoro. This company took over BP's assets and has since made substantial profits on its operations. The Union's position was the correct one, but the Government lacked the courage and the commitment to battle the multinationals. It instead wanted to hold hands with foreign corporations - the very thing that the Union was protesting against. Subsequent­ly, the Government was to buy  out Shell and establish TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO OIL COMPANY (Trintoc). The Oilfields Workers' Trade Union can look back and claim with justification that it initiated the move towards nationalisation in the Oil Industry, though the type of nationalisation under­taken by the PNM has still not realised the Union's goal for "those who labour hold the reins"


Another development was taking place in the Trade Union Movement that was to affect the OWTU significantly. Because of the unimpeachable manner in which PG Weekes and the Rebels carried out their responsibility, they gained the respect of thousands of workers throughout the country. Workers saw a different kind of Trade Union - one which could with stature make pronouncements on nationalisa­tion; on Agriculture, and on the need for economic indepen­dence. All this in addition to defending the rights of workers in the best possible fashion. This show of confidence was manifested in, for example, the massive march organised by the workers through the streets of Port of Spain in June 1968. Several other Unions joined the OWTU in the "MARCH OF RESISTANCE" but it was George Weekes who stood out head over shoulders above the rest.

As a result of the OWTU's Vanguard role in the Trade Union Movement, many workers were desirous of joining the "BLUE SHIRTS." The workers at Trinidad Cement, were the first to take this decision, but because of legal wranglings, the injustice of the Industrial Court and other subterfuges, it was to be twelve years before OWTU was finally granted Recognition for them. One of the stumbling blocks to their joining the union was the existing Union Rules which, in its objec­tives, limited membership to workers in the Oil Industry. The relevant Rule (No.2) was duly amended at the 27th Annual Conference in January 1967, paving the way for workers in any industry or area of activity to join. Workers in the Rubber Industry (Dunlop) joined, as did the Chemical workers at Fed Chem, and the Agricultural workers at Brighton. Then in an important move, the OWTU won Recognition for the workers at T & TEC - the electricity suppliers to the country -

  The advent of other sections of the working class into its fold transformed the OWTU into an "omnibus" Union, representing workers in all spheres of activity. It also transformed the Union into a national Union in a real sense - hav­ing members in all corners of Trinago. It also meant a vote of confidence in the progressive line within the Trade Union Movement, and a rejection of the capitulationist policy being pursued by the leaders of the Trade Union Congress.

  The mounting militancy and consciousness of the workers in the closing years of the 1960's coupled with the strengthening of the OWTU, once again threatened the exist­ence of the status quo. The next few years were to witness a tremendous struggle by the working class to free themselves from the chains of exploitation. The Oilfields Workers' Trade Union was to again play a pivotal part in that struggle. And true to form, the forces of reaction were to once again try to destroy this Vanguard Institution of the working people.

In 1969, TUBAL URIAH "BUZZ" BUTLER, was officially brought back into the fold of the Oilfields Workers' Trade Union. He was made a life member, and decorated with the LABOUR STAR, the Union's highest award. Though it could not erase the events of 1939 when Butler was expelled from the O.W.T.U. and those of 1946-47 when the union was used to break Butler's strike, his retirement finally placed Butler in his rightful place. In 1971, a life-size statue of the National Hero was erected in front of the Union's Branch Hall at Fyzabad. To this day it remains the only statue of Butler in this country. The Fyzabad Branch Hall was renamed "THE BUTLER HALL OF THE REVOLUTION" in honour of the man who led the working class in 1937. In addition, Butler was decorated with another one of the Union's highest awards the "LA BRLA CHARLES" medal. The Union never forgot its responsibility to the Chief Servant in his twilight years. Throughout the period of his illness the O.W.T.U. stood by him providing medicines and doctor's care. Prior to this, the Union assisted in the construction of a home for "Buzz" Butler.

  It is significant that the O.W.T.U. was in fact the first organisation to publicly call for and institute recognition that befitted this great National hero.

PART D 1969 - 1977 

The growing consciousness of the people was soon demonstrated by the bus workers - members of the OWTU's sister Union the Transport and Industrial Workers Union. Their protests reached Strike proportions, and in April 1969 in open defiance of the ISA they went on strike. In order to enforce their action they sat down in front of the buses to prevent them from leaving the terminus and this resulted in Police being brought in. A large number of bus workers were arrested along with their Union Leaders in this incident. In this whole crisis, the O.W.T.U. and its President General supported their colleagues in the transport industry.

  The significance of the bus strike in 1969 was that it marked the beginning of the 1970 disturbances, popularly known as the Black Power disturbances. The essential cause of these protests were the same as those in 1937 - poor eco­nomic conditions of the working masses (high unemployment and a lack of social services), coupled with increasing antago­nism between the foreign (and white) owners of the produc­tive sectors of the economy and the (black) workers who made up the majority of the population.


  This general situation was influenced by a number of other factors, both external and internal. Externally, the Black Power movement in the United States acted as a catalyst to the development locally of Black consciousness, which in 1970 was essentially an anti-imperialist consciousness rather than a narrow racial view. Then came the incident at Sir George Williams University in Montreal where a large number of West Indian Students took part in a protest against a racist lecturer, which resulted in the destruction of the University computer center. This spurred the growing sense of nationalism as the working class and students in the Caribbean organised and agitated to get their brothers and sisters freed.

  Internally, the student movement was demon­strating a maturity not seen before. Not only did they protest the arbitrary disciplinary action taken against such prominent academics as C. Y. Thomas, Walter Rodney and Andrew Camacho, but they also indicated their whole disagreement with foreign influence in the University by demonstrating on the occasion of the visit by the Canadian Governor General to the University Campus. Lastly there was a growing concern about overt racial discrimination - in employment procedures, and in the exclusive clubs of the owning and managerial classes.

  In all of these developments, the O.W.T.U. was at the fore. Through its organ the Vanguard it sought to educate its members and the public in general about the various social ills. of the country and indicated the need for "those who labour to hold the reins". In the Sir George Williams affair it passed a number of resolutions in support of the students. Three weeks before the President General wrote to the pal of the University beseeching him to ensure justice students. It was no surprise therefore that the Blue Army would take its place amongst the hundreds of thousands of workers and unemployed throughout Trinago who, in those months February, March and April, demonstrated their reject the neo-colonial nature of the Society.


  As a direct consequence of this involvement in that uprising the O.W.T.U. was to undergo a siege that it had never before experienced. The first salvo was fired when President General and two (2) other officers of the union were arrested on April 21st 1970 - the day after the first of two States of Emergency. P.G. Weekes was to remain in detention for seven (7) months, and his jailing (as was the case with the other detainees) was obviously designed to weaken the popular mass movement by removing the leaders from its ranks. This resort to the rule of force was the only way the Williams regime could maintain its control over the ~ and ensure its survival as the Government.

  After the President General's detention, there followed the unheard of action where the police raided the Union headquarters on May 14th and 15th and forcibly seized Union's books. This move was calculated to freeze all activities of the Union since pertinent documents such as membership files, accounts books, files dealing with registration and grievances were all taken away, leaving the nerve center the Union paralyzed. Ostensibly the seizure of the was ordered by the government as a result of petitions to the Minister of Labour from certain union members, in which they complained of financial irregularities.

  This attempt of preferring fraud charges against PG Weekes was in fact a trick of the powers that be to discredit the Rebel Executive of the OWTU. For the fraud charges related to expenditure in 1965-66 from the Strike Fund. All expenditure was on legitimate Union business, moreover these transactions were discussed by the Annual Conference in 1967, and delegates present unanimously agreed that there was absolutely no impropriety in the transactions. What is more, the Union’s Auditor, also indicated clearly that all expenditure was properly authorised. The subterfuge went deeper when the polcei inspected the personal Bank Account of George Weekes only to find that honest man as he is, he only had $4.81. All of this chicanery meant that there was more in the mortar than the pestle.

  For the real objective was not to find anyone of fraud per se, (for us no such fraud ever existed, a. perusal of the facts would indicate) but rather to bring OWTU to a standstill. That is why the membership cards and other important files were seized. To this day, many of them have never been returned. In addition several attempts were made to burn down the Union's Headquarters and the Van­guard Printery. Fire bombs were thrown, gunshots were fired and property damaged, yet these attacks did not des­troy the OWTU. In fact, throughout  the period of that first State of Emergency, the Union displayed tremendous resilience and courage.


  At the time, Williams required a legal  framework for maintaining himself in power, and to this end he intro­duced the Public Order Act. It was a bill more undemocratic than anything seen before in Trinago. And it was aimed at restricting the freedoms of the working masses, the few free­doms that gave them some leverage in pursuing their struggle for a better life: Thus the Public Order Act had provision to outlaw, amongst other things, freedom of speech; of asso­ciation and of movement. In short, it made nonsense of the fundamental human rights and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution.

  And it was the OWTU that stood out in the forefront of a national outcry against the passage of the Public Order Act. As a result of the tremendous determination of the people the Public Order Act was in fact scrapped by the PNM. That was a significant victory for democracy in the country and indicated what could be achieved by a people who guard their rights vigilantly. Also as a result of continued public pressure, the Political detainees were released on November 17th, and on that date, George Weekes, Nuevo Diaz and Winston Leonard, all officers of the Union, were released from prison. Their freedom, and the respite of the siege against the Union, were to prove to be short-lived.

  Immediately after the release of the President General, the Union was faced with a whole series of crucial industrial disputes with various multinational employers. The first was with Halliburton - one of the largest Oil Contractors in the world - where thirty-four (34) workers were dismissed by the management for protesting the dismissal of two of their colleagues The heightened consciousness that 1970 brought was succinctly demonstrated in this matter. For what hastened the reinstatement of the Halliburton workers was the unpre­cedented action by OWTU members first at Guayaguayare and then at the Marina 1 Platform off the East Coast.

  The workers at "GUAYA", though employees of Texaco and not Halliburton, came out in support of their beleaguered colleagues by refusing, even under police orders, to re-open the fields and allow Halliburton to continue its contract jobs in the area. The same occurred with the workers on the Marina 1 platform. These actions forced the Oil Com­panies to pressure Halliburton into an acceptable settlement of the issue. The jobs of all the men were secured and the spirit of sacrifice and commitment to see justice done was rekindled in union members.


  Next came the crises at Dunlop and Federation Chemi­cals. The issue at Dunlop was straightforward. The workers had for some time complained about the Company's policy of hiring expatriates for jobs that nationals were capable of. When, therefore, the company brought two ex-patriates to Trinidad to act in two vacancies, the workers recognised that this was nothing short of an insult to them and the coun­try in general, and they began a peaceful picket of the factory. Rather than respect the sovereignty of Trinago, the Dunlop management reacted by locking out and dismissing the entire workforce. They were to remain out for two months.

  At Federation Chemicals, negotiations were in pro­cess, and despite all the efforts of the Union to get a just settlement, the Company not only adopted a stubborn atti­tude, but also dismissed six of the Union's militants. This resulted in the entire workforce going on strike for a period of six weeks. Both these situations were resolved, but only after the general Council issued a call for a general strike. Between July 1st and July 7th  thousands  of OWTU workers downed their tools in a tremendous effort to secure the jobs of colleagues at Dunlop and Fed Chem. And because of their unity and dedication, they were able to succeed. But it was precisely this unity and militancy, a militancy that defiantly stood up to powerful multinational companies such as Texaco, Dunlop and W.R. Grace (Fed Chem), that caused the powers that be to intensify their efforts to bring the OWTU to ground.

  On July 13th 1971, the police, for the second time in a year, raided the Union's headquarters and again seized be records and documents. And then, on July 15, the police in pre-dawn raids detained and questioned four of the Union employees - the Accountant and his assistant Mrs. Harris, a Trustee, Doodnath Maharaj, and the Education and Research Officer, John Commissiong. These persons were subjected to harassment, intimidation and threats in an effort to get them to testify against the OWTU leadership.


  Then came Badger. Texaco had contracted Badger Pan American Inc., to construct a desulphurisation Plant at its Pointe-a-Pierre refinery and the more than one thousand workers joined the OWTU. Badger, after much haggling finally concluded an interim agreement with the Union, Wimpey, who were also doing construction work on the plant refused to pay similar rates. This prompted the Badger workers to come out in support of their colleagues at Wimpey. Badger, under what could be nothing else but political manipulation, ceased operations and pulled out of Trinago, leaving their employees jobless. This was one of the excuses used by the Government to declare its second State of Emergency within eighteen months and once again incarcerate the leader of the OWTU.

  The second excuse was the result of the antics of the corrupted leadership of the Trade Union Congress. Precisely because of the tremendous benefits that members the OWTU were receiving, workers in the Water and Sewerage Authority, the Telephone Company and on the docks, came to the OWTU seeking to join its ranks. Immediately, the TUC leaders realised what was happening they issued through Nathaniel Critchlow the President of the Congress, a statement alleging that the OWTU was "poaching". In addition, the Seamen and Waterfront Workers' Trade Union leadership issued an ultimatum - either the O.W.T.U. stop workers from the docks joining its ranks or it (SWWTU) would call on its workers on strike. 

This was precisely what the PNM (of which Critchlow and other TUC leaders are members) wanted, for it gave government the excuse of an industrial relations crisis to declare a State of Emergency and to jail the President General of the OWTU along with a labour relations officer and President and Secretary of the Badger Branch. Also jailed was the Union's legal adviser Jack Kelshall. During this second state of Emergency, two (2) important developments were to take place.

  Firstly, several laws were passed which when con­sidered, in toto, took away the very rights and freedoms that the Public Order Act had intended. Amongst those laws passed was the Industrial Relations Act which included clauses to prevent workers from striking in an essential service, and which legislated against a union representing workers in more than one essential industry. This was clearly aimed at the OWTU to prevent it from representing WASA workers. The IRA legally prevented T&TEC workers who are members of the OWTU from striking.


Secondly, moves were made within the Union to establish a reactionary leadership in the persons of the then first Vice-President Verne Edwards, and the then General Secretary, Lionel Beckles. For during the eight months that the President General was detained these two (2) top officers in the Union did not actively seek the release of the detained Union officers. Neither did they mobilise the Union's leader­ship to agitate against the various laws that were being passed during the Emergency, as was done successfully against the Public Order Act. Moreover many workers at Texaco felt that the manner in which the Texaco negotiations (which were concluded during the State of Emergency) were conducted was tantamount to a sell-out by these two (2) officers. These were a few of the criticisms levelled against Beckles and Edwards, whose actions amounted to an attempt to derail the OWTU from its line of militant trade unionism.

  But the spirit of the OWTU could not be killed so easily, and dedicated and loyal members, led by the Assis­tant General Secretary Lionel Bannister mounted a popular campaign to educate members about the goings on in the Union. And immediately upon the release of the President General and other detained officers the battle for the survival of the Union intensified. Significantly their release, which coincided with the end of the second State of Emergency came just two days after the passage into law of the Industrial Relations Act. Thus on the 29th July, 1972, the General Council at its Statutory Meeting, passed a Motion of no con­fidence in the 1st Vice President and the General Secretary of the Union. This Motion was moved after several hours of discussion and debate in the General Council meeting, and followed lengthy meetings held by the Union's Executive on two previous occasions. The Motion stated inter alia:


  the 1st Vice President, Comrade Verne Edwards and the General Secretary, Comrade Lionel Beckles, two leading officers of the Union fully aware of the politi­cal manoeuvres surrounding the detention of the President General, Comrade George Weekes, contrary to expectation failed to immediately condemn the arrest and detention as an open and provocative attack on the union or to mount a campaign through the Union's Executive to secure the release of the Presi­dent General other officers and the legal adviser, even when encouraged and/or instructed to do so by a decision of the branches and the General Council;


  instead, the 1st Vice President fully supported by the General Secretary used the opportunity to unashamed­ly campaign against the President General at Branch meetings and through press releases by inferring that the President General was detained for personal poli­tical activities which had nothing to do with the busi­ness of the Union. Comrade Edwards was quoted in the Bomb of 19/11/71 (never denied) as saying at a Pointe-a-Pierre Branch meeting "I am not yet in a position to establish the reason for Weekes' detention" when he knew full well the reason given for the State of Emergency and the President General's detention dealt specifically with the Badger situation and so-called poaching in the issue involving the workers of Tugs and Lighters, who were desirous of joining OWTU:


  the General Secretary except for the first Saturday after detention refused to visit the President General or communicate with him in prison even after it was decided by the General Council that he should reply to the President General's message of November 1971, and had to be forced by a DIRECTIVE of the General Council to do so in May, 1972


  the 1st Vice President violated Rule 13, Section 1 and 2, by refusing to sign the approved minutes of the General Council dated 8th January 1972, thereby demonstrating his lack of confidence in the General Council.


  the 1st Vice President deliberately sabotaged the recognition dispute between the OWTU and Tugs and Lighters to the great suffering of those members and the damage done to the image and honesty of OWTU by failing to pursue the matter at the Ministry of Labour;


  the General Council Report to the 32nd Annual Con­ference of Delegates was rejected by the Conference of Delegates for the first time in our proud history on the main ground of gross omissions which even after subsequent corrections does not contain a Labour Relations Section, The General Secretary and 1st Vice President must take the main responsibility for such disgraceful affair


  that the General Council of the OWTU moves a vote of no confidence in the 1st Vice President of the OWTU Comrade Verne Edwards and the General Secretary, Comrade Lionel Beckles, and, therefore, fully support the call made by the President General for them to do the honourable thing by resigning their positions as officers in the Union now. Failure on their part to do so, we strongly advise the President General to use the power vested in him by the rules of the Union.

     Yet despite the overwhelming no confidence vote against them, these two officers refused to resign, and instead, resorted to legal techniques to try and remain in office. In all, some ten High Court Actions, two appeals to the Court of Appeal and a Contempt Motion were lodged against the Union by Beckles and Edwards. But all of this legal wrangling could not save them from the will of the vast majority of the blue shirt fold.


The attempt to sabotage the OWTU from within had failed, but it took its toll on the strength and energy of the Union. The next two years was, therefore, a period of consolidation, a period when the "batteries" were recharged, and the body nursed back to perfect health. The means used by PG Weekes and his other dedicated officers was a series of meetings, Conferences and Lectures. This period in the Union history has aptly been described as a time of "DIALOGUE".

  The dialogue was begun at the 33rd Annual Conference of Delegates, and the opening words of George Weekes echoed the sentiments of the Union's members - "Dear Comrades, Sisters, Brothers and Friends. We have survived. The Union Survives. It is against the background of a long consistent and bitter struggle for survival that we of the O.W.T.U. meet today."

  Thereafter, lectures were given to the Union member-ship on politics; on the law and the Trade Union Movement; on the economics of Trinago and of course, on the OWTU, its history and its objectives. These 'rap' sessions had the effect of strengthening the clarity of ideas of the rank and file members, on their understanding of the mechanism (economic and political) of the neo-colonial society in which they lived and worked, and indicated that their role - as working class peoples and as members of the OWTU  lay in the creation of a New Democracy in the country. These sessions strength­ened immeasurably the unity of the Union as well as enabling it to expand even more rapidly than before. Between 1972 and 1975 the Union's membership increased by 6,000 - an in­crease of 50%. The stage had now been set for the tremendous industrial battles of 1975, for vastly improved benefits for members and for the birth of the United Labour Front.


  Negotiations began with Texaco for a new collective agreement on the 4th November 1974. Recognising that the oil companies make very large profits on their operations here, which profits escalated fantastically after the so called energy crisis the OWTU made an initial wage demand of 80%, and then increased this to 147%. Their case was substantiated by an impressive economic argument based on the cost of living increases, the productivity of the workers and on the need for everyone to earn a living wage. In a typical fashion, the com­pany refused to offer a realistic increase, and after many fruit­less meetings the workers began taking industrial action.

  Parallel to this development were the struggles of the sugar workers and cane farmers. In the case of the sugar workers, they had finally rid themselves of the last remnants of the Bhadase Maharaj era by removing Rampartap Singh from the leadership of the ATSEFWTU. Now led by Basdeo Panday they were seeking to win a wage increase of 100% - an increase that would finally bring them into a wage bracket which would enable them to lift themselves out of abject poverty. The canefarmers, on the other hand, had organised a new Union - the Island Wide Cane Farmers Union which under the leadership of Raffique Shah - ex-army lieutenant and one of the heroes of the 1970 mutiny, had gained the support of well over 90% of the 10,000 canefarmers in the country. This new Union was seeking, in addition to better prices for their member's cane, the removal of Act 1 of 1965 (the canefarmers Cess Act) which legally recognised only one Canefarmers' body in the industry-the TICFA led by Norman Girwar. Both TICFA and Girwar were totally discredited in the eyes of the canefarmers, yet the law continued to give TICFA sole representation rights for farmers. 

Since the work done by Panday and Shah in the sugar belt had led to the increased awareness of sugar workers about the nature of the society, its effect was similar to the series of COSSABOS (Conference of Shop Stewards and Branch Officers) held by the OWTU in those crucial years of Dialogue. It was of little surprise therefore, that these Unions, joined by the Transport and Industrial Workers Union, formed a new alliance. This alliance provided a United Front to the multinationals they confronted in the arena of industrial relations. But more significantly was the call, based as it was on the increased awareness of the need for self-determination, that "Tate and Lyle and Texaco must go."

  The historical unity between sugar and oilworkers between the working class peoples of Indian and African descent, was once more forged. On the 18th February in a mammoth meeting in Skinner Park attended by over 40,000 working class Trinagonians, the United Labour Front was born. It was the result of the need by the workers to fashion a unique unity, that unity which had been set back on a number of previous occasions (1937, 1946 and 1965) by the intervention of the Government. Out of that mammoth meeting came a resolution which stated,


   it is quite evident that the present industrial relations and economic crisis in Trinago results from gigantic conspiracy by foreign forces (the army of occupation) under the leadership of the CIA who are out to protect at any cost for their crooked blood thirsty master the billions of dollars they annually rob from oil and sugar workers and workers generally in this our blessed and godly country.


   we the members of the Oilfields Workers' Trade Union, All Trinidad Sugar Estates and Factories Workers Trade Union, Island-wide Cane Farmers Union and the Transport and Industrial Workers' Trade Union, other workers, all patriotic people here united, gathered at this historic rally at Skinner Park, San Fernando strongly condemn the international blood thirsty conspiracy aimed at making Trinago another Chile, hereby pledge to unitedly struggle to frustrate the said conspiracy by uniting with all patriotic, pro­gressive and dedicated forces in Trinago truly com­mitted to our economic liberation and to the making of a new and democratic country.  

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this great rally demand:

  1.     To repeal Act. No. 1 of 1965 - the Canefarmers Cess Act, and the immediate       recognition of ICFTU.

2.   To repeal Act No.23 of 1972 - the Industrial Rela­tions Act - IRA.

3.    To protest the delay of Texaco, Caroni Limited, and Neal & Massy Limited, in concluding negotiation, with the OWTU, ATSE & FWTU and TIWU, respectively

  4.    To demand the withdrawal of Texaco's Writ and Injunction preventing the Recognition Board from pursuing OWTU's claim for recognition of the monthly paid workers of Texaco.

  5.    To demand withdrawal of the Levy on Sugar.

  6.    To let those who labour hold the reins.

  This tremendous unity gave the workers added resolve to continue their industrial action and in addition to the "Don't cut" campaign being successfully carried out by the ICFTU, the ATSE & FWTU had organised its members on a general strike. The OWTU joined its colleagues and on the 12th March 1975 the workers of Texaco went on strike. The strike which was to last six weeks was a monument to the courage and discipline of the workers who maintained the picket line and a strike camp outside Texaco's gates, during which time they underwent untold harassment and intimidation by security forces.


  Recognising the need for a national awareness on the problems facing their members, and understanding the need for positive action to bring about Some kind of settlement of their industrial grievances, the ULF leaders called on their members to stage a religious march for "Peace, Bread and Justice". The day of the march - March 18th 1975, was to go down in history as a day when all the might of the government was brought to bear on the citizens of this country. From early morning, thousands gathered at the OWTU headquarters to walk to Port of Spain in pursuit of justice. They were des­tined never to complete that peaceful walk. 

Because the country's economic activity was being slowly stopped by the workers' action, and because they realised that their moral authority was being seriously ques­tioned by the people the Government decided to act in the only way they knew. Rather than trying to influence the Companies concerned to settle the legitimate demands of the workers, it forcibly broke up the march using police batons, teargas, and gunbutts. Marchers and innocent bystand­ers - all of them patriotic citizens - felt the full brunt of the police's action. For once, the Press, which up to that day were carrying out its usual campaign of anti-worker propaganda, were forced to condemn the harshness of the police action. This resulted in the famous "purges" at the Government owned radio station, and the imposition by the new Chair­man Jimmy Bain, of bans on the voices of George Weekes and his other ULF colleagues.

 During the day, many persons including Weekes, were arrested for "illegal marching" and though attempts were made to regroup and continue along the route to Port of Spain the police broke up all such attempts. There were reports of workers being harassed and beaten in Chaguanas, Couva and Marabella, and even students on the University Campus who had come out in support of their brothers in oil and sugar were confronted by a hostile police. March 18th 1975 was indeed "BLOODY TUESDA Y"


  But making history is nothing new to the Oilfields Workers' Trade Union. For in its fifty years of existence it has been a pioneer and the undisputed leader of the Trade Union Movement. From  that very first meeting in Coon's Town, Fyzabad on the night of July 19th, 1937, the OWTU was inbued with a unique spirit. That spirit has enabled it to survive the expulsion of Butler and the trea~ery of Rojas. It saw the OWTU rebuilt during the turn of the decade of the 50's into a strong trade union capable of winning the best benefits for workers anywhere.

  And it was the inner strength of the Union, a strength based on the indomita~e courage and wisdom of its members, that saw democracy prevail in the internal affairs of the Union. Indeed it was the first Union to achieve such a measure of democracy in the country and tribute must be paid to the Rebels who dedicatedly set about their task.

  Then in the sixties the OWTU set new standards of achievement of honesty and integrity, in trade union benefits, in voicing principled opposition to all that was anti-labour, achievements that encouraged workers from Cedros to Port of Spain, in Tobago and in Longdenville, in Mayaro and Arima to join the Blue Shirts. But there can be no progress without struggle, and struggle the OWTU did during the glorious days of the "Revolutionary 70's"

  And today the Oilfields Workers' Trade Union stands over 18,000 strong, at the undisputed head of the Trade Union Movement in Trinago and the Caribbean, adored by the work­ing class for its almost unbelievable record, respected by the Companies it deals with for its integrity and fearlessness.

  But the call for the New Democracy echoed by Butler and' the Oilworkers in 1937, and re-echoed by the ULF in 1975, is far from a reality, the aims of the working class far from being achieved. The OWTU and its members will therefore have to keep alive that spirit of '37 and never forget the aims that were uppermost in the minds of the founding fathers. It is only such an effort that will keep the banner of the blue shirted army flying high.

  Following the breakup of the march, the Government ordered the police and army to break the workers' strike by driving, under armed protection, the gasolene tank wagons and the sugar trucks. Being only Trade Unions, the ULF could do little or nothing about these strike-breaking techni­ques, and was eventually forced to order its members back to work. Tremendous victories had been won however, as the sugar workers received their 100%; Act 1 of 1965 was later declared unconstitutional and the oilworkers won a record 57% (though on the strength of their claim they should have received much more). More significantly, was that out of the industrial crisis in 1975, was born a new institution -~ the ULF. The role of the OWTU in that birth was crucial and was something that every member could be proud of. 


 But the oil and sugar workers recognised that their Trade Union institutions had its limitations, the most impor­tant being that Trade Unions have no political power. In a series of historic meetings, joint COSSABO's were held to discuss the direction of the ULF. The COSSABO - an in­stitution  which had preserved the OWTU in the aftermath of 1970-71, was now to shape the direction of working class politics. On the 3rd January, 1976, it was finally decided to make the ULF a political Party, and excerpts from the ULF Policy and Programme and Constitution, outlined the philo­sophy behind such a move.

"The aims of objectives of the ULF are: -

  (a)      To unite the working class as a class for political strug­gle and to struggle with the workers or any section of them for such political objectives as are immediately realisable and for the ultimate political objective of working class power.

(b)          To establish an economic system, a social order and a government consistent with the interests of the work­ing class and the people in general;

(c)     To promote and defend democracy and democratic institutions among the workers in particular and the people of Trinidad and Tobago in general;

 (d)         To eliminate all forms of imperialism, capitalism and racialism in our society and to achieve genuine in­dependence for Trinidad and Tobago in all spheres, economic, political, social and cultural, and to end the exploitation of man by man;

(e)           To secure and maintain the interest, well being and prosperity of the oppressed, exploited and dispossessed people of Trinidad and Tobago and to win and preserve their fundamental freedoms and human rights.

(f)     To provide for the political education of our people so as to stimulate their consciousness and guide their ideological, social and cultural development.

(g)     To struggle against all trends which are opposed to the interest of the exploited masses.

(h)          To establish and maintain unity among the peoples of the working class in the Caribbean and Latin Ameri­ca and throughout the world.

(i)           To support and collaborate with progressive peoples who are struggling against imperialism, colonialism, neo-colonialism, capitalism, racialism, and fascism everywhere throughout the world.

  The ULF then went on to say:

  "We now have to build an organised and disciplined working class Political organisation "distinct in character, committed to the unity of the workers as a class and to the advancement of the particular interests of the workers and of the people in Trinago generally."

  That is our task; to create such an organisation, indeed an institution, one which will eternally keep alive the spirit of our Rap Sessions, our Cossabo's, our Mass Membership Meetings; henceforth not just at a Union level, but at a Na­tional Level. Not just to preach, but to practice the maximum in democracy that we of the ULF have guarded so jealously within our own organisations, that the oppressed people of our native land yearn for. Let us give it to them  LET THE ULF GIVE TO THE PEOPLE OF TRINAGO…THE NEW DEMOCRACY."

One small step was taken along the path when the ULF won ten seats in the Parliament in 1976 General Elec­tions. It further established itself as the only party with the authority to challenge the PNM when it did well in the Local Government Elections of 1977. In both of these elec­tions the OWTU, played an increasingly important role. In fact Union members were elected Parliamentarians, County Councillors, and Aldermen as representatives of the people, and the President General is a member of the Senate. But there are many more miles to travel on the road which the ULF has charted for itself. And the O~"TU and its members have stated unequivocally that they intend to make history along with their colleagues in the ULF.

  OWTU & THE OIL BOOM- 1977~1982

  By 1977, the year of the fortieth anniversary of the OWTU, (an event which was enthusiastically celebrated by the members of the union} the oil boom was in full swing and already the twin faces of OPEC's intervention had become obvious.

None of the major struggles engaged in by the Labour Movement, working people and the OWTU during the period up to the 'bust' in 1982, and indeed the struggles since 1982 can be properly grasped and understood except against the background of the 'oil boom'. 

The demise of the United Labour Front as sudden and dramatic as it may have seemed to casual observers was, though not inevitable, quite foreseeable, given the contending forces and competing programmes with which the nascent party was born. The conditions of the boom period provided the appropriate framework for the ULF to split in 1977.

  The explosion of militancy in the East West Corridor followed upon large scale unionisation among workers in light manufacturing industry and the turn away from sweet­heart unionism and toward militant unions on the part of the said workers. OWTU, TIWU and CWU in particular benefited from this surge toward securing their economic interests by the East West Corridor workers. This phenomenon was of course connected closely to the changed economic climate afforded by the oil boom.

  The very fact that excessive profits were being made without too much effort rendered the companies suscep­tible to industrial action. After 1982, the tide would turn in the opposite direction. 

The widespread and effective 'Texaco Must Go' campaign received a tremendous boost because of the union's understanding that the international oil companies were putting into place a series of measures which would upset the post 1973 OPEC dispensation and plunge the Trinidad and Tobago economy back into the stagnation and torpor which was its normal state before the OPEC price revolution.

  The Fedchem strike of 1980-81 was exemplary in many respects and just like the Texaco Must Go campaign and the Galeota crisis of 1982 caused widespread examination of the domination of the key economic sector - the energy sector- by transnationals, the relationship between the transnationals and the State and the unwillingness and/or inability of the State to protect national sovereignty.

  The last major struggle of the 1977-82 period the 'illegal' T & TEC strike of 1982 was carried out under conditions which indicated that because of the rapid decline of the boom the balance of forces were shifting and the employers including the State had adopted a more repressive policy toward the economic struggle of workers. 

In 1977 alone membership  increased by 1700 workers. This was due to the booming economic activity but at the same time social conditions were deteriorating rapidly.

  On February 20th 1977 (Carnival Sunday) Uriah Butler, the father of the movement toward Independence and the trade union movement passed away at his home at Brute Force Village.

  The union took charge of all the funeral arrange­ments. On Wednesday February 23rd, the Chief Servant 'S body was brought to Paramount Building - Union headquar­ters and lay in state until Thursday 24th. It was then taken to the Hall of the Revolution at Charlie King Junction, Fyzabad where a service was held. There was a massive funeral for the hero of the working class. With his death a significant chapter in the development of modern labour history came to a close.

  During 1977, the Union held celebrations in honour of its fortieth anniversary. The Celebrations can be said to have been successful. There was much activity including an operetta celebrating forty years of struggle called - Black Man, Black Gold. There was an inter branch debate.

 There was a regional trade union conference, an address by Comrade Maurice Bishop, art and craft exhibition, religious services, all fours, sports day. Spanish Farm Bazaar, steelband festival, cultural pageant.

  Awards were presented to long service employees. The Labour Star was presented to the following comrades for distinguished service to the Union: Comrade Irving Noel, Daisy Crick, Allan Alexander, Lennox Pierre, Percival Duncan and Thelma Williams. The La Brea Charles Award was pre­sented to the following comrades: Ramcharitar Lalchan, Martinez Robinson, Shaffaiyat Alii, Soogrim Coolman, Estella Antoine-Duncan, Clarence Greenidge, Clarence Blake.

  The most significant event for the Union during 1977 was undoubtedly the split within the United Labour Front. No matter how the cause of the split was presented, it cannot be denied that Basdeo Panday failed to abide by majo­rity decisions of the Central Corrnnittee and instead deliberate­ly split not only the Central Comrnittee but the entire party and in so doing set back the struggle against ethnic chauvinism and for workers' unity.

  But a subsequent issue of the Vanguard newspaper placed the split in the United Labour Front in its proper ideo­logical context when it said: "The perspective on Parliament as put forward by the Party's policy and programme was that no amount of seats in parliament could bring power to the working people, that participation In parliament was a tactical move and that parliament itself would be exposed as being nothing but a talk shop." It added: "Panday's opportunism and the split In the Party could have been foreseen by those who understood that attitudes towards parliament was a good yardstick for judging those who really had the working class struggle at heart."

By Annual Conference 1978 union membership had swollen to 20,800. Most of these new members had come from light manufacturing and service areas in the North and workers in the oil contract, transport and construction sectors.

  On March 16th 1978, Lever Brothers workers went on strike to demand higher wages and better working conditions.

  This bitter struggle lasted four (4) weeks and signalled a wave of militancy and restlessness among workers in the North that did not subside until the rnid-eighties.

  On June 15th 1978, the monthly paid workers at South Africa-connected Caribbean Packaging Industries (CPI) went on strike after a breakdown in negotiations. The com­pany retaliated to the strike by the fifty seven monthly paid by locking out 287 hourly and weekly rated who belong­ed to another bargaining unit. The Union applied to the Industrial Court for illegal lockout, but the Court ruled against the Union. The lockout lasted 18 weeks and resulted in much suffering. By Monday 16th October a settlement was reached and all workers returned to work.

  1978 can be seen now as a year of preparation for the storms that were soon to assail the working class and the Labour Movement and that have not yet subsided, but indeed have become stronger.

  The Union concentrated on education and propa­ganda. Branch bulletins were introduced. Training and orienta­tion seminars were organised including a two-week residential seminar at the newly acquired Hobson House. There were also a Health and Safety Conference, Women's Conference, a con­ference on contract labour, a teach-in on Zimbabwe, a Tobago regional seminar, Special Conference of Delegates, a North Seminar. In the School's June 19th competition, poster-drawing was introduced.

  In November 1977, the OWTU submitted proposals to multinational Texaco for negotiations due to begin in February '78. Texaco negotiations began before the other oil companies and was used as the guide for the other oil negotiations.

  These proposals were submitted against the back­ground of Texaco's refusal to seriously negotiate the upgrad­ing of the Pension Plan and the growing restlessness by the workers with the continued presence and continuing depreda­tion by Texaco.

  As early as January 6th 1978 in reference to the Pen­sion Plan Pee Gee Weekes wrote to Texaco “make mean­ingful offers or pack up and leave."

  On January 10th 1978 Andrews of Texaco wrote to the Union: "(the) stability of the company's workforce  is now seriously jeopardised by your union's proposals" and "resolution of the forthcoming negotiations therefore, will give rise to the urgent need for rationalisation of the work-force, improvement in efficiency by elimination of restrictive classification practices in several directions."

  During 1978 progress was being made with the Trintoc and Tesoro negotiations while Texaco stalled.

  In July 1978, at a Special Conference of Delegates Dr. Trevor Farrel outlined the manipulations and probable consequences arising therefrom, taking place in the inter­national oil industry.

  A resolution was adopted at the Conference calling on the executive "to seek ways and means of instituting national dialogue in this crisis."

  A call was made for information on what was going on in the fields. Endless information was forthcoming from workers as to the running down of plant and equipment by Texaco, closing down of wells and trading with South Africa. 

On December 1st 1978 Tesoro settled and soon after Trinmar and NP followed. Texaco insisted on going to open hearings in the Industrial Court.

 On December 18th 1978 armed with the informa­tion coming in from the fields and understanding the goings on in the international oil industry, Pee Gee Weekes wrote to the Minister of Petroleum and Mines  “…forces beyond our control gave rise to the  economic boom    forces beyond our control can also give rise to a bust"

 The letter informed the Minister that the new US energy strategy involved a cutback on residual fuel oil, use of more coal and other technologies, home insulation was also being encouraged in the U.S. The Pointe-a-Pierre refinery, the letter pointed out was operating way below optimum. In four years, refinery staff fell through attrition by 500; plants were being shut down; Brighton refinery was shut down, there were shift reductions in production, more use was being made of contract labour, safety had deteriorated, there were more fires and accidents, and Frank Sears and Ronald George, Pointe-a-Pierre branch officers were dismissed for insisting on proper safety practices (George was re-employed).

  The letter continued, "We  are publicly accusing Texaco of using our oil to help make the murderous war machines of racist/fascist regimes of Vorster and Smith self sufficient in Southern Africa." The letter called for the esta­blishment of a Commission of Enquiry into Texaco's con­nection with South Africa. 

It continued “…Texaco intends to leave Trinidad and to leave the Refinery in as bad a state as Shell left theirs...No force on earth can change Texaco's plans   The point is whether we are going to wait until Texaco is ready and then buy cheap and useless junk at Pointe-aPierre for a ridiculously high price. Or whether we are going to take in front and nationalise Texaco Now.... (this) would give rise to a host of implications not only for Texaco but for the entire oil industry and indeed the direction of the national economy. These consequences and implications can be investigated and analysed at a consultation between your government and the ()WTU" This was the launching of Operation Texaco Must Go. Throughout 1979 the campaign was on - jerseys, buttons, stickers, pamphlets were the order of the day. 

Although the Industrial Court eventually gave a judge­ment along the lines settled with Tesoro and Trintoc the pressure for Texaco to go was not eased. 

On January 2nd 1979, a Commission of Enquiry was set up by the Government not to investigate the link with South Africa, but to analyse Texaco's relationship with Trinidad and Tobago. Eventually only Union witnesses gave evidence before the Commission eventually withered away into ignominy. But the Union's evidence was enough to alert the people of Trinidad and Tobago as to the grave danger Texaco posed to our independence and national sovereignty.

  The Commission was very aptly described in the following terms 'No more than a holding exercise mounted by the Government to dissipate the mounting tide of anti-multi-nationalism."

  While the battle to get rid of Texaco was waxing warm the struggle for decent pensions shifted into high gear.

  In March 1979 the very month of the revolutionary seizure of power in Grenada, which was warmly welcomed by the Union, the Union demanded negotiations on Pensions. Texaco ignored the Union's demand. In May the Union again demanded negotiations on Pensions, Texaco spelt out five areas to be dealt with before pension talks could resume. Among their conditions were implementation of the new collective agreements and the conclusion of the Commission of Enquiry. The Union warned the Company about the con­sequences of their action and accused Texaco of fuelling an explosive situation.

  On June 29th. Texaco informed the Union that they. were unilaterally and arbitrarily supplementing the Pension Plan. The fields exploded. There were stoppages all over the operations culminating in a massive show of strength at Pointe-a-Pierre. The Company succumbed and agreed to resume negotiations. The workers' anger was stoked by the fact that Trintoc had agreed to the principle of final pay settlement on Pensions and that Tesoro was heading in that direction. The Pensions struggle was a potent re-inforcement for the strug­gle against Texaco.

  It added yet another front to that battle. 1979 was a good year for the Union - the Texaco Must Go Campaign was well and truly launched, progressive forces had taken power in Grenada, twenty four agreements were concluded, hundreds of millions of dollars were won for the workers, membership at the beginning of '79 was at an all time high. The ULF politi­cian Kelvin Ramnath challenged P.G. Weekes in union elec­tions held in April and was overwhelmed. The anti-Texaco anti South Africa propaganda campaign received a major boost when waterfront workers at Pointe-a-Pierre refused to load an Antigna-bound vessel in protest against Antigua's use as a testing ground for South Africa-bound weapons by the Space Research Corporation. At the 39th Conference in 1978, a safety desk was established and made its presence felt through out 1979. The June 19th Celebrations were massive with at least 15,000 participants enthusiastically listening to Walter Rodney's feature address.

 But 1980 certainly signalled that the balance of power between the labour movement, the capitalists and the state had begun to shift to the detriment of the labour move­ment.

  By the end of 1980 membership in the union had be­gun to drop. This took place despite seven new bargaining units being organised including Crown Reef Hotel. The Ber­mudez Biscuit Company had begun to turn the heat on its workers to leave the OWTU. There was victimisation, harass­ment and dismissals which climaxed in a police attack on a workers' camp. T & TEC workers protested vehemently against poor safety practices and were vilified and lambasted in the Press. The Press cried sabotage.

  At Dunlop alone, there were forty-three reported grievances. The Union's agita­tion to have the Occupational Health and Safety Act made law, fell on stony ground. Despite the mounting pressure, forty-one agreements were finalised. On April 21st, 1st Vice President John Abraham was mysteriously killed on the Solomon Hochoy Highway. His death left a void in the Union for he was certainly one of the more experienced union officials who understood his task and was integrated with those he led. The Texaco Commission dragged on but the Pension struggle came to a dramatic and victorious conclusion.

  The Union embarked on a skilful campaign of direct action against Texaco combined with a tactically timely and effective public relations campaign which won wide sympathy for the workers pension struggle and for the government to support the principle of decent pensions. The Union invited the Minister of Labour to intervene and after hard and skill bargaining at the Ministry supported by hundreds of pickets outside the Ministry, finally accepted the proposal advanced by the Ministry to both company and union as a means of settling. Texaco rejected the proposal. The picket lines grew and the pressure was on the company. On August 3Oth the union served strike notice on Texaco.

 Texaco succumbed, the strike was averted and the workers won a great victory. But the warning signals did n go away. Union officials and Texaco employees Winston 'Man Man' Edward and Carl Carillo were attacked and roughed up in their homes by State Police. When contractor workers protested by instituting a one day work stoppage at Point Galeota, they were confronted with a massive show of force.

  On December 7th 1980, the hourly and weekly rated workers of Federation Chemicals, subsidiary of U.S. W. R. Grace went on strike, after a break down in negotiations. Th strike lasted almost six months and has been described "one of the most important battles waged by our union.

  This strike laid bare for all to see how the multinationals manipulated the economy and political system, it exposed the weakness of the government's policy toward the foreign investor and raised serious questions about the ability of the State to defend national sovereignty. The strike took place in an election year, against a background of unrest among teachers struggling to form their own organisation, public servants going through an upheaval in asserting control over their union, sugar workers taking to the streets and regular sieges of parliament by thousands of workers, including Fed Chem and Texaco Workers. Meanwhile there was a strong under-current of unrest throughout the Union, including strike and occupation by CPI workers, lockout of Mc Enear­ney and Crown Reef workers and unrest at Lever Brothers.

  The Fedchem strike was marked by picket line terror, guns, dogs, police, arrests, yet no one broke the picket line. The workers launched a campaign to nationalise Fed Chem, which touched the entire country through billboards, pam­phleteering, public meetings, marches, demonstrations like the January 14th March on Whitehall. The picket camp served as a model for future struggles -~there were rallies, cultural events, discussions, films, family days. Fed Chem workers even played J'Ouvert in Port of Spain to highlight their struggle. A massive show of solidarity planned by the OWTU was meant to bring the matter to a head but was cut short as were many other workers' struggle by the death of Eric Williams. When the strike was eventually settled on May Day, Fed Chem workers had woven their names indelibly in the varied tapestry of working class struggle.

  In February 1981, a work stoppage occurred over the dismissal of CPI branch officer Winston Waldron, the entire workforce was dismissed. Over forty workers occupied the factory, while the rest manned the picket lines. The company filed 85 separate writs against workers. The leadership had to persuade the workers to vacate in order to avoid a confrontation. Eventually all workers were re-employed except Waldron. By this time it was clear that many companies were relying on the mercenary services of consultants to exploit legal loopholes and to construct repressive industrial relations scenarios.

  The latter part of 1981 was taken up by the election circus and the divisions inherent in the party system over­whelmed the workers and temporarily halted the pursuit of their independent interests. The Union had to wage struggle to halt the infiltration of right wing ONR elements into influential positions within the Union, having already in the decade before cleaned out the PNM agents.

  1982 opened with an atmosphere full of tension. It was obvious that the employers were moving in a repressive direction, that workers were entering a period where their very right to association would be under attack. The Neal & Massy conglomerate was on the attack against all unions with which they dealt. They embarked on a campaign of lockout and offering of individual contracts. Unrest was continuing throughout the Texaco installations. Two important struggles dominated the scene. They were the struggle by contract workers against Amoco and the T&TEC struggle.

  The OWTU had been struggling for years to unionise AMOCO workers and to gain recognition for the contract workers without whom Amoco could not make a cent profit. The trigger for the March 1982 shutdown of East Coast opera­tions was the bid to gain recognition for the workers of Haniff Contractors and Straker, both attached to AMOCO's Operations. The legal argument before the Recognition Board revolved around who was the employer whether the contractor or AMOCO. On Amoco's instructions Haniff dismissed fourteen workers. The entire contractor workforce downed tools in solidarity with the dismissed. The permanent AMOCO workers themselves refused to cross the picket lines. For six days a total industrial shutdown loomed large, because of the threat of a shutdown of natural gas production.

  This strike was taking place during the Productivity Consultations at Chaguaramas. In a dramatic move Haniff was flown by helicopter to Chaguaramas where discussions were held with government and union officials. He conceded 'unofficial recognition' and the threat of a total shutdown was averted. During the six day impasse, the most striking feature was the heavy presence of the armed forces day and night in the vicinity of the picket camp and surrounding areas.

Between November 1980 and July 1981, the Union submitted three memoranda to the Public Utilities Com­mission at the invitation of the PUC. These memoranda exposed the squandermania, bungling, inefficiency, corrup­tion and poor industrial relations and safety practices at T & TEC In December 1981, the PUC published its report, which was very critical of management and which exonerated the Union from blame for the poor state of Industrial Relations. On February 6th 1982, negotiations between T&TEC and OWTU began.

  At that time, there was much electricity breakdown at T & TEC with massive blackouts resulting. The Press seized the opportunity to attack T&TEC's board and the workers. The Union did a lot of public relations work to explain to the public the reasons for the blackouts. The World Bank and the Commonwealth Secretariat were invited by the government to investigate T & TEC. The OWTU's analysis of the situation was confirmed as a result of these investigations. Regardless of the vindication of the OWTU's position on T & TEC the Press kept up its vicious attack on T & TEC workers and the Union. On July 27th 1982, while negotiations were taking place at T & TEC headquarters, the Minister of Labour Errol Mahabir announced to another Union delegation which was meeting on another matter that T & TEC negotiations had broken down. Thirty minutes later the T & TEC team walked out of the negotiations. The conspiracy was clear. 

The Mass Media immediately swung into high gear and the Union was made the scapegoat. ULF parliamentarian Govindra Roopnarine on August 13th called on the Govern­ment to bring out the army to ensure that work  is done. The witch-hunt was on. 

Minister Mahabir used the media on August 18th to announce his refusal to conciliate on certain proposals made by the Union. By August 23rd the job had been done, the public had been subjected to intense propaganda. T & TEC workers were accused of sabotage and taking illegal industrial action. During sleeping hours on that date Mahabir secured an ex-parte injunction against named T & TEC workers and the OWTU to restrain and stop alleged industrial action. The frustration among the workers built up over the next seven weeks to boiling point.

  On October 18th, operators at the Port of Spain Power Station reported sick. On October 20th eight operators were suspended. The next day seven operators were dismissed On October 22nd, the Union wrote T&TEC for a meeting Ken Julien, Chairman of the Board refused and accused workers of sabotaging 2 generating units. The Union again wrote Julien. No reply. The President General wrote the Minister of Labour advising against "precipitous action' T& TEC workers gathered in COSSABO. The dismissed operators set up camp. On Sunday 24th the cabinet met at Sangre Grande to discuss the situation. John Eckstein, the Minister of Public Utilities addressed the nation endorsing the Board and Management position and calling on them to do whatever is necessary in terms of disciplinary action, including the hiring of foreign personnel if necessary. After that address all hell broke loose. The power men decided that enough was enough.

  On October 25 all T & TEC workers stopped work in defiance of the Industrial Relations Act, which denied their right to strike. They remained on the compound. At Penal 8 senior workers were suspended. The Army and the Police moved into the T&TEC compounds. On October 27th Comrades Mings (President - POS), Rees (President – San Fernando) and Murray (Shop Steward - Central) were dismissed from their jobs. All workers vacated the compound and set up camp outside. The Minister of State Enterprise, Ronald Williams advised Trinidad and Tobago Television not to carry interviews with union officials. On October 29th  Mings was arrested under the IRA. On October 30th discussions were held with CPTU and Labour Congress. The next day T & TEC workers met in COSSABO; this was quickly followed by a meeting of a joint delegation of OWTU, Labour Congress and CPTU with Julien and the Minister of Labour. By this time the Union was aware of the government's inten­tion to declare a state of emergency. The Ministry proposed a return to work except for those dismissed. A Mass membership meeting was held at SWWTU and amid realisation that no strong support would be forthcoming from Congress, workers reluctantly agreed to return to work. Subsequent to the re­turn Port of Spain Branch Secretary Alva Allen was arrested on the job and suspended by the Commission. On November 9th Vernon Rees was also arrested and charged.

  In December the Industrial Court awarded a 50% increase to T & TEC workers. In July 83, the operators were ordered re-instated by the Industrial Court. On August - after delaying tactics by T & TEC, they returned to work triumph.The T & TEC struggle certainly served as the demarcation line in the approach of the employers. Most significantly, the State had decided that they would lead the new on the working class. 


  1983 opened to meet an ongoing struggle with Texaco, the focus of which was Texaco's intention to force early retirement through the threat of retrenchment or shut­down. It meant that the front of struggle against Texaco was constantly shifting.

  In addition to the Texaco early retirement struggle the Union faced a growing decrease in membership that year. Thus, while on one hand the 400 workers of state owned Secondary Roads joined the Union, on the other Holiday Foods a food processor, closed its doors and 14 contractor outfits in the oil industry engaged in retrenchment. So by September 1983 Union membership had fallen by 1,300.

  Since September 1982 multinational Texaco had threatened to send home workers on October 1st. They demanded reduced taxation from the State and an agreement on retrenchment from the Union.

  In the 1983 budget it was announced that Trintoc would supply Texaco with 37,000 barrels of crude oil per day to be refined at its Pointe-a-Pierre refinery. This arrange­ment was to last for three months. It lasted for over 2 years up until Texaco was finally bought by the State in March 1985. It is estimated that the arrangement cost Trintoc over $300m, the cost of refining oil at Texaco's installations being triple what it would have normally cost Trintoc. Texaco not only ended up being paid hundreds of millions of dollars for its run down and dilapidated installations. but it also got a lagniappe of $300 million over a two (2) year period. The supplemental Petroleum Tax was cut by more than half thus sweetening the pot for Texaco.

  The oil industry, particularly the refining sector was now in shambles, oil prices had begun to come down, external debt servicing commitments had begun to command a larger bite of dwindling exchange reserves, the economy was going into decline. The construction industry had begun to collapse, retrenchment was becoming a storm, subsidies were cut and taxes raised. The struggle on the economic front was be­coming severe  and  lockouts were becoming more wide­spread

  Texaco played a cynical game of threatening to retrench those with less than ten years service to pressure the Union into agreement on an early retirement package for older workers. This led to an occupation of the Administration Building and the Solidarity II demonstration from Pointe-a-­Pierre to San Fernando. The Union called on Cabinet to en­dorse the 1968 letter by Dr. Eric Williams to the OWTU that there would be no retrenchment in the oil industry without Cabinet approval. Thunderous silence emanated from Whitehall (the Prime Minister's office). The OWTU once again stood alone. The Union then concentrated on struggling for and winning the best possible package under the circumstances. On April 15th a memorandum of agreement was signed.

  Even before the conclusion of the early retirement struggle there was a significant explosion at a small locally owned PNM connected company - Bermudez Biscuit Com­pany in the heart of the East West Corridor.

  The Bermudez struggle confirmed clearly that the Employers' Consultative Association was pulling no punches in its bid to destroy trade unionism.

  In violation of the collective agreement Bermudez proposed to retrench a number of workers. He walked out of the meeting called to discuss the issue. Workers and union officials decided to remain on the compound until he re­turned. He did not return. The workers then organised them­selves to occupy that area of the compound that they had under their control. Tremendous support poured in for the struggle including the support of the community where the factory was situated.

  The mercenary consultant Andre' Jessamy got a Court injunction instructing the workers to vacate the com­pound. The workers stood in contempt of Court. On April 18th the police invaded the factory and brutalised the wor­kers expelling them and arresting 14 workers including three Union officials who had occupied the factory and eleven workers (including a female branch officer). They were com­mitted to prison for fourteen days to purge their contempt. When the workers were released on the day before May Day, they got a heroes' welcome and the La Brea Charles award. The workers had already pitched camp and resumed the struggle. There were running battles with scabs, dozens of workers were dismissed, endless police attacks, many arrests and legal manoeuvrings to decertify the Union and enmesh it in a web of legalism. The struggle went for months, but the Company stood firm and without active support from other workers the struggle eventually was fought on the legal front. The tide had clearly turned in favour of the employers.

  1983 saw struggles at Halliburton against retrench­ment, lockout and dismissals. The company succumbed during the struggle. But Amoco had already sent out the word to con­tractors - cut your workers' rates, because we are cutting yours. Over the next years all the oil servicing companies that had survived retrenched, froze wages, cut rates and refused to honour collective agreements. The writing was on the wall, the employers had made their stand - collective bargaining had to go.

  There was also the now traditional struggle of the contract workers at Galeota, fighting desperately for their rights. East Coast Operations were shut down for a week. Ben Construction workers downed tools for 14 days in May and Tesoro offshore workers protested against dangerous condi­tions. The company dismissed five.

  On May 25th the Union made a claim for recognition of AMOCO permanent workers. This legal struggle dragged on until July1984. It was a field day for lawyers and the company engaged in heavy intimidation. The Recognition Board dis­allowed the claim. The IRA had once again foiled workers in their bid for representation of their choice.

  When the counter-revolutionary Coard clique seized power in Grenada in October 1983 and murdered the revolu­tionary leadership, the shock proved to be tremendous within the OWTU.

  The OWTU had a long fraternal relationship with the New Jewel Movement and with Brother Maurice Bishop. Indeed in July 1983 a reception was held by the OWTU for Brother Bishop when he was in Trinidad for the Caricom Summit. In fact the Annual Conference which began on October 22nd, was to be addressed by Vincent Noel, a Grena­dian trade unionist who was a member of the People's Revolu­tionary Government. Vincent Noel was murdered by the butchers of St. George's. The Annual Conference condemned the Grenadian Counter Revolution and called upon the Cari­com Heads of Government not to be caught up in moves to violate the sovereignty of Grenada by the United States. The warning fell on deaf ears and the OECS countries, Jamaica and Barbados supported the American invasion.

  The OWTU organised a series of public meet­ings to discuss the Grenada issue. Michael Als was condemned for supporting the Coard massacre. The Union also organised a memorial service and cultural exposition in honour of Brother Bishop. It was attended by notable West Indians including George Lamming and the mother and sister of Maurice Bishop.

  The May 1984 fightback struggles had to happen. On hindsight it can be seen as the inevitable confrontation that was bound to happen given the collapse of the economy and given the determination of the employers to make the working people bear the brunt of the crisis and particularly given the employer strategy of eliminating collective bargaining. One informed comment about the May 1984 crisis stated: "(May) tested the relative strengths and preparedness of the working class, employer class and state in the war between capital and Labour, a war that historical ex­perience teaches us will intensify as the economic crisis deep­ens.”

  Long before May there was a lot of sparring between workers and employers. The Cedros Planters' Association had dissolved, leaving agricultural workers without recognition certificates. The tension was rising daily at Dunlop and an-other negotiation had commenced with Texaco who refused to make a wage offer. On January 7th twenty seven unions met at Rienzi Complex to discuss the economic situation and on Budget Day January 11th, thousands of workers demon­strated around the Red House. McEnearney had begun retrenching workers and Lever Brothers workers had put a ban on overtime. Texaco workers were demonstrating against that company's intransigence, Trinidad Cement workers were loudly protesting the corrupt practices of its management and had forced the Ministry of State Enterprise to launch a cosmetic investigation.

 On April 19th (Holy Thursday) McEnearney workers were locked out. These actions were becoming commonplace in the society as the local conglomerates moved to consolidate their strength. Police moved on to the compounds, there were arrests, contractors were being utilised, workers pre­viously retrenched were hired as scabs. The industrial relations situation throughout the country was warming up.

  On May 2nd Lever Brothers workers went on strike. Lever admitted that they could pay but did not want to go against ECA guidelines. Within days of the Lever strike Dunlop workers began protest action against the issuing of 17 warning notices. This was May 9th. On May 10th Texaco called off wages talks because workers had planned a demonstration to Beaumount Hill. Workers on the Cat cracker downed tools in protest. The Company threatened to discipline union officers.

On the next day protest action spread throughout the Texaco Refinery at Pointe-a-Pierre. On that very day Dun­lop workers after intervention by the Minister began resump­tion of work. On May 13th despite repeated requests Texaco refused to make a wage offer. On May 14th workers at Bar­rackpore downed tools. The protests had begun to spread. On that same day Dunlop management walked out of a meeting with the Union.

  On May 15th workers at Guayaguayare and Brighton downed tools. Drivers of National Petroleum and Aziz Aha­mad refused to cross picket lines. The company responded by offering 5%. The anger of the workers exploded at Texaco's contempt. On the 16th Forest Reserve downed tools and con­tractor workers on the East Coast stopped work. AMOCO permanent workers refused to cross the picket line. Dunlop workers resumed protest action and the Union called for a settlement of all disputes. Dunlop retaliated by suspending all its workers. The workers then pitched camp. Meanwhile the Eastern Seaboard area began to resemble a military camp, with hundreds of armed police. Amoco permanent workers were then intimidated into to crossing the picket lines. 

Minister Mahabir publicly launched an attack on 1st Vice President Comrade Errol McLeod calling his statements preposterous. On May 18th at a massive public meeting in Mara­bella, in the pouring rain the Union launched the slogan - One Union, One struggle - in a fighting speech by Comrade Mc Leod. That same night the security forces occupied the Pointe-­a-Pierre bond. From the next day security forces began to deliver fuel supplies.

  On May 21st there was a large meeting at the Pointe-­a-Pierre Roundabout where the danger of police in the in­stallations was pointed out. Pointe-a-Pierre workers pitched camp outside. The company fired eight (8) union officials. On that same day Dunlop lifted the suspensions, but the workers remained on the picket lines. The General Council put forward a four point proposal for industrial peace. NP drivers stopped driving tank wagons.

  Once again treachery reared its head. After a meeting with the ECA and the Minister of Labour the General Secre­tary of the Trinidad and Tobago Labour Congress expressed full confidence in the Minister of Labour and on that same day (May 22nd) Aziz Ahamad workers were locked out as the police and army commandeered the tank wagons. Tidewater on the East Coast dismissed twenty-three (23) workers.

On May 23rd Dunlop succumbed to all the Union's demands and workers returned to work. The tactical squad of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service converged on Pointe­-a-Pierre in force. The next day Mahabir informed parties that he had invoked section 56 (1) of the IRA deeming negotia­tions officially reported under the IRA.

  By the end of May. the Union had lost the initiative and the State was aggressively attacking. Police and more police moved into Pointe-a-Pierre and the Police commissioner said that the police had been instructed to "Take prompt and positive action  in connection with industrial disputes.”  The writing was on the wall. On May 30th Galeota workers returned to work. Texaco offered 9% and there were some arrests. By June 4th all Texaco workers had returned to work.

  It was clear after the May impasse that the employers led by the State had achieved superiority in the balance of forces and that the economic front of the class struggle was firmly under the control of the capitalists.

  But even after the end of the May impasse the Lever strike went on. There was massive police intimida­tion, workers were brutalised and arrested including 2nd Vice President Cecil Paul. Women on the picket camp were not spared. A car driven by a former secretary of the Recogni­tion Board Cyril Austin drove into the picket camp injuring 18 workers. Lever advertised publicly for scabs and they came in under police protection. The strike lasted four and a half months and the Union was forced to accept the Minister's 24% proposal.

  Since the May 1984 impasse, the conditions on the industrial relations front have more and more favoured the employers. The workers have only been able to fight defen­sive battles with any measure of success. The trade union movement has not fared well in the struggle on the economic front. Now that the economy has returned to its condition of persistent poverty, now that the unemployment rate has shot up above 20%, it is clear that the employers are in the ascendancy. It is clear that the labour movement is facing a crisis of industrial relations that has been called the collapse of collective bargaining. The labour movement is faced with a very aggressive and extremely hostile employer class operating a well thought out strategy, both in the Private and Public Sector. They are using the cover of 'downturn economic crisis' etc. to enforce wage freezes, wage cuts, roll backs, retrench­ment and the breaking of the labour movement. The basic strategy is to soften up the workers with retrenchment then if they refuse to concede take backs around the negotiating table, lockouts are instituted followed by the offering of individual contracts which contain inferior terms and con­ditions.

  Between January 1984 and September 1986, there were twenty four lockouts and six strikes. All the strikes have taken place to prevent the imposition of wage freeze and take-backs of benefits. The employers are prepared to absorb large losses to ensure that the trade unions are defeated e.g. the Lever strike cost the company $ l0m. After lockouts or strikes are settled workers relax, but the companies still con­tinue to attack e.g. after McEnearney workers resumed work, 130 were retrenched.

  1985 opened with the Industrial Court making a wage award to Caroni workers which the State promptly appealed. No clearer evidence was needed to show that the State had thrown in its lot fully with the employers.

  In March 1985, the State finally took over Texaco's assets. The OWTU takes pride in being in the Vanguard of this struggle to get rid of Texaco. In October 1985 and January 1986 an interim first year general increase was agreed to in Trintoc's hourly/weekly and monthly rated junior staff negotiations respectively. Since that, although Tesoro and Trinmar have signed collective agreements, Trintoc workers were frustrated from receiving similar rates of pay for two years. Only after the workmen had mounted several protests did Trintoc implement the new rates in August 1987. Though the Union bent backward to give the new

Trintoc a chance to develop the new bureaucrats have turned the heat on the workers and operated just like the multinationals. Trintoc is a potential explosion just awaiting detonation.

  In early 1985 T & TEC offered its workers a 0% increase over three (3) years. It was only after prolonged protest that the workers eventually gained an 8% increase in a judge­ment from the Industrial Court in December '87. In addition the T & TEC workers had to struggle in 1987 for the rein­statement of Cost of Living Allowances which had earlier that year been illegally suspended by Government decision.

  In July 1985, Metal Box workers went on strike, after one year of negotiations and after the Union had agreed to postpone negotiations and supported the company in its struggle against the importation of cans. The company offered 10% and cutback in benefits. The Union stood for parity with Lever and Nestle's. The workers did every thing to avoid a strike but when it became unavoidable, the strike began. The strike lasted until January 1986. The workers were able to beat back the roll backs . But the experiences during and after the strike were notable. Once more the media worked over­time to attack Metal Box workers. Once more the police attacked and brutalised workers with great enthusiasm. Again the courts were utilised and issued injunctions to restrict picketing, thus facilitating, the entry of scab labour. The workers twice stormed the factory and expelled the scabs.

 After resumption, a wave of victimisation swept through the workforce. Workers were suspended and dis­missed, working hours were changed, tea breaks eliminated. Dozens of workers were retrenched. Many workers were affected by layoffs. The company whittled down its work-force and has succeeded in getting rid of many activists. But is this not to be expected of a South African-connected company the chairman of which is Jeff Stollmeyer?

While the Metal Box strike was on, the hourly rated workers of another South African-connected company Carib­bean Packaging Industries went on strike. The monthly rated workers of this company, members of the OWTU had signed a collective agreement after COLA consolidation and con­tinuance. After 13 meetings at the Ministry of Labour the Union and C.P.I. deadlocked. The Company was demand­ing significant cutbacks.

  On August 13th 1985, the strike began. The workers after having learned the experience of the years of struggle in the East-West Corridor launched into a very militant and aggressive strategy. Twice daily picketing, joined by the monthly paid on off times, a round the clock camp. The police tactical unit, as was now a matter of course, also pitch­ed camp. Like at Metal Box, the police continually attacked the workers especially in their anti-scab activity. Militant officers and workers were dismissed. The Branch President who was a monthly paid worker was suspended; then dis­missed.

  The company resorted to transporting scared, young, unemployeds in sealed containers for twenty miles in an attempt to introduce scab labour. Twice, like at Metal Box, the workers invaded the factory and forced the scabs out. In­junctions, often ignored, attempted to restrain workers from picketing near the entrance to the factory. This led to savage attacks from the tactical squad. There were numerous arrests. By December production had started with police assistance. The frustration was immense although the workers refused to sign individual contracts. When the company offered voluntary retrenchment, the workers took the opportunity to leave the company rather than return under repressive conditions.

  The CPI workers occupy a special place in the history of the labour movement. They have had a never ending history of sharp struggle against the apartheid-connected CPI. They fought for justice and fair play without enough support or resources and they fought the entire capitalist class and refused to compromise other workers by accepting cutbacks through individual contracts. But the capitalist attack did not cease.

  The Dunlop workers for several years had defied the company in their struggle for their due, but when the BTR corporation took over Dunlop the strategy toward the wor­kers changed.

  The BTR/Dunlop locked out its workers in Septem­ber 1985. When the workers failed to be intimidated, the great majority were dismissed. They then resorted to police attacks and high court injunctions. During that period BTR dismissed one thousand workers in South Africa. Although the industrial court found Dunlop guilty of illegal lockout and charged the company $20,000, the company paid no heed to the court judgement and the situation deteriorated and stalemated. They appealed the judgement. In 1988 the Appeal Court ruled in favour of the Union. The workers action was vindicated.

In early 1986, Fed Chem's monthly paid workers were locked out by the company. They were newly organised into the Union. The Union publicly predicted the lockout. The workers held out for over three weeks, and then signed in­dividual contracts.

  This lockout was a dress rehearsal for the lock out of the hourly paid which began in late August. The re­sponse was dramatically different. The workers fully under­stood that they were not going to sign individual contracts giving away COLA. The Union, led by the workers, engaged in a massive public education drive through written propagan­da and direct action. They shifted the struggle from the picket line and carried it to the population centres, applying incre­dible pressure on the politicians of the beleaguered PNM, fully understanding that industrial relations is governed by politics and 1986 was an election year. 

Petitions were presented to the Prime Minister, pickets of Ministries of Labour - Energy, Whitehall and Parliament were held. Mass demonstrations were organised. There were vigils in the Savannah and Woodford Square. After the NAR victory on December 15th, the workers forced the new Labour Minister to recommend to Cabinet the use of Section 65 of the IRA deeming the lockout over in the na­tional interest. The Cabinet balked and the pickets resumed at Parliament, Ministry of Labour. The Cabinet then suggested an amendment to the IRA which would send the workers back to work after a specified period. On January 26th, the amen­dment was passed. Within a few days it was over. The Fed Chem workers once again blazed a trail for the working class. They resumed work undefeated, having held the line.

  Events since the December 1986 election have moved with tremendous speed. The arbitrary and unconstitutional removal of COLA, the threat of public sector retrenchment and privatisation, the increased unemployment the incredible escalation in food prices, the growing foreign debt and the growing perception that the government is in the grip of big business, the Government's decision to go to the International Monetary Fund all suggest that a detailed analysis is required on the economic, social and political policies of the ruling elite and its consequential effects on workers and trade unions. Such a study is outside the scope of this short history and will be published separately. But it is clear that as the Labour Movement enters the second fifty years, workers are under tremendous pressure. Collective 

There is only one path forward if workers are not to sink into the depravity of naked repression and pauperisation. In an installation address to union officers in the North in October 1983 2nd Vice President Cecil Paul said: “we must regain our political influence in the society; we must use that political influence to protect our class interest; where is the political party of the working class?"

  The choice for workers organised in the OWTU is stark but it is clear. The economic front is under the control of the employer class. The workers therefore also need political power to build the basis for defending and advancing their economic interests.