Clotil Walcott (7th September 1925 to 15th November 2007) was born
on Wellington Street, St. Joseph, Trinidad and Tobago but six years
later her parents moved to Arima in search of employment. She attended
the St. Joseph Roman Catholic school and then the Arima Roman Catholic
Her first working experience was in a dry goods store and later began
work at the Ministry of Agriculture's Central Experimental Station at
Centeno but, a few years later, was among a group of workers at the
Station who were ‘laid off’ on grounds of redundancy.
In February 1964, she began employment at the Cannings Poultry
Processing Plant in Arima. This was a branch of the larger Cannings
Group of Companies which included, among its many subsidiaries, a chain
of supermarkets, stationery stores, meat wholesalers, a soft drink and
ice cream factory and many others. According to Walcott, it was her
bitter experiences with both the union and the employer while working
with this company for fifteen years which, helped to develop her
interest in the oppression and exploitation of working women.
Trade Union activist
In 1965 Clotil Walcott began her activities in the Labour Movement by
joining the Union of Commercial and Industrial Workers (UCIW). This
union was eventually replaced as the representative union for the
Cannings workers by the National Union of Government and Federated
Workers (NUGFW) and in 1967 she joined that union. In her own words …
“I became particularly concern about the problems of the working
women being oppressed and exploited, to do this effectively I
discovered I had also to be conversant with the problems of male
From about 1966, Walcott began to participate actively in politics.
Initially this comprised mainly activities involved in electoral
campaigns in support of people seeking political office. During the
period 1969-1972, she became a member of NJAC - The National Joint
Action Committee - and participated in the Black Power and Black
consciousness movement which swept the country.
It was in 1974 that she was approached by domestic workers for
assistance with their plight of non-recognition or protection by the
existing labour laws in Trinidad and Tobago which did not recognise
domestics as “workers” under Industrial Relations Act 1972.
In response, along with James Lynch, Salisha Ali and others, the
National Union of Domestic Employees (NUDE) was established as a
section of the Union of Ship Builders, Ship Repairers and Allied
Workers Union (USSR).
The bulletin announcing its formation stated: “Calling all
persons serving in the capacity of cooks, kitchen helpers, maids,
butlers, seamstresses, laundresses, barmen, babysitters, chauffeurs,
messengers, yardmen and household assistants” heralding the union’s concern with low income workers more generally in addition to domestic workers.
During the 1976 election campaign of 1976, she supported the Democratic
Action Congress (DAC) a centre party, because in her own words:
“I felt it my duty to find a platform through which I could
influence a programme and promote the women’s role in our society… I
had the opportunity of encouraging one of the leading platform speaker
Mrs. Jennifer Johnson of the DAC to give prominence to both the
international and local aspect of women Progressive Programme …”
Later she would shift her allegiance, as many trade unionists would,
to the United Labour Front. In addition, she was also a member of the
Trinidad and Tobago Peace Council, a branch of the World Peace Council,
under the leadership of Dr. James Millette and sold copies of the
newspaper Moko through the streets of Port of Spain.
Driven by the failure to get her views aired in the press, Walcott did
her own publishing. She taught herself to type with two fingers, and
bought a typewriter. Using this she prepared stencils which were
printed on Gestetner machines by friends and associates. On completion
these pamphlets were sold by Clotil herself at fifty cents each, around
the town, at political meetings and at the parliament building. Four of
these early publications dealt with her struggle at the Cannings
Poultry Processing Plant and were entitled:
- The Exploitation of Working-Class Women –v- Cannings Ltd. Guilty? Part I.
- A Woman’s Fight – An example of Exploitation of The Working-Class Woman. Part II.
- Women’s Aim Now is to end Exploitation. Part III.
On May Day 1979, at a Trade Union Rally, she delivered a paper entitled:-
- Working-Class Woman Speaks Out.
These four essays were published in a booklet entitled "Fight Back Says a Woman", by the Institute of Social Studies, The Hague in the 1980s.
In 1980, Walcott was invited to attend an international conference on
Women’s Struggles and Research at the Institute of Social Studies in
The Hague in The Netherlands. That was an important turning point in
her development. It was at this meeting that she met Selma James and
Wilmette Brown of the International Wages for Housework Campaign.
Immediately the connection between the rights of domestic workers and
the struggle for the recognition of women’s unwaged domestic labour
became clear and from henceforth a relationship would develop which
would continue for close to thirty years.
She would subsequently speak at conferences in Vienna, Austria;
Turin, Italy; Nairobi, Kenya; Beijing, China and London in The United
Kingdom as well as Kingston, Jamaica. NUDE became the local
representative of the International Wages for Housework Campaign.
Amongst the successes attributed to Clotil Walcott and her campaigns through the NUDE were:
- The passing of the '''Minimum Wages and Terms and Conditions of
Service for Household Assistants Order''' under the Minimum Wages Act
Chapter 88:04:18- 17, November 1982; This included - minimum wages, a
44 hour work week; overtime rates for public holidays, maternity leave,
vacation leave etc.;
- The passing of the '''Unremunerated Work Act, 1995''' which allows
for the counting of unwaged work in national statistics. This made
Trinidad and Tobago one of the first countries in the world to pass
such legislation and the Trinidad and Tobago language being used as the
model for the Beijing Declaration on Women.
Over the years, Clotil Walcott's were recognised by many organisation including:
- 9th June, 1984 - Bank and General Workers Union, Grand Certificate
of Honour for service and dedication in the trade union movement.
- 1985 - The Star Citizen Award - Peoples Popular Movement.
- 1991 - Servant and Hero of Labour Award - Council of Progressive Trade Unions (CPTU).
- 1991 - Network of NGO’s for the Advancement of Women for Outstanding Contribution to the Women’s Movement.
- 8th March 1998 - Guardian Women of Trinidad and Tobago Award - for
her sterling contributions to the social life of Trinidad and Tobago.
- 1995 - The Partners of The Americas - In Recognition of your 30
years of dedicated service which achieved recognition of the value of
- 31st August 1998 - The Humming Bird Medal (silver) - for Loyal and
Devoted service to the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago in the sphere of
- 24th January 1999, Women of the Year - Women Working for Social Progress,
- 2000 - The Mayor, members of Council and the Burgesses of Arima
award for Community Service in Recognition of her Contribution towards
the Development of Arima.
- 8th March 2003 - Network of NGO’s for the Advancement of Women - International Women’s Day 2003 as a Pioneering Women.
- 8th March 2006 - Ministry of Community Development, Culture and
Gender Affairs, in recognition of her contribution to the creation of
legislation for the counting of unwaged work.
Most of the information for this article, and much of the text, has
been reproduced from a tribute written by Dr. Rhona Reddock following
Clotil Walcott's death on 20th November 2007.
For further information see:
Global Women's Strike
National Union of Domestic Employees