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CAN A RESURGENT CURVE FLATTEN US? by LLoyd Taylor

posted 25 Jul 2021, 18:38 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 25 Jul 2021, 18:54 ]

ASSESSING THE RESISTANCE OF TNTs ANTI COVID-19 PUBLIC HEALTH ARMOUR

Lloyd Taylor
Societies everywhere are struggling to find measures to contain and defeat the onslaught of the Sars-Covid-19 pandemic. Trinidad and Tobago’s government and citizens have found themselves in the same straight jacket. For 18 months it has been a real struggle to create instruments and put in place a monitoring and management system, in order to master and defeat the corona virus. 

The challenge is toughened by the poverty of research data on the potency of the virus; the need to build a public health capacity to manage the spread of infections, to treat infected patients and the lack of a competent scientific capability to investigate, invent and produce, and patent medicines to respond to current and mutating variants of the virus.

Despite global uncertainty, people in Trinidad and Tobago still have a responsibility to assess, how well or how poorly official interventions to treat the virus are quickly enabling our society and economy to return to normalcy.

This assessment is necessary in the context of the government’s measures that include states of emergencies, curfews, and vaccination and quarantine provisions. This effort will assess government’s own evaluation of the forecast of the effectiveness of its policies to reduce the infection rate and avoid infection spikes seen in April /May 2021, and to reduce the virus’s impact by administering ab
out 900,000 mostly single-shot doses by September 1st, 2021.

In any such assessment of forecasted performance many variables must be investigated. One is a potential lack of public trust in the promises of Government and public health practices it recommends for securing the nation’s health. Another is mistrust of the sincerity of pharmaceutical companies and the efficacy of the vaccines they produce. Still another key factor is the role of antibody waning, confusion over what that means for the re-infection of fully vaccinated persons and the recommendation of booster shots. The variable, PCR testing for infection raises questions about its most effective role. A
 fourth consideration is the training of healthcare workers for the care, management and treatment of persons infected with Covid 19.

The first factor is not subject to easy government control anywhere in the world. Public confidence cannot be helped by deaths from the spread of infection and death-defining side-effects however miniscule these events are in relation to the numbers of fully vaccinated persons. Side effects impact individual persons, families and groups and breeds vaccine reluctance, refusal and hesitance in an ever widening circle as information is broadcast. Anti-body waning defines a slow inexorable decline of the antibodies, brought into existence by the body’s immune response to combat attacks from viruses. The role of PCR testing is within government’s control. It can be used narrowly or to unearth asymptomatic cases. How critical a factor PCR testing may be in managing the spread of COVID 19 infections is treated to a probing assessment below.

Finally, intelligence reports emerging from parallel non- traditional hospital system suggest there is an absence of a regime of care, management and treatment within the competencies of publicly trained healthcare workers who interact frequently with infected patients. This is so, despite glowing reports from celebrities who acknowledged indebtedness to the life saving interventions of healthcare workers. I have heard anecdotal evidence that between institutional admission and discharge there is a perception that, health-care may not be equally applied to all infected patients and that some patients, perceived to have remote chances of survival, are sent home to die. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that PCR tests for infected persons can take as much as a week to know the outcome; while hopefully fewer never get a result.


TESTING OUR PUBLIC HEALTH SYSTEM: CAN ANYTHING GO WRONG IN FLATTENING THE CURVE?

In June 2021, after the elapse of nineteen (19) months it is time to make a hardnosed evaluation of where leads the counter attack against the Sars-Covid-19 virus in Trinidad and Tobago by citizens and government working in tandem.

Have we been flattening the curve or does the curve threaten to flatten us? The ‘curve’ is the shorthand statistical language used by virologists to communicate visually how data are shaped and directed on a line to describe the infection rates. The Government’s forecast for Trinidad and Tobago anticipates that the pandemic will be in near complete retreat by mid September 2021. The lynchpin in that forecast is that 60 to 70 percent of the population, vaccinated under conditions of a state of emergency before August 31st will significantly reduce infection rates. But will the forecast be realized? The government is convinced that it will achieve its goals. 

The Prime Minister’s interpretation of the trend suggests that the country has avoided the bullet of 100 deaths a day on what would have been a projected infection number of 80,000 by June 4, 2021. That number is four times the number of infections and deaths of the then current 25,000 number of infected persons. The projected rate of increase is assumed to be the rate the country experienced before 16th May 2021. The SOE plus a curfew regime introduced in Mid-May 2021 have become a public virtue under conditions of a pandemic.

But what policies and popular habits got us there? The answer boils down to where the stress on public policy is placed and the efficacy of the roll out of that policy among the resident population. The strategic emphasis on the regime of restricted freedom of movement (SOE) logically reduces reliance on voluntary contact tracing and social distancing in living public spaces. The effect is to reduce potential exposure of infected persons to those who are uninfected. 

Where less persons are exposed to infection it is safe to forecast a fall in the rate at which persons become infected with Corona Virus 19, a fall in the total number of active carriers, and a fall in the total number of deaths over a given unit of time. That strategy also helps to take pressure off the patient carrying- capacity of both the traditional and parallel hospital systems, as Dr. Richards carefully pointed out in one of the Government’s 7th day reporting sessions.

An important observation arises. This is that the new governance restricting the freedom of movement does not deal a death blow to Corona Virus 19. It only slows the rate at which it is infecting people, takes the pressure off of daily public health care management measures, and provides a three (3) months grace time for the government to launch its ‘Big Guns’ in the form of virus-killing doses from three (3) vaccines – Sinopharm, Astra Zeneca (from WHO Covax facility), and one-dose Johnson and Johnson (Janssen).

The anticipated outcome is to first flatten and then bend the curve downwards once and forever. Yet new infection events have continued, albeit now isolated in homes of households. The 4-day average new infection rates between June 16 and June 22, 2021 were as follows: 81, 74, 86, 56, 66, 17, 37, and 53. Total Covid-19 deaths have climbed over those dates from 686 to 761 - an increase of 75 over 8 days or an average of 9 3/8 daily. These events, recorded under SOE conditions one week at the end of its first month, confirm that the virus is abroad and alive in Trinidad and Tobago. The fervent hope is the supply of vaccines will outflank the threat.

A noteworthy fact is that at the start of Sars-Covid 19 virus, every nation on earth was caught with its proverbial pants down. That included all of the 15 of 195 countries who scored highest results of the Global Health Security Index (GHSI) in 2019 (Global Health Security Index). The GHIS assessment forecasted: that the USA was the most prepared with a score of 83.5 points, followed by the UK (77.9), Netherlands (75.6), Australia (75.1), Canada (75.3), Thailand (73.2), Sweden(72.1), Denmark (70.4), Korea (70.2), Finland (68.7) , France (68.2), Slovenia (67.2), Switzerland (67), Germany (66.0), and Spain (65.9).

Yet in the practice of confronting the Corona Virus the USA, France and Spain had some of the weakest responses, and worst infection and death rates. China was given a GHSI of 48 points that ranked it 51 out of 195 countries. Trinidad and Tobago with a score of 36.6 was ranked 99 out of 195 countries. Therefore, in the context we need to investigate what can go awry with Trinidad and Tobago government’s forecasts? The unexpected onset of the pandemic made a mockery of the Global Health Security Index forecast of those countries best able to handle a pandemic. To paraphrase in conventional Biblical terms, across most categories the result of responses to the SARS-COVID 19 pandemic: Many of those countries ranked first in public health capabilities were last, and some of the last were ranked higher than the GHSI forecasted.

Note: The GHSI on the GHSI:

“To create the GHS! Index, the NTI (Nuclear Threat Institute), JHU (John Hopkins University), EIU (Economic Intelligence Unit), project team, with generous grants from the Open Philanthropy Society, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Robertson Foundation – worked with a team of 21 experts from 13 countries, with 140 questions to create a detailed and comprehensive framework organized over 6 categories, 34 indicators, 85 sub-indicators to assess a country’s capability to prevent epidemics and to mitigate pandemics.“ https://www.ghsindex.org/


The GHSI analysis relied on data published by each country. When the WHO noticed the presence of Covid 19 in December2019, the challenge to abate the virus found the health systems of ALL countries severely compromised. The world was unready. There were no prospects of a vaccine for 7 months, until the second half of 2020, and only from 3 countries, viz., Russia’s Sputnik V followed by USA’s Pfizer Bio-Ntech and Moderna and UK –Switzerland’s Astra Zeneca. Journalistic commercial nationalism of Western Media inserted geopolitical contentions, spoke meritoriously only about the vaccines that emerged from US and the UK, seriously suppressing cooperation among nations as a priority during a pandemic. 

THE OWTU AND GEORGE WEEKES I KNEW: MEMOIRS OF A BLUE SHIRT SOLDIER PART ONE by Ashton Harrilal

posted 24 Jul 2021, 08:43 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 24 Jul 2021, 11:00 ]

Ashton Harrilal is a retired electrical supervisor at the then T&TEEC. now Powergen Penl Power Station.  He was the OWTU Branch Secretary and Monthly Paid Shop Steward for the OWTU T&TEC Penal Branch and served on the OWTU General Council for many years.
The year 2021 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of George Weekes, the trade unionist who, probably, did the most to uplift the material conditions of workers, oilworkers in particular.  He gave them confidence that they were entitled to the benefits of modern civilisation and made it an article of faith that the working class must and will hold the reins of power. 

To mark this important milestone and to re-introduce George Weekes to a new generation of working people, we will publish and re-publish a series of articles over the upcoming months exploring the man in the context of his time and the historical legacy he has left. 

We pulish Part One of a three part article by Ashton Harrilal.

I first saw George Weekes in 1966 at a political meeting of the Workers and Farmers Party in Princes Town at the Triangle. I lived then at Iere
Village near Princes Town where Mr. Stephen Maharaj (the Political Leader of the WFP) had his popular pharmacy. I never imagined that George Weekes would be part of my life journey in later years.

In and around 1967-1969, I, a young unknown, had the esteemed privilege to be in the company of the young and vibrant Brother Winston Suite; elders Mr. Yunas Sahai; Mr. Reuben Francis of the Furniture Shop and a few others whose name I can't recall. We would regularly meet at Mr. Boysie's parlour next door to what used to be the Mohammed brothers Princes Town Special Bus Company Garage on the Manahambre Main Road near Princes Town.

It was my "baptism of fire" into Colonialism, Politics of all the "ism", Trade Union, Religion, Slavery, Indentured Labour, History, Sports and a wide range of topics. Those impromptu meetings would go from around 6ish into 9/10 pm. I learned a lot during those meetings …stuff that I never had at my educational institutions. George Weekes name would come up at those meetings.

T&TEC

In September 1969 I was employed at T&TEC Penal Power Station in the Maintenance Department. As a result of my baptism at Boysie’s Parlour, it was not difficult for me to identify with the Trade Union Movement. The name George Weekes was already familiar to me.

Doodnath Maharaj
Up until the early part of 1969 T&TEC workers were represented by the then Electricity Supply Industrial Union (ESIU) with John Hackshaw as its full time General Secretary. The latter part of 1969 was an historic period where T&TEC workers would become members of the all-powerful Oilfields Workers Trade Union (OWTU). I am told that the idea of joining the OWTU started at the T&TEC Penal Power Station with Comrades AR Boodoo and Neville De Silva and a few others workers.

The Union’s contact man then was OWTU’s Assistant General Secretary, Comrade Doodnath Maharaj. Neville De Silva would become our first Branch President. At all areas of T&TEC workers were actively engaged in having the OWTU as the workers’ representative. The state was not happy about that. The OWTU was accused of cooking the books in making T&TEC workers eligible to become members. The Police would question Comrade Doodnath Maharaj and eventually seized his passport for 7 years.

In those days the Minister of Labour used to sign the Recognition Certificate. The then Minister of Labour was one A C Alexis. Prime Minister Eric Williams use to boast of keeping Oil and Sugar apart. It was said that when Williams realised that OWTU was now the recognised Union for T&TEC workers he became furious and fired the Alexis who was allegedly his brother in law.

With T&TEC workers certified as members of OWTU, PG Weekes and the Union would be a stronger organisation. The “General” would have one more stripe in his arsenal.

At our early branch meetings there were some workers at T&TEC who were still cultured in the British Colonial ways. So at that time it was difficult to have those workers come on board at our Branch Meetings at the Penal Sports Club-house. We would try to influence them and most gradually did come on board in Union meetings and other activities. The art of neutralising and pacifying is a craft by itself. I guess this might have been the same in other T&TEC areas.

MEETING PG WEEKES AT OUR PENAL BRANCH

After becoming members of the OWTU, we were upbeat to meet with PG Weekes and other Executive Officers. We knew Comrade Doodnath Maharaj who was instrumental in having us become members of OWTU. PG Weekes spoke briefly on many topics. Some workers were surprised to hear how cool and simple was his tone in addressing us. I guess through print and electronic media the impression workers had of him was a fighter with a loud and aggressive personality.

I remembered him saying that we belong to a very important industry and we must do our duty with pride and dignity but at the same time we must stand up for justice for workers. He said a good trade unionist must also be a good worker by example.

In 1971/72 term I was elected as Assistant Branch Secretary. Thereafter, I became the Branch Secretary unopposed for all the years of service in that position and Shop Steward for monthly rated workers. After Elections for Branch officers we would have the “installation of officers” by a team of the OWTU Executive Officers. The Sports Club was where we held Union meetings,

At Penal for special occasions/functions/meetings we were famous for making “ah cook” and having some beverages. So after those meetings by Executive Officers from Head Office we would have the “after meeting get togethers” which were very valuable.

With the beverages taking effect, we would hear some history of battles fought for workers, negotiations, strikes, marches, police harassments, arrests and so on. Apart from our official Union meetings, those “after meeting” meetings also helped to raise the raise the consciousness of workers in general - unwritten history revealed in passionate story-telling. We enjoyed listening to those old blue shirt warriors. The time would pass unnoticed until someone would shout out: “oh gosh comrades, is 10 o’clock time to go!! He might have observed that the beverages were running low.

THE GENERAL COUNCIL

Having to make regular visits to Central Office and interfacing with General Secretary Lionel Bannister and the busybody Doodnath Maharaj was very helpful in guiding me on secretarial functions. Comrade Maharaj and I became very close.

My first General Council meeting was another baptism. A handful of us young newbies joining up with a battery of seasoned stalwarts from the oilfields and other areas at the General Council (GC). At that time, I noticed that there was a sprinkle of Indo branch officers and a large number of Afro Branch Officers at those meetings.

Ramcharitar Lalchan
Sister Thelma Williams was always present at GC meetings. At the head table was only one little Indo in Comrade Doodnath Maharaj. Among the sprinkle of Indo branch officers were the likes of Comrades Lalchan, Winston Dass, Soogrim Coolman , Harry Gookool . Sylvester Ramquar, P. Sankersingh, Paul Benjamin, myself
Sylvester P. Ramquar
and maybe two/three more comrades. I recall stalwarts in Comrade Harrison Thompson (Muscles) and Comrade Renn from San Fernando Branch. Vernon Reese would succeed Renn as Branch President, He was a warrior in a class of his own. With only a handful of Indo members active in OWTU at that level, I was curious as why that was so.

At General Council meetings officers would generally gather on time and last to come to the head table would be the towering figure of the PG Weekes.

As new Branch Officers, we would be asked to identify ourselves and our branch. My turn to identify myself “I am Comrade Ashton Harrilal Branch Secretary, T&TEC Penal.” From that day onward PG Weekes would call me “Comrade Penal”. I recall PG would look piercingly into your eyes when speaking to you. I think the GC would start at 9;30 or 10:00 am on either the first or last Saturday of the month.

After GC meetings, a certain group of Officers would go to “Mee Mee Restaurant” on Royal Road and have their fill with food and drinks resulting in some huge bills to the Union. The Branch Officers of the GC were given a meal allowance of about $10. Those discrepancies were raised at the GC and a decision taken that GC will begin at 1:30 pm.

MARCHES AND RALLIES

In the 70’s to mid-80’s the blue shirt army was busy with Union activities. Marches and demonstrations were regular.

I remembered Comrade Lalchan with his very powerful voice at marches shouting loudly “Voices!!” to re-energise us. Our Union songs in synchronism with “battle chants” would send you into a state of fearlessness. During the 70’s /mid 80’s we were a force of about 22,000 union members. We were a huge battalion that could shake the political machinery when necessary. The armed forces who were always on high alert, spies in all shapes and models would try to infiltrate the Union at all levels. Those days the police would profile vibrant officers and members.

In 1970 the Black Power Movement, in full battle cry, had the attention of most leaders and workers from far and wide together with UWI students, the unemployed and many others in T&T. The 1970s was never short of OWTU making the news on some Trade Union or Political matter. P G Weekes was always in the News locally and at times internationally. The Oil boom of 1974 also will also raise the bar at OWTU. PG Weekes leadership would broaden the Union from Cedros to POS .

POINTE A PIERRE ELECTORAL CONSTITUENCY

“PG Weekes as Union Leader but Eric Williams as we Prime Minister.” the ground was saying that the majority of OWTU membership were PNM supporters. I have no hard evidence to support that claim; but the results of the 1966 general elections, the first after independence when PG Weekes fought the Pointe a Pierre seat for the Workers and Farmers Party (WFP) and lost his deposit, pointed in that direction.

The Pointe a Pierre constituency, the heartland of Oil failed him at that Electoral level. Oil workers did not vote for PG Weekes and that was a matter of concern. One Lilias Wight won the seat handsomely for the DLP.

All WFP candidates lost their deposits in that 1966 GE. A joke shared that I heard was Brother Allan Alexander got 26 and he was referred to as the alphabet candidate. PG Weekes took that loss in stride, I guess as a lesson in reality. I gathered some of this information at Boysie’s parlour and later on at our branch “after meeting” meetings.

T&TEC AN
The famous yellow book
D OWTU FIRST COLLECTIVE AGREEMENT
With T&TEC workers in the fold, in the beginning we were treated as step children, second class to the Oil workers. Gradually we proved ourselves “as good as any” with Negotiating skills, Pension Issues, Shift Rosters, Grievance handling and numerous other matters.

I recall Comrade Nuevo Diaz, as an astute negotiator and Labour Relations Officer. He was very popular with our officers and workers who would know him as a gentleman and skilful negotiator. We learned quite a lot from him. I don’t recall why he left the OWTU and joined the Sugar Workers Union led by Basdeo Panday.

The first Collective Agreement was for the period 1970 -1972 between T&TEC and OWTU. Mr Karl Schuelt, a foreigner, was the General Manager of T&TEC. Sir Alan Reece was the Board Chairman with Professor Ken Julien as Deputy Chairman.

The Union’s Negotiation team was led by Comrade Verne Edwards, Chief Labour Relations Officer (CLRO). Comrade Neville De Silva was our Penal representative. Comrade Horace Noray from Northern area, Comrade Dennis Thomas from Tobago Branch and Union representatives from all T&TEC areas. PG Weekes was busy with other matters during our negotiation with T&TEC for our Collective Agreement. However, he would be briefed at GC meetings and by the CLRO.

After that first negotiation concluded an A class Electrician’s rates were $ 2.00 /hour for 1970, $2.06/hour for 1971 and $2.10 for 1972.

(LOOK OUT FOR PART TWO AND PART THREE. COMING SOON)

TRIBUTES TO KEITH SAMUEL

posted 15 Jul 2021, 20:18 by Gerry Kangalee

On June 23rd 2021 Keith Samuel, well known San Fernando educator, closed his eyes having opened them on 25th June 1946. WE publish below two tributes to him. The first is by the
former principal of San Fernando Boys RC School, Michael Guerra. The second is by former principal of the Sando Educational Workshop, Kasala Kamara.


I offer sincere condolences to the Samuel family. Keith Samuel whom I fondly called Keithos on account of his background teaching Spanish to secondary school students was a gentle giant. This was reflected in his profession as an educator par excellence.

Keithos was a true friend who could be relied upon, with a strong sense of loyalty and consistent trustworthiness. I saw his trustworthiness and reliability first hand through my years working closely with him in his role as the financial controller at San Fernando Boys RC. Keithos adeptly and earnestly navigated the financial challenges of managing school funds while meeting all school expenses.

Keithos also displayed a wide scope of knowledge in the field of education as well as societal matters. His attention to detail was indeed one of his best skills, which proved to be an asset to me whenever I needed a critical eye to edit my writings for my mathematical books. I would describe my friend as a True Son of the Soil who served God with distinction.

Keithos was a truly spiritual person and we all observed it in his daily actions such as always caring and providing assistance to the elderly. He was a man with many talents, which included twenty years of barbering for yours truly.

As a colleague and a proficient teacher, Keithos was loved and respected by all. (MICHAEL GUERRA)


The San Fernando Educational workshop located at 18 Princes Margaret Street, Les Efforts East San Fernando wishes to join the community in extending its deepest condolences to the Samuel Family with the passing of our dear colleague, Keith Samuel

Keith can be described as a true stalwart of the educational workshop, having served for a number of years teaching students at the primary and secondary level He distinguished himself as a true favourite among the students and their parents.

In fact, it is his sound grasp of the teaching process which includes love for the profession which motivated him to not only assist students in overcoming their academic challenges but to also provide them with information and advice for the solutions to their personal problems.

When it was necessary Keith organized private consultations with parents individually as well as consultations involving students and their parents. These sessions provided a golden opportunity to share his vast knowledge, information and wisdom as an educator of over forty years’ experience.

Keith can also be remembered as an effective and efficient administrator whose intervention guaranteed that vacation classes took place in a physical environment that was properly maintained and the students were treated with refreshments at the end of each term.

This may come as a surprise to many; Keith ensured that his spirit lives on in the educational workshop when he encouraged his son Keide, a graduate of the University of the West Indies, to join the staff to teach CXC Physics.

Finally, Keith can be described as a most reliable hum n being who did everything possible to assist anyone who was in need, not only his students and members of his family but also his friends and working colleagues, making him a very rare human being! What needs to be emphasized is that Keith's life was motivated by his commitment to that deep spiritual principle of service to your fellow human beings which, in essence, is service to God. (KASALA KAMARA)

THE LIFE AND TIMES OF GEORGE WEEKES by Joe Young

posted 1 Jul 2021, 16:13 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 1 Jul 2021, 17:17 ]

Joe Young
The year 2021 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of George Weekes, the trade unionist who, probably, did the most to uplift the
material conditions of workers, oilworkers in particular.  
He gave them confidence that they were entitled to the benefits of modern civilisation and made it an article of faith that the working class must and will hold the reins of power. 

To mark this important milestone and to re-introduce George Weekes to a new generation of working people, we will publish and re-publish a series of articles over the upcoming months exploring the man in the context of his time and the historical legacy he has left.

The following article is a draft interview with the late Joe Young done by the VANGUARD, the newspaper published by the Oilfields’ Workers Trade Union, in 1995. The interview was done in May 1995, just three months after Weekes’ death. The interview was conducted by Frank Sears.

Vanguard: How did George Weekes the man, comrade, union officer, President General, impact upon you socially, politically and on the industrial front?

Joe Young: Well, this is a broad area. I first met George in 1960-61. He was still working at Trinidad Leaseholds Ltd. at Pointe-A-Pierre (editor's note: Actually Texaco had already bought out Trinidad Leaseholds Ltd.) and he was then either Vice President or President of the local branch (editor's note: Comrade Weekes was President of the branch).

He lived at San Juan and at that time I was laying the ground work for the establishment of TIWU (Transport and Industrial Workers' Union). I had at that time my problems with trade union leaders in the north and George had his own battles with Rojas - the President General of the OWTU. So it was in those circumstances we met.

We were both critical of the then existing trade union leadership structures in that era with Stanford and Sutton in the north and George had his Rojas down south. So I imagine that was the basis of our relationship plus the fact that we shared similar if not identical political or ideological views. All this was taking place against a background of what was happening in the country prior to Independence. And against a background of a major Caribbean occurrence, that is to say, the rebels under Fidel Castro had recently seized power in Cuba in 1959. In fact, I have always suspected that George, giving the name to his closest lieutenants - The Rebels - would have been influenced by Fidel and his rebels overthrowing Batista. I have long suspected that is what influenced George Weekes.

Both of us felt that radical reforms were needed, a new breed of trade unionist should come to the fore. We were very idealistic. We used to meet very regularly at Palms Club because my incipient movement used to meet there as our headquarters, to plan. This was so because the beginning of TIWU really occurred in San Fernando with bus workers in south and I used to meet George there.

We used to travel together on the bus. And just to have a longer opportunity to talk I would go out of the way to travel on the bus - the 'round the road bus' to pass through San Juan - because George was living at Silver Mill and I was living at Diego Martin. There was so much to talk about; how to organise workers to get rid of the men who were at the helm and so on.

I remember distinctly the first OWTU election using one member one vote because it was the first union in the country and this was initiated by George. Rojas was apparently against this motion but George had succeeded in having it carried at an Annual Conference and got it through. My recollection is that Rojas had resigned, he did not stay to fight. It was a three-way fight with Weekes, Lesaldo and Johnson. But George won it overwhelmingly. George always appeared to be a brooder. He was always brooding about something. It appeared he was always thinking about something in the distance or some distant thing. I believe bus workers would have been the first group of workers outside the OWTU he actually spoke to after becoming President General. By the time TIWU was actually registered in 1962 the links were already forged so that camaraderie and closeness were always there.

Question: What were you at the time, that 61-62 period.

Joe Young: I was thrown out of one of Sutton's unions for opposing him in the Amalgamated Transport Union. W.W. Sutton was general secretary of three trade unions - Amalgamated, Engineering and General Workers' Trade Union; Amalgamated Transport Union and a union representing calypsonians and artistes. The bone of contention was that there were allegations of corruption and collusion between Sutton and officials of the bus company. I attacked that settlement and it created a split in the union so that was the genesis of the movement leading to the formation of TIWU.

Question: How did the relationship continue after George became P.G.

Joe Young: After he became President General, he moved out of the San Juan area and went to live in south. We would see and meet each other as struggles arose. I recall the British Petroleum strike in
John Rojas
early 62 and then of course we were associated during the period of Williams' witch hunt - The Mbanefo Commission - because we were dragged in front of that Commission. John Rojas was the chief instigator who had made the allegation in the Senate when he said that CLR James told him that the revolution was about to begin shortly and what was he doing as an old comrade. So it was on the basis of this absurdity that Williams brought this African jurist to Trinidad to lead the Commission looking for communists. This was a period of intense activity. The oil workers coming under Weekes leadership had driven Prime Minister Williams to say publicly that there can be no peace in Trinidad and Tobago once there was no peace in the oil industry. That was the period when Williams was seriously wooing George Weekes.

Eric Williams
I have a recollection of a major conference in London dealing with developing and underdeveloped countries where Weekes went with Eric Williams. Williams was seeking to entrap Weekes, to either co-opt or neutralise him. He succeeded in doing neither. Because what I remember distinctly of that period is that while George was in London in that conference we had a series of bus strikes leading into the bus strike that led to the nationalisation of the Omnibus industry in 1964.

When George returned from London, hours after his return, he came down to address the workers because we were making demands for the nationalisation of the services. George told me that the news of the strike was heard in London and George said that Williams asked if he (George) knew me and asked "who was that upstart - Young - causing this trouble down there?"

He also said then to George, that when he returned he would be relying on George to stop that nonsense going on down there since it is an essential service. But George, true to his commitment to the working class had to disappoint Williams, for after his arrival in Trinidad he was on the picket line in support of workers. I suspected that this represented Williams' last attempt to co-opt and neutralise George Weekes. So that was the kind of person George was. He supported us in our demands for the nationalisation of the service which eventually came. We were together in opposition to the Industrial Stabilisation Act. (ISA) in 1965.

Question: What was the final end result of that strike?

Joe Young: I remember distinctly that I was attending an OWTU Annual Conference at Palms Club. It was a Saturday. I was sitting between Jack Kelshall and Lennox Pierre when a policeman came with a
George Bowrin
message from Williams which said that he wanted to meet me at once. I was an invited guest sitting with the Executive on the stage or elevated platform. I met Williams at Whitehall and he said that Cabinet gave serious consideration and accepted the proposition of the State acquiring the bus services. We had tremendous support from George and the OWTU. People like Ben Primus, Lennox Pierre, Walter Annamunthodo. Panday was not yet on the scene. George Bowrin, as editor of the Vanguard, was around. I remember well, being part of the OWTU delegation at Piarco to meet Bowrin coming in from London. Because I myself was very interested in meeting this man who was a member of the OWTU and went to Oxford University and became a teacher in some institution over there. I remember that night very well. There was a big delegation to meet him.

We brought the strike to an end. The strike was initially over wages and better working conditions but it broadened over a demand for public ownership. So some of our demands were met and certain compromises were reached regarding fringes and benefits in the interest of the broader question which was public ownership. At that time there were two omnibus concessionaires. The one we were involved with was called the Princes Town Special Bus Service Company Limited - a long cumbersome name - owned by the Mohammed Brothers. The other one was based in the north and owned by Mr. Ahamad. It was called the National Transit System for Port of Spain, environs and the East. The union representing the northern concessionaire opposed state ownership as a single entity. The leadership was against this. Now this strike lasted about 54 days in 1964. Clive Nunez was not yet on the scene. He was at that time a member of the National Union of Government Employees involved with the Trinidad Railways. The railway system was scrapped in its totality by 1965 or '66. (editor’s note: the railway system actually ended in 1968).

My dealings with George never ceased. The next major point of contact was with the formation of the Workers and Farmers Party (WFP). You see how rapidly these events occurred, one transferred into another. The WFP came into existence immediately prior to the 1966 general elections. All this was tied up with CLR James' departure from the PNM and the split of the Democratic Labour Party over the very passage of the Industrial Stabilisation Act (ISA) with George being the principal advocate against this Act. It was under his leadership that Platt-Mills - a famous New Zealander, left wing lawyer argued in the Privy Council. But we lost the matter on the ground that the right to strike was to be held not an inherent part of the right of freedom of association as we had argued.

All these things were coming fast and furious. Repeated attempts by the Williams regime to unseat George as President General failed because he was firmly cemented with the OWTU. He was beloved by the rank and file. He was totally committed, so committed in my view, that at that time a significant part of his membership were PNM supporters and yet George was able to launch the most blistering critiques and attacks on the PNM regime only to be applauded by the very persons who will return Eric Williams to power. It was as if the workers wanted both Williams and Weekes. They wanted Williams as their political leader and they wanted George to deal with these imperialist companies - Texaco and all these other extortionists.

And then Rojas himself, upon his resignation, did not cease his subversions against George Weekes. Subversions against George Weekes could be said to have international implications. The International Federation of Petroleum and Chemical Workers, after Rojas' resignation, had suddenly decided to form a local bureau and put Rojas in charge of it. All this designed to give Rojas a little prestige to continue his undermining efforts against George. Even Rojas' stay in the Senate, although he was originally put there as a representative for labour, he did not resign after he severed ties with the OWTU neither did the Governor General remove him. All this was designed to give Rojas a platform of prestige from which he could continue his assault against George Weekes. People, like OWTU renegade McDonald Moses who I think was a founding member, were also involved in all these machinations.

Question: So what happened to the Workers and Farmers Party?

Left CLR James. on the right Joe Young
Joe Young:
If one returned to its manifesto and looked at it, it was a very radical manifesto. This is 1966. Williams was still at the height of his power and merely to utter anti PNM slogans was to endanger oneself. I recall the passage of the ISA when workers, George and myself planned to picket Parliament. It was quite clear our proposed picket was anticipated. On our arrival around the Parliament, there were opportunists such as WW Sutton and Carl Tull - leader of the Communications Workers Union. Incidentally the telephone company at the time was referred to as Party Group #1. They had their workers there in support of passage of the Bill. When we arrived there these PNM people had placards. I remember some of the placards read - 'Weekes too Weak', another said 'Young too Young' and we were encircled and threatened and so on. I also remember it was either Montano (Gerard) or (Johnny) O'Halloran in front Parliament saying to George and myself that he was going to recommend to Cabinet that we should get a one-way ticket to Havana.

Well, the Workers and Farmers Party was devastated in the Elections. Everybody lost their deposit but its slate of candidates was of a remarkable quality. You had CLR James himself, George Weekes, Jack Kelshall, Lennox Pierre, George Bowrin, Clive Phil may have been there. I know Clive was a serious DLP man and my memory could be faulty here. I remember campaigning for George. I campaigned extensively for George for he had contested the Pointe a Pierre seat. The WFP contested all seats bar Tobago. In Central we had Krishna Gowandan (Education Officer - TIWU). He fought Capildeo I think in Chaguanas. Lennox fought a seat in the north, Kelshall either La Brea or Oropouche or some seat down there and CLR the Tunapuna seat.

During that period during Williams rush of the ISA through the Parliament, James was in Trinidad. He had come to cover some cricket match (editor's note: James was covering the 1965 Australian tour of the west Indies) and he was staying somewhere in the San Juan area (editor's note: He was staying in Barataria). Simultaneous to all that there was a strike in Sugar because the sugar workers were on a move to get rid of Bhadase Sagan Maraj. You see all these incidents were happening so rapidly - the sugar workers were looking to the OWTU for leadership. Sugar workers wanted George to lead them and the Trade Union Congress at the time with their machinations had elements such as Nathaniel Crichlow, Tull, James Manswell and all these fellows. George had resigned in disgust.

They were all envious of George's popularity so they saw him as one to be restricted, to be cut down because George in my view, as a trade union leader was standing head and shoulders above all of us. In fact, one should remember the famous statement by Williams that his major contribution to the country was in preventing the coming together of Oil and Sugar. All this time TIWU was expanding. In fact, there used to be a popular view - that there were only two trade unions in Trinidad, one headed by George and the other by his son who was supposed to be me. I don't know how the workers arrived at that because our age difference was not so great that he could have been my father (only some 13 years’ difference). But that was the impression of how the workers saw us.

Question: Any other special contact with George?

Joe Young: Well, yes. We had a relationship again with invitations to attend the OLAS Conference (Organisation of Latin American Solidarity) in Havana. I myself did not attend but representatives from TIWU, Comrades Nunez and Gowandan, while George Weekes and Bowrin did so for the OWTU. It was supposed to be in juxtaposition to the OAS (Organisation of American States) under the thumb of the imperialists. This brought a closer affinity. I remember little TIWU making a contribution of $100 to the BP (British Petroleum) striking workers and very often George would come to install TIWU's Executive and similarly I did it also in the OWTU. That was a regular feature.

In 1969, the famous Bus Strike occurred which many people saw as the precursor to 1970. This strike came due to dissatisfaction with an Industrial Court judgement by a panel headed by Sir Isaac Hyatali on wages basically. They awarded a very inferior wage. It was one of the very genuine strikes starting from the ground up.

1969 bus strike by members of the Transport and Industrial Workers Union
Knowing the implications of a strike against the Industrial Court I myself was very cautious, perhaps a bit too cautious for workers, because I recall being bitterly attacked by workers and so on. The strike started, one can say, spontaneous and simultaneous roughly a month after the judgement and strangely enough the strike started on the 21st of April 1969. (editor’s note: exactly one year later on April 21st 1970, the Williams government declared a state of emergency and detained dozens of black power activists and trade unionists including George Weekes).

It lasted about 3-5 weeks. It drew all elements of opposition to the PNM together - Lloyd Best, Stephen Maharaj, James Millette, George Weekes, Basdeo Panday who at that time may have been working with the Oilfields Workers Trade Union as editor of the Vanguard. Because you know 'Bas' had to be taken to Court for writing an article in the Vanguard being critical of Isaac Hyatali - President of the Court.

He won the case: the other side could not establish that Panday was in fact Editor of the Vanguard. Panday had said something about Hyatali having an iron fist in a velvet glove and that was deemed to be contempt of court. So Bas in a way went through part of his political apprenticeship around the oilfields and the OWTU. The strike failed from the point of view that it was a demand for improved wages, but the strike had deeper connotations than that. In a way it was heralding what would come exactly one year after. I am able to say this because of the underlying political implications of the strike and the ability which it had to pull various elements.

Williams had said, during that strike, that it would be a fight to the finish because striking bus workers went one day to picket Williams somewhere in a community office in Port of Spain and he was very embarrassed and annoyed about it. Striking workers confronted him with placards; they pushed them up in his face and it was there he made that statement. When the explosion in 1970 came one must remember NJAC was formed in 1969 by students on campus and they got embroiled with the Sir George Williams University in Canada. Then after, NJAC turned its thoughts to the local situation. George Weekes threw himself in at once. George was a principal speaker in that movement. NJAC had cut its teeth on local political issues in the 1969 Bus strike. I remember well, Dave Darbeau (now Khafra Kambon), David Murray (now Aiyegoro Ome), Geddes Granger later (Makandal Daaga), Kelshall Bodie, Thelma Henderson and others were virtually living in the strike camps. In fact, students used to sleep in my office.

Now George was one can say, a permanent fixture on NJAC platforms. I was also around. You see the objective conditions of that period was of such that it produced a multiplicity of grass roots peoples
organisations exploding from the ground and rising all over. It was broad based. The promise of Independence never materialised and you had a whole plethora of these groups exploding all over the country. What was important is not necessarily what they were saying but the fact that people came together and formed voluntary groups as against now there is nothing like that happening. That's the significance, that people saw the necessity to organise self activity to express their own views about society. George was arrested. I was never out of contact with him although we were based in Laventille really, and he in San Fernando. We saw each other regularly. It was either some meeting here or meeting there or some strike here and there. There was never any disruption of the relationship at all. But I myself was not as involved as George in the 1970 situation.

There were two States of Emergency and so on and then there would have been a relative lull because after the second State of Emergency (1971) Williams had succeeded in getting legislation whereby one had to apply to the police to demonstrate.

Then the next major thing that would have occurred would be the formation of the ULF (United Labour Front) which came out of the struggles of oil and sugar workers and to a lesser extent, bus workers. It was George who personally invited me to come down to one of the early meetings on the formation of the ULF.

It was always George's view that workers should create a political organisation although it can be said that George was not absolutely clear in his own mind as to what should be the guiding philosophy of this workers political organisation. But on the broader question it was always his view that there should be what George would describe as a working class party. I don't think there is anybody who argues that George was an intellectual. He certainly was not but whatever be lacked in that department he made up for it with sheer commitment to workers' cause and the strength of his character. With the ULF in opposition there were six Senators. They were George Weekes, George Sammy, Alan Alexander, Lennox Pierre, Dora Bridgemohan and myself.


Question: In your opinion why didn't the ULF go from strength to strength?

Joe Young: The ULF was an amalgamation of a multiplicity of contending ideologies and personalities. The whole spectrum of political thought one could say was represented in that. One can also say it was born with the seeds of its own destruction. Thus it was fated to fail so I can say it was a miracle it lasted that long. I am in a position to say that because in most of the meetings I would be asked to chair them. Because there was this view that Joe Young does not appear to be committed to any of the contending ideological streams so I would be asked to take the "chair". I can tell you it wasn't easy. When the ULF split on the question of Basdeo Panday I was one of those who supported the so-called Raffique Shah faction. George was out of the country when the actual split occurred. It fell to myself, Shah and Sammy to hold all the public meetings and so on. I remember almost being beaten at Barrackpore and Chaguanas. Allan Alexander and James Millette were also out of the country.

When George returned he never really expressed to me what would have been his position in the meetings which took the decision to recall Panday as leader of the opposition. But the fact, that upon his return, he did not indicate any allegiance to Panday then, at least by default, he appeared to be supporting Shah. So again we found ourselves in the same camp.

Because when the see-saw game was going on between who was leader of the opposition, Bas Panday, on occasions when he regained it, never moved immediately to dismiss George and me as ULF Senators. He dismissed at once Alan, Lennox and Sammy. It was as though Bas was giving us an opportunity to come to him to say we were not in this "Shah business"! You see Bas wore several hats, one among which was being a trade union leader. But sooner or later he was driven to dismiss us as Senators.

Question: When was the last time you had a fundamental chat with George Weekes?

Joe Young: I resigned from TIWU in 1979 and went into farming sometime in June. So that my last discussion would have been early 1979 at a function to mark my resignation from TIWU where George was present. The OWTU's election right before my resignation I would have done that installation of officers. When there was talk developing to create this one big, maco party, the question of coming together and so on, I think this is the period of the so called accommodation and George was made a Senator by that grouping. I was not happy with it myself.

George Weekes flanked on the right by Uriah Butler and on the left by Joe Young
I remember distinctly Robinson making a statement in defence of it because there were speculations as to whether Panday had discussed it with Robinson i.e. the appointment of George as a Senator. Then Robinson had said truthfully that Panday had discussed it with him and he – Robinson - was firmly of the view that the voice of labour - the energy sector - must be heard in the parliament. Those political types always saw George as someone who they should try to woo and win and George may not have been gifted with the ability to be wary or guarded against these excursions to entrap him.

Of course Robinson, ideologically speaking would have nothing to do with a George Weekes, but it was politically convenient although they were miles apart politically.

I have never been able to understand why George allowed himself to be used, and to destroy the credibility he had in the eyes of working people or to undermine the image he had taken about 40 years of his life to create. For George goes back to the period of an old Butlerite upon his demobilisation from the army in 1945 or 46 and by a stroke of the pen wipe this away. It was suggested to me by deceased Lennox Pierre to speak to him but Lennox failed to persuade George. Lennox advised me to make the attempt but I declined for I told Lennox that if he was George's mentor and still failed, then I, Joe Young, concede failure at once.

Question? Since his death to now what is your assessment of George?

Joe Young: George’s contributions to the struggle of working people in this country, as a trade union leader, remains unmatched and unrivalled; the issues that he raised and his insistence that the trade union as a trade union cannot confine itself only to bread and butler issues of wages and employment. He politicised workers and stirred the development of their consciousness to understand the society in which they lived. No other trade unionist did that as effectively and with the obvious result. The OWTU under George Weekes' leadership was associated with an articulated position which impacted on all significant movements in this country. All, bar none!

Question? What would you say are the strong and weak points of George?

Joe Young: Well what I had just said would be in the area of his strengths. So I would just spend a little time on what I thought were his weaknesses. Apparently George had some need for being an office holder in the bourgeois state and he may have confused anti PNM-ism with Socialism. In an interview with Wayne Brown (Trinidad Guardian) shortly after his resignation from the OWTU in 1987 when he was asked how would he like to be remembered, he said - "as a revolutionary fighting for social justice, and if he was offered an office and so on he would refuse it because the society is corrupt and it stinks - words to that effect."

Yet, it wasn't too long after this interview that he became a Senator in the ANR Robinson administration claiming that he was not a member of that party (NAR), he did not have to toe the party line. Yet when that party was introducing measures undermining what he had himself fought for years, he did not speak out against it in Parliament.

Even at that time George Weekes could have regained his prestige. In my view it was not too late for George, of entering posterity with his total reputation intact by simply making a major speech against the Robinson regime in the parliament and let the heavens fall. Robinson could not have done George Weekes anything. George Weekes had achieved everything already. His place in posterity was already guaranteed and certainly it was of some discomfort and hurt to know that George had chosen or allowed this to happen to him. George should have remained the elder statesman of labour. Everyone respected George. But for some inexplicable reason which has gone "to the grave" with him, the question would be why he found it necessary in the afternoon of his life to associate himself with a Robinson.

A man (Robinson) who had said that George lacked intellectual furniture at the Farrell House function marking his retirement as President General. That is where Robinson also said "in my view this man deserved the highest national award". Now George and Robinson always had some measure of friendship. I remember Robinson being regularly invited to OWTU Conferences. I remember distinctly speaking right after Robinson's address when he said the trade union movement should not be engaged in politics and I spoke right after him and refuted his position. I said if anybody must be involved in politics it is the trade union movement.

GEORGE WAS A LEADER WHEN WE NEEDED A LEADER by WINSTON SUITE

posted 22 Jun 2021, 20:37 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 22 Jun 2021, 20:55 ]

WHERE IS OUR WALL OF HONOUR?

Let me begin, with your permission, with a question to you and also to myself. Why do we (in Trinidad and Tobago in particular) seem, always to wait until long after someone has passed on in death, often when most of the living has little to no knowledge of the person in question to seek to bestow honour? 

 We seem reluctant to praise. We sometimes rise only when recognition has come from outside, from a foreign voice. The dead cannot hear us. Is it that we wish to hear ourselves? Or are we seeking selfishly or vicariously attempting to steal some of the just praise for ourselves. We honour ourselves in the act of praising others!

Is it simply because it is a good or safe time to open and to close the accounts? The person can surely do no more good to be considered and they can do no more ill or is it that all the ill that they may have done or caused would already have emerged in the open, or would have been already forgotten or forgiven. Whatever the reason, it is a safe time.

Often these occasions provide a good time for reflection, for discovery and for research. But above all it is a good time for documentation for the future and for posterity. It is an occasion when we who rise to honour are also presenting our arguments, our case as it were, in defence of bestowing honour.

I wish to ask the question, why is it that we in Trinidad and Tobago (and the five islands or even the 21 smaller islands) have no List of National Heroes, no Wall of Honour? Is it that we have no consensus? Is it that we are such a divided land, such that half or less of the population may agree to honour while the other half will question or reject? 

Is it because there is no consensus and those whom we may seek to honour may only be recognized by too small a group of society?.

Be that as it may, as an old colleague used to say. Why is it that we have no boulevard of National Heroes? We have no heroes representing our long period of cruel and painful centuries of slavery, period of indentureship, no national heroes out of our more than a century long struggle against colonialism. We have no heroes out of our struggle for independence.

Where are our monuments, our wall of honour? Our national heroes would reflect our struggles, our victories and our defeats, our achievements, our homes, our history and our aspirations. Are we a people without a history? This is why we are gathered here today, to honour our comrade, our soldier, our leader, our bridge with the past and a beacon to our future.
Winston Suite
George Weekes
The year 2021 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of George Weekes, the trade unionist who, probably, did the most to uplift the material conditions of workers, oilworkers in particular. 

He gave them confidence that they were entitled to the benefits of modern civilisation and made it an article of faith that the working class must and will hold the reins of power. 

To mark this important milestone and to re-introduce George Weekes to a new generation of working people, we will publish and re-publish a series of articles over the upcoming months exploring the man in the context of his time and the historical legacy he has left. 
We publish a lightly edited version of a presentation made by Winston Suite at the webinar organised by Caribbean Dialogue and Seven Continents Center for Research and Policy held on June 13th 2021 entitled REFLECTIONS ON THE CONTRIBUTION OF GEOREGE WEEKES TO THE LABOUR MOVEMENT

What do I remember of Comrade George Weekes?


First Brief Encounter

My first encounter with George Weekes was at the end of the OWTU strike of 1960. I worked at Texaco, Point-a-Pierre, for a brief period as a Trainee Operator, directly out of school, (February to August). I was fired together with my entire batch, except one person who had come from the ranks of an office boy. This dismissal was on the day after the end of a strike which George Weekes and Muriel Donowa Mc Davidson had organized and successfully waged.

My Second Encounter

My next encounter with Comrade George, who at that time was a National Figure, the President General of the great Oilfields Workers Trade Union (OWTU), the radical and progressive union who had by that time several battles under his belt. 

 This was early 1969, around the time we had just began our organization: The Universal Movement for the Reconstruction of Black Identity (UMROBI). We needed, from time to time, a venue to hold lectures in the South and one of our members suggested that we should approach the OWTU to use their hall at Palms Club. I personally did not meet with George but we were permitted to use the hall on a few occasions.


The Third Encounter

I remember clearly that early in 1970 (April) we had been asked to organize a public meeting on the Promenade where the Trinidad Students from the Sir George Williams University in Canada who were to attend a function for them at Palms Club would address the people in San Fernando. George Weekes and the NJAC leaders would address the gathering as well. That was my third meeting with Comrade Weekes.

My real first personal meeting with Comrade George Weekes was on the morning of 21st April, 1970. I had been roused from my bed around 4:00a.m. and taken to the Police Head Quarters in San Fernando. I was taken to an office alone and told to wait, I remember it was still dark.

As it gradually began to light up George Weekes, Winston Lennard and I think, Nuevo Diaz, were to be brought in. No one sought to know what was the occasion. It seemed that neither did the Police officers who would be heard asking each other, what was it about. I remember George retained his calm - at least that was the impression he projected. This was very important to all of us. He was not only the most senior but, without uttering a word, it was clear that he was the leader and his calm was contagious and this was important.

His quiet leadership was to shine through what was to be for all of us, the next six or so months (April – October) of detention and a State of Emergency, the first for all of us.

Quiet leadership: that is what I remember. It was as if he and his presence was what was important in that moment and time. This was a very important characteristic of this man and his leadership style calm and confident and in control.

I was to be detained again for nine months (October 1972 to June 1973). Once more it was Comrade George Weekes, his quiet presence that gave focus and a sense of direction, in moments of difficulty. He was at the base of stability and purpose that reminded us of what was at the heart of our detention and the meaning of the sacrifice. George kept us together during both those periods of greatest challenge. It is this that I remember. It is that was demonstrated, that George Weekes was a leader, and a national hero.

George never lost his cool. He never lectured, he did not jump to front to set out the path or presented his conclusion. He did not lead by talking. George’s presence was the Colossus of Rhodes. George was the oil on troubled waters.

George was the leader in times of chaos, anxiety and potential fragmentation over the 15 months. George kept us focused on why we were there, even when we may have been inclined to miss the central focus and there was a risk to descend into all hell.

George was a leader when we needed a leader. It was George who kept us sane. He kept us focused always on the future.

LET US REMEMBER JIM BARRETTE

posted 19 Jun 2021, 06:29 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 19 Jun 2021, 06:43 ]

A FUNERAL ORATION FOR WILLIAM MORTIMER BARRETTE
BETTER KNOWN AS JIM BARRETTE

Delivered at the Seamen and Waterfront Workers' Trade Union,
Wrightson Road, Port of Spain, on Friday 06 August 1993
by John La Rose



Jim Barrette
William Mortimer Barrette, better known as Jim Barrette, was born in the year 1900. Only 14 years earlier in 1886, the Chicago Riots, part
John La Rose
of the international battle for the 8-hour day, had so affected the consciousness of the workers of the world that, from then onwards until now, May Day, the 1st of May, has been celebrated as the day of the international workers' movement. It was the time of the International Workingmen's Association formed in 1864 and born out of the industrial factory working class or proletariat of that time.


Here in this part of the world, the workingmen and women, formed and developed the Trinidad Workingmen's Association, later to become the Trinidad Labour Party. It was in the furnace of these organisations and later in the National Unemployed Movement formed by Elma Francois and others; in Tubal Uriah Buzz Butler's British Empire Workers' and Citizens' Home Rule Party; in the Negro Welfare Cultural and Social Association which Francois, Barrette and others established, and in the trade unions which they founded, including this trade union - Seamen and Waterfront Workers Trade Union - in whose Hall we meet today; that the lives of Jim Barrette and his comrades were tempered.

Jim Barrette's name and his life will always be linked to the lives of Elma Francois, Bertie Percival, his companion and comrade Christina King and Clement Payne. These workingmen and working women with their path breaking ground work and the exceptional bravery of their action laid the basis for the modern Caribbean society which we know and live in today.

But they, the pioneers and forerunners were not the beneficiaries of their actions. We are. Almost without exception they were its principal victims; victims of vicious autocrats and officials, the employers whom they served and other agents whom they labelled colonial stooges. These pioneers and forerunners lived and died almost entirely in penury and poverty but their nobility and their fierce patriotism will never die.

Jim Barrette was a great popular working class orator. He arrested audiences with the quality, intensity and wide information of his speeches. He was an Oral Historian versed in the experience of his time, going back to the African religious and customary activity which he had engaged in, tagged along by his grandmother.

He possessed a vivid and constant and unusual memory for the events and personalities of the 1930's and 40's with whom he had been intensely involved. His descriptions and details almost never varied during years of repetition.

He educated the Workers' Freedom Movement which was formed out of the remnants of the Negro Welfare Association and the Marxist Study Class movement of the 1940's, with the vastness of his experience and his talent for straightforward analysis. He loved working the land and developing products from the crops on the land. He was able, eventually for a time, to do some of that.

Jim Barrette, Christina King and what remained of the Negro Welfare Cultural and Social Association, and the youth whom they could organise, kept alive the memory of Emancipation Day. Year after year, they made preparations for and celebrated Emancipation Day while the colonial authorities and their well behaved disciples tried to bury the memory of this holocaust with Columbus's so called Discovery Day.

We need to remember them now for their foresight and perseverance. It was Jim Barrette, Elma Francois and their comrades in the North and the Butlerites in the South who planned and carried out the General Strike of June 1937.

While the oilfields and the South were down, or in flames, the Negro Welfare shut down Port of Spain and carried the momentum of the General Strike and Insurrection in the North. They fought many other difficult and dangerous battles, but their determination and heroism never wavered.

In this funeral service for Jim Barrette today we honour his memory, the memory of his comrades now dead and his comrade and companion Christina King. In spite of his times in jail, in spite of the threats from the police and the law which always threatened their lives, Jim Barrette and his comrades were fearless.

They were determined to create a different and better society out of the disgrace and widespread poverty and hopelessness which the British Colonial government tried to impose in their quest for an empire in which the sun never set. But their sun set here in Trinidad with the help of Jim Barrette and countless other unknown and unsung patriots.

In the writings of the great revolutionary Frantz Fanon there occurs the following lines:

"Each generation must out of relative obscurity, discover its mission fulfil it or betray it." Jim Barrette assumed his mission. We salute him with the words: Mission accomplished. Mission accomplished with bravery under heavy fire. May his memory rest among us forever!

GEORGE WEEKES – A BIOGRAPHY (1921-1995)

posted 11 Jun 2021, 18:37 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 13 Jun 2021, 19:32 ]

The year 2021 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of George Weekes, the trade unionist who, probably, did the most to uplift the material conditions of workers, oilworkers in particular, and gave 
them confidence that they were entitled to the benefits of modern civilisation and made it an article of faith that the working class must and will hold the reins of power. To mark this important milestone and to re-introduce George Weekes to a new generation of working people, we will publish and re-publish a series of articles over the upcoming months exploring the man in the context of his time and the historical legacy he has left.

The following statement was published by the Oilfields Workers Trade Union in February 1995. Some sources have April 27th 1921 as Weekes’ birth date.

George Henry Hilton Weekes was born in the rural North Eastern village of Toco on March 9th 1921, the second son of Edgar and Rebecca Weekes, one of six children born to the headmaster of the Toco EC Primary School and his wife.

At the age of ten, the future President General of the Oilfields Workers' Trade Union, moved to Port of Spain (Sackville Street) and attended the Richmond Street Boys' School and the Tranquillity Intermediate School, which he had to leave after one year.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, he joined the army to fight Hitlerite fascism. He served in Italy and Egypt. His experience of racism in the British Army was to stay with him for the rest of his life
George Weekes back row 2nd from right
and was a key component in his future political and ideological outlook; as were the ideas he was exposed to during that critical period of his maturing.

On June 28th 1947, George Weekes married Theresa Brown at the St. Patrick's Church in Newtown. Over the years she bore him six children - Cyril, Kenneth, Kamau (Keith), Gail, Geneve and Christopher.

In 1949 he was employed as a fitter with Trinidad Leaseholds Limited at Pointe-A-Pierre.

By this time George Weekes had made himself familiar with anti-imperialist, socialist and Marxist philosophy and that of Marcus Garvey and above all had been deeply impressed by the struggles of the Butler Movement and registered as a member of the British Empire Workers Peasants and Ratepayers Union (Butler's Union). For the rest of his life he considered himself a Butlerite.

It was this perspective that led Comrade Weekes to committing himself to the anti-apartheid struggle and to the defence of revolutionary Cuba during the 1960's and to his fierce and revolutionary struggles against the multinational corporations.

He joined the West Indian Independence Party and became lifelong comrades of two of its influential members - the late Lennox Pierre and John La Rose. Another close friend, comrade and adviser from that period was attorney Jack Kelshall.

Comrade Weekes, impressing his fellow workers with the strength of his progressive convictions, soon became a committee member of the Pointe-A-Pierre Branch of the OWTU then its Vice President and eventually President of the branch.

By this time, he was a leading member of the Rebels movement in the union - a movement which struggled to democratise the Union, to widen participation by the rank and file in their affairs, to introduce one man, one vote in electing union executives and to get rid of the then President General ‘Big John’ Rojas.

By the time the 1960 oil strike occurred (the first official strike called by the OWTU), Comrade Weekes, by then President of the Pointe-A-Pierre branch, and the Rebels were in the ascendancy. They had actually forced the strike on Rojas, through the mobilisation of the rank and file and won an impressive 22% wage increase along with a reduction in working hours to 44 hours per week.

On March 27th 1962, the General Council of the OWTU approved a vote of no confidence in Rojas and General Secretary Houlder which had been brought by the Palo Seco branch. On 13th April Rojas resigned. A new era in trade unionism was about to take off.

On 25th June 1962, the first executive election based on one man one vote was held in the OWTU. The election was swept by George Weekes and the Rebels. The OWTU was ushered into a period of militant struggle under the leadership of Comrade George Weekes which would change the face of Trinidad and Tobago over the next twenty-five years.

Comrade Weekes' first crisis as President General was the battle to save the jobs of hundreds of workers employed at British Petroleum. On February 17th 1963, 2,600 workers at British Petroleum went on strike. It lasted 57 days. When the General Council decided to call out all union members to support their embattled colleagues, the company was for
George and Theresa
ced back to the negotiating table. Hundreds of jobs were saved. Weekes' leadership was off to a flying start.

Comrade Weekes became the new bogey man of the old economic elites and the new middle class politicians who were quickly shedding their nationalist skins and revealing themselves as nothing but house slaves in new clothes.

The M'banefo Commission was set up in 1963 to investigate subversive elements in the labour movement and in particular in the OWTU. Comrade Weekes was branded a communist. But these accusations did not shake the support of the workers. In 1963, under PG's leadership a pension plan was negotiated at Texaco and the work week was cut to 40 hours. Oil workers began to come into their own and they knew that George Weekes, in addition to their unity and militancy, was in large part responsible.

Because of the insistence of the OWTU the government was forced to establish a commission of enquiry into the oil industry - the Mostofi Commission. In that forum Weekes led the union in articulating the establishment of a national oil company. It was the opening salvo in a long and unfinished struggle for national ownership and control of the national patrimony.

1965 was to be a crucial year for the leadership of George Weekes. The PG was at the time the President of the National Trade Union Congress, when sugar workers revolted against Bhadase Maharaj's oppression and strike breaking tactics. They turned to Comrade Weekes. The leadership of the Congress turned their backs on the sugar workers. There was much violence in the sugar belt and an attempt was made on the PG's life.

On 18th March the government declared a state of emergency to keep oil and sugar workers apart. The government then laid the report of the M'banefo Commission in Parliament and rushed through the Industrial Stabilisation Act (ISA), a pro-employer piece of legislation which introduced compulsory arbitration and an Industrial Court. Many Congress leaders supported the ISA and collaborated with the
Protest against the Industrial Stabilisation Act 1965. George Weekes centre background
PNM government against Weekes' opposition to the Act. On March 24th 1965, Weekes resigned as President of Congress.

Between 1965 and 1970, many attempts were made to destabilise Weekes' position in the OWTU. Some of these were orchestrated by the CIA which made use of elements within the OWTU to stoke and provoke confusion within the union. But George Weekes and the Rebels continued to win victory after victory in union elections.

Paradoxically, but perhaps understandably, when Weekes joined with CLR James, Lennox Pierre, Stephen Maharaj and others to fight the 1966 elections on the Workers' and Farmers' Party ticket, the workers did not support their thrust into conventional politics.

During the sixties there were retrenchment battles to fight at BP and Shell and massive struggles shook the oil belt and merged with the struggles of the late sixties in other areas by workers, youth and unemployeds who were demanding power to the people and true independence.

During that period Weekes and the OWTU refined their positions on the economy and demanded nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy and freedom from the thraldom of the multinationals.

The decade of the sixties in terms of the tremendous struggles of the labour movement and the progressive movement must be characterised as the decade of George Weekes. He re-infused a radical, nationalist, socialist militancy into the labour movement that influenced not only the popular movement in Trinidad and Tobago, but influenced the entire Caribbean movement.

The influence of the George Weekes-led OWTU became so powerful that workers from outside the oil industry began to clamour to join the union which they saw as a steadfast and consistent defender of the interests of the working class. In 1967 the union changed its constitution to allow workers in any industry to join. Dunlop, Fedchem and T&TEC workers seized the opportunity and joined the ranks of the blue shirt army. The ruling elites took careful note of the attraction that the OWTU exercised for all workers

George Weekes, of course, was a leading figure in the 1970 revolution and suffered the consequences by being detained during the state of emergency. Workers began to sense the possibilities inherent in the slogan Let those who labour hold the reins.

The events of 1970 are well known. Other union officers, besides Comrade Weekes, were arrested and detained. Police raided the union headquarters and seized documents such as membership files, account books, grievance records on the pretext that Comrade Weekes and others were guilty of fraud. Fire bombs were thrown at the union headquarters and printery, gunshots were fired and property damaged. But the blue shirt army stood firm.

When the PG was released in November 1970, he was immediately faced with crucial industrial disputes which culminated in the critical struggles at Fed Chem and Dunlop in mid-1971, which led to thousands of workers in other workplaces downing tools in support of their comrades.

Police continued to harass the union, raiding the union and seizing documents and illegally detaining and questioning employees. In late 1971, the government grabbed the opportunity provided by the industrial disputes involving Badger workers to declare another state of emergency. But the real reason was that more and more workers were determined to join the OWTU and many of the reactionary union leaders were running scared and turned to the Eric Williams regime. Union officers, including Comrade Weekes, were again detained.

The government, then enacted the Industrial Relations Act (IRA), which prevented certain categories of workers from joining the OWTU and which severely restricted the right to strike. Again, agents of the anti-worker forces tried to destabilise the union while the President General was in prison, but again they failed.

Through the early seventies, Comrade Weekes consolidated the progressive position in the union, engaged in widespread political education and solidarity work with other unions and workers. The sugar industry was in ferment with the sugar workers, led by Basdeo Panday, a former Vanguard journalist and legal adviser to the OWTU, were seeking to have their conditions of work improved and cane farmers led by Raffique Shah, a hero of the 1970 army mutiny, were seeking the repeal of restrictive legislation and an increased price for their cane.

Through the instrumentality of Comrade Weekes, the United Labour Front was formed at Skinner Park on February 18th 1975; its birth attended by 40,000 workers, farmers and supporters. It also included the Transport and Industrial Workers' Union led by Joe Young.


On March 18th 1975, the "Bloody Tuesday" demonstration of oil, sugar and other workers was broken up by police on Coffee Street, San Fernando, workers were brutalised and Weekes and other leaders were again arrested. Comrade Weekes once again demonstrated his commitment to workers' education by re-establishing and putting on a professional level an Education and Research Department.

In 1976, the United Labour Front was transformed into a political party, fought the 1976 elections and became the official opposition on a platform of workers' power. Comrade Weekes became a Senator. The United Labour Front did not stay together very long. By late 1977 riven by ideological differences the party effectively committed political suicide and PG was once again disappointed politically, not for the last time.

The union had been growing throughout the 1970's, particularly among workers in the East-West Corridor and by the late 1970's was 21,000 strong. There was a wave of strikes in 1978. Comrade Weekes' vision was evident in that year when he pushed and got the Annual Conference to set up a Safety Desk in the union.

1979 too, saw the Texaco Must Go campaign and the Great Pension Struggle. It also saw the waterfront workers at Pointe-a-Pierre responding magnificently to the anti-apartheid education that was one of the shining lights of Comrade Weekes’ career, when they refused to load oil products to Antigua, the government of which was assisting the apartheid regime in South Africa to test weapons.

The 1980's provided no respite, what with the 1980-'81 Fedchem strike, the CPI occupation. 1982 saw Comrade Weekes leading the strikes against offshore contractors and the T&TEC strike. 1983 saw the Bermudez Occupation and the arrest of 14 workers, again contractor workers engaged in struggle.

The oil boom had gone sour and workers were desperately trying to maintain their terms and conditions in the face of the massive attack by employers. Then the Grenada revolution upon which Comrade Weekes had placed so much hope self-destructed.

It is not widely recognised that Comrade Weekes was shattered politically by the events in Grenada and as the wave of struggles played out in the East-West Corridor and the oil industry through the middle eighties, the Grand Old Man of trade unionism relinquished more and more of his responsibility to his executive comrades.

In May 1984, there was a great fightback of workers throughout the country - CPI, Lever, Texaco, Cedros estate workers, Contractor workers, Dunlop workers, Aziz Ahamad workers. Although some of these struggles were successful, it is fair to say that the employers effectively exploiting declining economic conditions gained the upper hand.

Although workers continued to struggle, as exemplified by the 1986-87 Fedchem lockout, the political situation with the election victory of the NAR had plunged the country into a still not lifted period of reaction and into the hands of the international lending agencies.

Comrade Weekes retired in 1987 and tried to influence the NAR policies from within, yet another unsuccessful foray into the realms of conventional politics.

Probably the most apt epitaph on Comrade Weekes' death came from a retired oil worker who said that regardless of what one thought of Comrade Weekes he had brought workers into the twentieth century, given them confidence that they were entitled to the benefits of modern civilisation and made it an article of faith that the working class must and will hold the reins of power. Rest in peace, Good and faithful soldier!

FRACTURES AMONG THE RULING ELITES: WORKERS MUST SEIZE OPPORTUNITY By Rae Samuel

posted 4 Jun 2021, 13:23 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 4 Jun 2021, 13:24 ]

The real funny part of watching Ms. Donna Hadad, Head of the Tobago Chamber of Commerce (how did that happen Tobagonians?) on T.V 6, rant, rave and fulminate about a meeting the various chambers of commerce had with a Minister/Ministerial team to discuss the way forward in these Covid. Times

The first point she made, in between being constantly reminded by the host that 'we are running out of time...in the short time we have left...' which itself runs out the time) the first point she made was that the various Chambers did not have common positions. So their JTUM was not ready, did not seem to be harmonised or have a coherent agenda.

She seemed to suggest that there was never a dialogue, but, rather, delegates were being advised of decisions taken ‘’a priori’’ and asked to comment. When asked, she mentioned that there were 5 Cabinet ministers. A large ministerial team, but not all were participating.

None of this is new to most trade unions and worker organisations - the mamaguy of consultation. We know all too well of the Chief Personnel Officer claiming that s/he is awaiting instructions/guideline from the Minister; that they have to go back to the inter-Ministerial team; of the long waits between meetings. Even when a matter reaches the Industrial court it takes years to process and employers still appeal decisions, resulting in further delays and frustrations. Worker frustration and victimisation, like poverty, is well thought out in this country.

The problems of the inter-island ferry service, of the air bridge all have been exacerbated by the Covid panic. What Ms Hadad and her 'comrades' are seeing now is what workers have suffered for generations not just in Trinidad but in Tobago. She and her kind have yet to suffer the privations of having, as a Tobagonian, to come to Trinidad to study, do business and/or seek medical attention.

What has happened in Tobago is that Covid has brought economic and commercial activity to a halt. The lifelines of the Tobago chamber, which are inter island and international tourism, inter island commerce and related business activity, all have stopped, which leaves their sector comatose. This is why they can only think in terms of opening up the economy in the same old way, regardless of the perils, much like the IOC and the Japanese government seem hell bent on doing re 2021 Olympics. ‘’Source vaccines and open up the place’’ is their mantra. Some of them clearly think Idi Stuart President of the TTNRA is a prophet of doom and gloom

Ms. Hadad seemed to be saying that the Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues were making us more afraid rather than providing encouragement; that there was a lack of leadership and a clear strategy moving forward and that the endless rounds of media conferences depresses us further. I kept wondering if she read/s our NWU Facebook page. I thought so, because she and her 'comrades' are calling for a national dialogue. Now that is a new normal for them

The fractures among different sectors of the ruling elites and their watchmen in the government over policy and the way forward are coming to the surface with a vengeance. Things are falling apart in traditional ruling circles. Summoning Prime Ministers to private meetings won't cut it this time around. Their strategies from vehement calls for re-opening up of the economy to private sourcing of vaccines to subsidising small and micro private enterprises have not found government support. The medical authorities are seriously warning against private importation of vaccines The workers and marginalised in this country are in an even worse situation, given either the corruption or destruction of the trade union movement. Covid remains the common all pervasive, ever present enemy. A united front in this sector is a necessary strategy, particularly now where those who run things are snarling at one another.

I hold that workers, in and out of a job, community organisations and the like must work out positions that serve their interests. At the heart of it would be to clearly state what we want in terms of improved labour and industrial relations, public and welfare services - health, education, transport, infrastructure, culture. Working class groups must sit down and work out positions and make demands. At the moment, THEIR RELATIVE WEAKNESS IS ONE OF OUR GREATEST STRENGTHS.

We must choose our own representatives. Even if they come out of the present workers’ organisations it must not be those misleaders who currently hold rump office. Let us be honest. Some aspired to be the new Thackwray Drivers and have failed in their bids to enter the energy sector; others wanted to hold the balance of power in the political arena in Tobago. Yet others have continued to sail along as labour supply contractors, becoming employers of the same type whom they are supposed to be fighting. To have such speak for us would be suicide.

Workers’ organisations should participate in such consultations with THEIR demands, arrived at after broad consultation. It was done during the 70's, and in the lead up to the 1989 general strike and it must be done again. We have trade unions, village councils, community groups, COSSABOS, cultural organisations. We must go to the Round tables as equals and fully empowered. To be fully empowered we must be able to hit the streets, if necessary.

Covid, as any crisis, provides opportunity. If we are not vigilant, if we are not organised, if we do not vaccinate ourselves against the existing corrupt leadership and drive them out we will go back to the old order and end up like Haiti or even Jamaica where the daily life of a worker can be hell. Franz Fanon forever points out this frustration and anger, if it is not spent, we will turn it on ourselves.

LIKE HOGS TO BE FATTENED by Rae Samuel

posted 24 May 2021, 15:51 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 24 May 2021, 16:05 ]

I am not in any way trying to downplay the impact of Covid 19, which is well-nigh impossible anyway. Just as one would not attempt to be flippant or dismissive of violence against women and abuse of minors by individuals or organisations, I want to suggest, in the wake of the current pandemic, we have seen the emergence of a ''co-morbidity'' among certain national leaders and professionals, charged with see us safely through this national crisis with minimal loss. And indeed among certain talk show hosts.

I call it ''Media Conference Syndrome''. What are its symptoms? Like a diarrhoea they rush to the microphones and stand before cameras at the slightest opportunity. And like diarrhoea it is more time spent with less substance emerging.

Take the media briefing of Saturday 22nd May. We were regaled with statistics and then admonishments enclosed in a harangue. I want to suggest that the population is aware of the dangers by and large. I also want to say that there is a lot of fear out there and that messages must reassure rather than intimidate.

Amilcar Cabral always advised that we 'tell no lies, claim no easy victories.'' No one is asking the Prime Minister, his Cabinet colleagues, his medical advisers so to do. But ask yourself how you would feel, if daily your physician showed up telling you "Boy! You real sick yes!'' His/her bedside manner is supposed to encourage you.

There is something in communication called the "boomerang effect’ This occurs when the medium and the message are not used appropriately and do not bring about the desired response; much like using corporal punishment as a teaching/learning strategy. The learner remembers the pain, primarily, and any learning that takes place is minimal, incidental and associated with the physical trauma

So leading the exchange with all this badjohn bullying talk about what powers are available under the Health regulations; about whether the Police are free to enter one's home at will; how much powers they now have with the State of Emergency - that approach makes matters worse.

It is based on the top down elitist model of neo-colonial leadership What CLR James refers to when he says people are not hogs to be fattened, meaning the leader/s give, the people receive and then go
CLR James
out and vote for them no questions asked. The leaders know and the people follow and those who query or march out of step are either stupid, destructive or unpatriotic and really should be locked away or stamped upon like so many cockroaches.

This crisis is as much a political crisis as it is a health crisis. There are issues and areas of uncertainty, but if there is not broad discussion and wide inclusion the process begins to unravel. When a Prime Minister in the midst of such a situation keeps going after the sins, then and now, of the Opposition Leader he has lost his way. At community level, M. P’s should be involved in information gathering re the affected constituents, ideas of how to help those in dire need, linking with health personnel about particular concern in their communities, supporting the overworked and overly stressed front line workers.

True to their reactionary political training they see receiving chooks and hamper distributions as photo ops. Where are the photos of them moving around constituencies asking about problems with online learning, housing accommodation, the day to day domestic challenges?

The road ahead is long and we must travel it. We cannot leave it to the existing leadership who repeatedly ask us to just follow their lead. We must intervene. Contrary to what was being said on the Saturday the vaccine distribution programme is not rolling out smoothly. When one calls the numbers given, there is an initial response, one is advised to dial or wait for a call transfer and B mobile starts rubbing its hands with glee. At the time of writing I had been waiting for four days for an acknowledgement of my application. Idi Stuart reminds us whenever he gets an opportunity of what it is like in the trenches.

Intimidation, threats and misleading information will not help. In this country States of Emergency always have political agendas beyond the immediate issue. Telling working people who were already suffering the effects of structural adjustment to hold some more strain or else is a SORT scene countrywide. People will rebel! This is what happens when backs are against the wall. Those in charge must stop talking loud and saying nothing. Over and over.

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