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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.
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