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posted 18 Mar 2020, 03:36 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 18 Mar 2020, 06:01 ]

Today, March 18th 2020 marks the forty fifth anniversary of Bloody Tuesday, a significant, but almost forgotten, day in the history of the mass movement. In commemoration of that event we publish the 
Presentation made by Cecil Paul on behalf of the National Workers Union at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Alma Jordan Library on March 12, 2020 during the university's History Fest. 

Other presenters at that forum included Glen Ramjag of the National Foodcrop Farmers Association (NFFA), Alva Allen, education officer of the Banking Insurance and General Workers Union (BIGWU) and Basdeo Panday, former prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago.

On the morning of March 18th 1975 thousands of workers and farmers mainly from the Oil and Sugar industries embarked on a long march from San Fernando to the capital city of Port of Spain to demand pay increases in negotiations that were not progressing between their Unions, the Oilfields Workers Trade Union (OWTU) with Texaco Trinidad; the All Trinidad Sugar Estates and Factory Workers Trade Union (ATSE&FWTU) with Caroni Ltd. and the Island Wide Cane Farmers Trade Union (ICFTU) which had an ongoing recognition struggle with Caroni Ltd.

The leaders of the massive gathering of workers and farmers at the headquarters of the OWTU – Paramount Building, San Fernando were George Weekes of the OWTU, Basdeo Panday of the ATSE&FWTU; Raffique Shah and Winston Leonard of the ICFTU. Weekes and Leonard were detained and imprisoned on Nelson Island on the declaration of a State of Emergency during the 1970 Black Power Uprising.

However, in the case of Shah, a former soldier: he was tried, convicted and imprisoned for mutiny but was freed on appeal and became a leader of the Farmers Union together with Leonard formerly education officer of the OWTU.

It is important to note that these leaders together with others including lecturers and students of the UWI were part of that particular revolutionary period of our country’s history, which began with a bus workers strike led by Joe Young leader of the Transport and Industrial Workers Union (TIWU). So that there was a ten year period from 1965 to 1975 of constant protests and actions that saw strikes, demonstrations, armed struggle, mass meetings, conferences of workers, farmers, students and other actions leading to Bloody Tuesday of March 18th 1975. It was not spontaneous.

Bloody Tuesday of March 18th 1975 is also connected to a major gathering of working people known as “The Skinner Park Rally” held one month earlier on February 18th 1975 where the Unions of the Council of Progressive Trade Unions (CPTU), including the now defunct University and Allied Workers Union (UAWU), were up in arms against foreign control of our economy by transnational companies, employment discrimination against Africans and Indians by the private sector firms in the banking and commercial sectors, low and exploitative working conditions particularly in the Sugar Industry which was a slight upgrade from indenture ship.

Workers gather for the march at Paramount Building, headquarters of the OWTU.
So that the Skinner Park Rally of February was like a dress rehearsal for Bloody Tuesday of one month later. At this rally, workers vowed to struggle for Peace, Bread and Justice in an independent Trinidad and Tobago of thirteen years. Workers were agitated that in a relatively rich country with a small population (at that time of an estimated three quarter of a million people the distribution of income, goods and services were extremely unequal and discriminatory towards working people. Our economy was still dominated by foreign companies and a local elite. 

Racism remained punitive and widespread despite the upheaval of 1970. The Skinner Park Rally called for fundamental changes and further struggles.

The message of the leaders and the large crowds at the Rally created panic and fear among the ruling politicians and elite classes that
another 1970 was in the making. From the 1965 bus strike to the 1970 revolution and army mutiny. Now this massive Skinner Park Rally and plans for a peoples’ demonstration from San Fernando to Port of Spain.

The Media, the Business Class both foreign and local were calling on the government to curb this continuing “outbreak” against law and order. The then Commissioner of Police Tony May made a public announcement, that the demonstration of March 18th 1975 would not be allowed to take place and will be stopped by the Police. 

Appeals were made by several national groups to call off the March and start discussions but to no avail as the leaders decided in the quest for Peace, Bread and Justice, the March would continue as planned.

These working people leaders were steeled in struggle for many years from the Workers and Farmers Party of CLR James of 1965, the Bus Workers strike to the Black Power Revolution. 
Among those assembled for the March were the anti-colonial fighter and former Trade Union leader TUB Butler, ANR Robinson former PNM Deputy leader and Minister, Vernon Jamadar leader of the DLP, Dr. James Millette UWI lecturer, Rev. Idris Hamid of the Presbyterian Church, Christian, Hindu and Muslim religious leaders and thousands of workers, farmers, children, Unemployeds and a myriad of people of Trinbago.

The march was to be joined by workers awaiting it in Central and in the East West Corridor by Food Crop farmers, UWI students, members of the OWTU and TIWU in the North.

The March begins and Deputy Commissioner Dennis Ramdwar calls the leaders by name and demands that they end the March. He also calls on the participants to disperse. The leaders did not respond and some were arrested. 

A massive onslaught was launched by the police against the marchers. Teargas canisters were fired into the crowds. Women and children were screaming with terror on their faces. Some of the leaders and marchers are beaten mercilessly, wounded and arrested.

The March is stopped in San Fernando but some escape and make their way into other areas to reorganise. The people waiting along the Southern Main Road from Marabella, into Central Trinidad, the East/West Corridor and Port of Spain got the news of the breakup of the March and are disappointed.

Hatred for the police is expressed as reports are given by those escaping the police violence. The March 18th violence against unarmed and peaceful demonstrators is named “Bloody Tuesday” because since colonialism, mass police violence of that degree had never been experienced by peaceful demonstrators in independent Trinidad and Tobago.

Despite the violent intervention, the revolutionary leaders of the Progressive Trade Unions went on to gain ground winning pay increases and better conditions for Sugar and Oil workers and Cane Farmers. These improved conditions would in time influence better pay and conditions for all workers in the country. Still the major goal of political power and economic justice to working people is still the major objective.

Understanding the limits of Trade Union power and the strengths of political power, just one year later, workers assembled at a Conference of Shop Stewards and Branch Officers, at the very venue where the Bloody Tuesday demonstration for Peace Bread and Justice began, voted for another attempt at the formation of another Workers and Farmers Party now called the United Labour Front (ULF). 

So that the struggle for an improved life for workers could continue from a new dimension – A political party platform in 1976. The fate of that political party is another story to be told another time.