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PAINT SAN FERNANDO BLUE!! by Nikki Johnson

posted 15 Jun 2013, 06:42 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 15 Jun 2013, 06:57 ]

THE MOTHER OF THE OWTU HAS DIED!

 

Sister Comrade Thelma Williams died on June 14th 2013.

Nikki Johnson - OWTU
Education and Research Officer

Sister T, as she was affectionately known, was a foundation member of the Union and was undeniably a quintessential activist, fighter and loyal trade unionist.

 

She was known for her “hot mouth”, wit and undeniably militant phrase, “Get up and get, stand up and fight, or lie down and take!”

 

During an April 18, 2013 visit at the Victoria Nursing Home Cde. Williams told comrades, “I didn’t waste my 6 cents.” Here is part of a Vanguard article written in 2010:

At age 19, unemployed and with only 6 cents in her name, Thelma Williams joined the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union. She had met the first mother of the OWTU, Daisy Crick, housewife turned militant OWTU activist in San Fernando on 7 February 1938 who without hesitating signed her up in her “copy book”.

 

Comrade Williams was born in 1919, Prince of Wales Street, San Fernando. She was only able to complete her primary school education “High school was for big shots”, she said, “You had to have money to go to high school.” Before getting involved in trade unionism in Trinidad, she spent some time in St. Vincent with her mother where she worked arduously planting and digging out arrow root and cassava; making and selling farine, milk and ground provisions.

 
Comrade Williams admitted that she had fallen in love with labour as a child. Involved in the Trinidad Workingmen’s Association, she always admired Captain Cipriani. She recalls how difficult it was working as a domestic at Trinidad Leaseholds Ltd., Apex Ltd. and National Mining. “They used to take you for a dog,” she said with disgust. “The highest pay for a domestic was $30 a month; I used to get 6 shillings.” She would find strength and support however amongst her comrades at the OWTU, and in particular the women of the OWTU Auxiliary.

Dr. Rhoda Reddock in her book Women in Labour and Politics in Trinidad and Tobago made the point, “It is noteworthy that although the OWTU operated in industries with mainly male workers, women workers were organized from the inception of the union. It is interesting also that in spite of OWTU’s acceptance of British TUC trade union standards, women who were non wage-workers could become full members of the union. Perhaps the historical experience of the labour movement in Trinidad and Tobago had established a correlation between women’s participation and successful organizations.”

 

With a powerful mentor like Comrade Daisy Crick and examples like President General Rienzi and Uriah Butler who she describes as her “friend and comrade”, when asked by her second President General, John F.F. Rojas to accompany him and other officers at major meetings to address the crowd, she didn’t need a moment to think twice.

 

ER Blades, First General Secretary of the Oilfields Workers' Trade Union and Thelma Williams

PG Rojas was responsible for the formation of the Women’s Auxiliary and strongly suggested that Comrade Williams be a part of it. “Wherever the men had any distress, we would go around with them [to have meetings]”, she explained. With great pride she then said, of the women in the Auxiliary, “I was the talker”. She made it clear that speaking to men never posed a problem, “I was not afraid of them”. “Husbands must not cover labour from their wives” she would say. “In Point, they put table for I to talk; in Quarry, Siparia, they put table for I to talk…and so we get a strong Auxiliary”.

 

“Don’t bring no woman back here”, said Apex Assistant Manager to male OWTU Officers. Comrade Williams, a vocal and active Committee Member at Apex in Fyzabad had just put over a case for workers who were complaining about unsafe items in their workspace. She never encountered any challenges with male comrades, but with managers.

 

She stressed that “you had to come good” when dealing with management. “I not fighting to lose, I was fighting to win,” she said raising her voice slightly. She then added, “It’s not what you do, but how you do it.” Though she played a critical role in the Women’s Auxiliary, serving as the President for an extended period of time, “the Auxiliaries were to boost up the men,” she explained. She understood that the role of the Women’s Auxiliaries was to encourage the men to keep up the struggle, assist the men at the picket lines, and encourage more women to join the Union etc.

 

Making the distinction from a member of the Women’s Auxiliary, she stressed that she was a trade unionist. Tapping her chest gently, her words revealed her pride, “I was a trade unionist”. She is very proud to have been on the OWTU General Council and to have served as a Committee Member at the Fyzabad Branch. “What then should be the critical role of the women in the Union?” I asked eager to hear her reply. Simply put, women should be a prominent voice for the Union and an integral part in building the cases during negotiations and in delivering cases on behalf of the Union.

 

“It have PNM, DLP, whatever…but I am stopping at OWTU.” The Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union is where her allegiance lies. “I love it till my death.” Her loyalty to the Union is undying and was evident even at the interview. She asked that I called her in advance, to give her time to put on her blue frock. “When I die,” she said, “I don’t want nobody come in a white frock or red frock, come in BLUE, paint San Fernando in blue. My sprit will rejoice!”

 

She lamented that though she cannot actively engage in struggle with the Union, as she is restricted to a wheelchair for her mobility, she expressed her unfailing support for the OWTU and her fifth President General, Ancel Roget. She urged that comrades do not allow anything to divide the Union or bring it down. “We all are one,” she stressed.

 

Paraphrasing the words of PG Rojas, she reassured that “Man will come, man will go, but the Union stands forever.”

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