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posted 23 Jun 2014, 17:14 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 23 Jun 2014, 17:22 ]
The duty of the revolutionary is to make revolution say our Cuban comrades and the job of the labour leaders, at least of today, is to make Labour Day laborious right? One supposes there was a flawed logic prevailing in the meetings: labour; labouring; laborious...trade union branding?  
Not that the day ever starts like that. The Butler Classics, solely a creation of the OWTU, is an exciting event of competition and street theatre. This event started in 1982 with six runners, one car which served as police patrol, ambulance, feeding station communications centre. The entire event probably took two hours. Today, over four hundred persons take part in the two events, the 5k and the 20k walk/run. 

How did the 5k come about? One morning, as we were organising the start line an 11 year old showed up ready to run. Immediately we pulled him out. He bawled and cried as if he had passed for his 3rd/4th SEA school of choice. But we did not shift. Race gone and our official team, as sweepers, is cruising down past Gulf City, which was the old route. 

Whom do we see beating the road like Pamenos Ballantyne or the late Moses Ranghell: the little
Pamenos Ballantyne
fellow! We could not do anything because he was not our responsibility at that point. However, the next year we introduced the 5k for the young ones: the late Fitzroy Gittens successfully co-ordinated it for years. He, like many of the other committee members, was not an OWTU member but that did not matter in any way. Such were the ways of the OWTU then. 

What is interesting is how persons have taken the space provided in the event and used it in their own way. I suspect 25% are really competitive, looking for personal bests and 'podium finishes' in the toughest road race in the region. The rolling hills of Fyzabad, at the end of the race, test all mentally and physically. When the competitors do reach, most of them probably say, "Yuh see me, I done with that'', faces grimacing with painful pride, until June 19th the following year. 

Many of the others take this as their personal fitness challenge. There are clubs/teams who participate. These are the 'keep fit' enthusiasts who want to have Butler 20k under their belts. Some burn out by La
Romaine but that is not stopping anyone. Many defy all the rules of conventional wisdom. The theory is that less clothes means body heat is not retained and you feel cooler along the course; not so for some who are fully clothed. 

All ages, all sizes. To decide to 'fun walk' from San Fernando to Fyzabad sounds crazy but remember these walkers/workers are participating in their event on their own terms. What makes the race easier on all is the level of support along the way, official and unofficial. At no point in the event is a competitor out of view. 

So for the next 3-4 hours from the start Charlie King Junction is alive, under the watchful eye of Uriah Butler: music, food,
reunions, ole talk, heckling, personal heroism, hard working officials both for the finish line and the march. This year I heard one guy who failed to finish ask for, and receive, an honorary medal. And why not? 

This writer knows that the original old lady champion NEVER paid to enter. She would drop her head, roll her eyes and lisp out a sad story. But she was good promotion for us because of her brand so we let it run. I have been told by many competitors over the years that the Butler Classics was their introduction to Labour Day and an awareness of the labour movement. 

Up at Avocat junction, the various unions are assembling for the march. Barring a change of venue or a new traffic plan the march can never start on time. The participation has simply exceeded the site's capacity to handle traffic and crowd. When the march does get going it revives the spirit and tradition of commitment to a large extent. Music is a must since a trade union army, especially from Trinbago marches on its rhythmic feet: tassa, rhythm sections, marching bands. 

Steelbands? There used to be a steelband during the morning at Charlie King Junction, but that idea seems no longer considered. So around eleven o’clock all unions follow the runners/walkers. This year there were "Kamla's advisers', (a whiskey a rum and a
beer bottle on a placard). There was a huge guy in drag, representing Room 201; a sister comrade with a big "2 pull spliff'' trumpet. There were the loud No PP again songs. 

But the media have to be careful on these occasions. While this journalist was trying to capture the 200 lb, 6 foot comrade in drag, representing Room 201, a young lady kept getting in the way and even began to throw words at the photographer, becoming hostile. I thought of saying to her, like Sparrow says in "King of the Beasts'' "If you were the Queen of the breasts…you'd be toting those', but my professional instincts prevailed. Yes we all have our moments of weakness and I kept my mouth shut. 

I was going to suggest that disappointment awaited the marchers at the end but I think passing under the big tent, like crossing the Savannah stage, now merely marks the end of the march. Workers hive off looking for food and refreshment because the platform offers so little in its rituals. 

This year there was a political columnist/ credit union advocate on the platform. There was a pedagogue who recently assumed office who cannot seem to break the classroom mould even when outdoors. The chair for some reason was very shrill. Someone was handing out bags on the platform promoting an institution. I did not get any though I complained. The feature speaker droned on for over an hour. The 'vibes' on the ground were weak…déjà vu.  

By the time this writer left, so had most folk. Some of them had been on the road since 6 a.m., had marched and were surely spent. Most of us heard the 'bomb' announcement about a planned march this coming Friday on the airwaves later.