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posted 21 Feb 2016, 16:06 by Gerry Kangalee

On Saturday February 20, 2016, the Trade Union Movement in Trinbago buried one of the most innovative trade union leaders and activists. Sylvester Peter Ramquar died a few days ago and was cremated at Waterloo after a service at his home in Couva. He specifically requested of his son, before he died, that one of the younger activists whom he worked with and tutored (Gregory Rousseau) speak at his funeral

 Ram, as we called him, came into the Union as a power plant electrical technician in the revolutionary middle 1970’s from the rural village of Barrackpore. He told us his family were poor rural agriculturists and also raised animals. Ram’s options were few and he decided to learn a skill at the Technical Institute in the South, which allowed him to get a job at the Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission (T&TEC).

At the electricity company he was elected as a Shop Steward, then a Branch Leader and eventually became an Executive Vice President of the Oilfields Workers Trade Union (OWTU) in the 1980’s. His movement through the ranks of both the company and the union and his training in Trade Unionism through the George Weekes’ mission (to develop a cadre of intellectual workers) and his own natural talents allowed Ramquar to acquire a high level of negotiating skills and leadership qualities.

Working with him for some twenty-five years I saw first hand his brilliance together with other young trade unionists in developing new ideas to enhance the workers' standard of living. He, with others, created for workers new Pension Benefits and Formulae, New low interest Housing Mortgage loans, improved Medical Benefits, New methods of calculating and consolidating Cost of living Allowances, Profit Sharing/Productivity Bonus/Variable Pay Bonus among others.

Ramquar saw the universality of the Labour Movement and together with other operatives in the Labour Relations Department of the OWTU held seminars with other unions on what became known as the Social Wage Policy. In fact he and others did seminars and assisted other unions with their negotiations on areas of the new policy

As Chief Labour Relations Officer of the OWTU, I not only gave him and others the room and incentive to be creative, I myself became involved in the New Approach to Collective bargaining and we made it union policy until backward and undemocratic elements in the OWTU leadership discontinued the policy. This autocratic practice created internal contradictions within the leadership and among progressive elements in the OWTU. Fortunately some of the policies were successfully negotiated and are contained in some collective agreements in the country.

When the internal struggle in the union became antagonistic in the early 1990’s and some progressive comrades were victimized, Sylvester Ramquar resigned from the Executive of the Union in protest but still continued to assist other unions. He became Chairman of the BWIA Pension Plan and together with other progressive comrades formed the Labour Research Bureau of T&T with the aim to develop new and innovative approaches to collective bargaining without interfering with the traditional benefits.

Ram was also a political activist having been a founding member of the original United Labour Front of Weekes, Young, Panday and Shah. He also served with the UNC as a temporary senator and on government boards. While some may want to fault him for his entry into the UNC many other Trade Union leaders, whose contributions were miniscule compared to him, made the same mistakes. Need I mention their names?

Farewell Comrade Sylvester Ramquar: you came, you struggled, you innovated and you left us with more than we had before, yet we gave you very little.