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posted 9 Nov 2011, 10:38 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 9 Nov 2011, 10:45 ]
There have been a spate of tributes in the newspapers to Razack Jan who died recently. Before his death he was honoured for his leadership role in the Mayaro/Guayaguayare region. All these accolades are well-deserved. But they cast a faint reflection of who Razack Jan really was.

Some things are not in dispute. Razack was a towering figure in his community’s effort to attain a decent existence as citizens of T&T. He was an effective community organizer who was responsible for the high standard of football in Mayaro. In 1957 he founded and coached Manchester United of Mayaro.

This involvement led to the golden age of Mayaro United Football team which was sponsored by the Mayaro People’s Committee. They went on to win the East Zone in the early 80’s and were considered a lethal force progressing to first division. Those were the days of Cleveland Mendez and the Alfred Brothers in football and Matthew Pierre in basketball.

Winston Man Man Edward recalled that his remuneration as an alderman in the Nariva/Mayaro County Council was invested in Mayaro United and that Razack and others dipped into their pockets to sustain their project.

Razack also organized other sporting disciplines to a high level always based on widespread community participation. Mayaro was well known for its cricketers, netballers and basketballers, producing national sport representatives.

But to limit Razack’s contribution to football is to miss the measure of the man.

Foreground left to right; Gregory Prevatt, Razack Jan, Man Man Edward
It was the seventies into the eighties - the aftermath of the 1970 uprising: the phase of armed guerrilla activity; the Bloody Tuesday police riot and formation of the United Labour Front; the Texaco Must Go campaign.

It was a period of intense strike struggles throughout the country foremost among which were the three strikes by offshore contract workers in consecutive years in the month of March, led by Man Man Edward, in the early eighties against widespread labour malpractices by Amoco, in particular.

There was widespread labour exploitation by the transnational oil companies through the contract system. Estate agriculture was being abandoned; fishermen were under pressure; there was a vigilant and militant economically and socially powerful OWTU; a crying need for a civilised level of services (water, health), jobs, recreational facilities, local government representation.

Edward recalls that when he came to Guayaguayare from Moruga in the late 60’s - early 70’s Razack Jan’s name was already on the lips of the people of Mayaro, Guayaguayare and the surrounding villages

Man Man himself was an amateur boxer, a good cricketer and a footballer, a self-taught artist, mas maker and sculptor. The sculpture Tribute to the Unknown Worker in front of OWTU headquarters is his work He was a welder and straightener, a man with talented hands. He became the Vice President of the Guayaguayare Branch of the OWTU and Vice President of the central executive of the OWTU.

He developed a reputation as a fearless fighter for workers rights, a formidable organizer and a deep and creative thinker about the tactics of workers struggle.

In the late seventies Razack Jan of Mayaro, Gregory Prevatt of Ortoire and Winston Man Man Edward came together and formed the Mayaro Peoples Committee (MPC).They were later joined by Wayne Stephen, a militant oilworker in Texaco’s Guayaguayare fields, based in the now defunct housing settlement of Abyssinia

They quickly went about organising sports for the different communities – Football, Cricket, Netball and Basketball.

They organised campaigns around the hospital and agitated for decent social services and jobs. They supported the great class struggles shaking the oilfields both at Texaco’s installations and offshore at Amoco and Tesoro and throughout the many service and contractor companies feeding on East Coast oil.

Some of these struggles include the Texaco Must Go campaign, the OWTU pension struggle and the two strikes which shut down East Coast gas in the early eighties. Those two strikes changed employment practices on the East Coast, influenced labour jurisprudence, made many workers permanent and led to the upliftment of living standards of the working class.

The Mayaro/Guayaguayare Unemployed Organisation helped to combat the blatant exploitation in the contract labour system. This system was examined by the Zin Henry Commission of Enquiry, but its recommendations made in 1972 were never implemented. They founded the Mayaro Unemployed Organisation to combat widespread unfair employment practices by Amoco and the oil companies.

Razack Jan was amply equipped to carry out his leading role in the struggles of the seventies and eighties. He had been an active member of the Mafeking Village Council since the age of sixteen. In the 80’s he became its President.

He had been a teacher, a boat owner and fisherman and a bass guitarist with Barnes Baptiste Combo. He organised the Rhapsody Steel Band in Pierreville, Mayaro. Then in the 80’s the Mayaro People’s Committee organised the Boodram Cadenzas Steel Band.

He worked with the Ministry of Works and came face to face with the reality of exploitation. Workers elected him their shop steward. It was not easy for him to stand up against a corrupt management, and lead workers whose history of poor trade union leadership had left them more resigned than militant.

While they worked to uplift their community, economically, socially and politically, not surprisingly in the words of Edward: “our homes were raided by the Police, because of our political positions and the struggles we waged against all sorts of exploitation…If my memory serves me right, while Mayaro Peoples Committee Football Team was celebrating the East Zone victory in 1979, Razack was celebrating that victory behind bars, at the Mayaro Police Station.”

That did not deter him. He even fought a seat in the local government election under the banner of the Mayaro People’s Committee. Edward states that: “this exercise was essentially to use the political platform to educate and mobilise. “

Edward adds: “We were involved in one of the most revolutionary organisations in Trinidad & Tobago the National Movement for True Independence (NAMOTI). Politically we also became involved in the United Labour Front, Committee for Labour Solidarity (CLS)/Motion”.

In 1989 Razack was part of the official United Nations team which observed and monitored the first post-colonial election in Namibia.

Razack Jan was an all rounder who had a unified approach to life, dealt with it holistically and was quite clear as to what he was about.

He was not one to be intimidated by the powerful oil companies and the police. He appreciated, flourished even, in collective discussion and work and understood the need for studying the society in order to understand it and to change it. He was committed to advancing the interests of the working people and dedicated his life to that passion

His contribution to shaping his environment is incalculable and he had no illusions about the class nature of the society and the reality of power. His quality of life is a foreshadow of what is possible, once the shackles of exploitation and inequity are ripped from the limbs of so-called ordinary working class people. (Gerry Kangalee)