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TRIBUTE TO A WORKING CLASS INTELLECTUAL By Justice Gregory Rousseau

posted 14 Mar 2016, 03:04 by Gerry Kangalee

When Fidel called and informed me that his father, Sylvester Ramquar, had requested that I

deliver his eulogy, tears came to my eyes. I was surprised but felt honoured to be asked to pay tribute to this working class intellectual.

In 1972 Sylvester began his career of service to the working class as a shop steward at the T&TEC branch of the Oilfields Workers Trade Union (OWTU). In 1986 he was elected as Executive Vice President on the national executive of the union.

These achievements were not by accident, because to emerge from T&TEC to be a shop steward and executive office during the heydays of the great blue shirt army of the OWTU was not easily achieved.  

One had to be a class conscious, committed worker with a deep sense of commitment and loyalty.  Sylvester was this and more because he eventually emerged as a brilliant creative thinker in the field of Industrial Relations.  May I hasten to say that above all he was first a man with all the many imperfections that we all possess!

Together with Alva Allen, his good friend and comrade, Sylvester formed the back bone of militant T&TEC Port of Spain Branch that fought and struggled against the cutbacks and wage freeze medicine as prescribed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the 1980’s.

In the 1980’s the branches of the OWTU were specifically targeted by the Employers Consultative Association and the Chamber of Commerce, the objective of which was to break the militancy of the union.  One must understand that the OWTU at that time was the last bastion of defence for workers in their struggle to preserve their hard won benefits and terms and conditions of employment.

Sylvester, selflessly and loyally, contributed to the workers’ struggle in Lever Bros, Metal Box, CPI, Printing and Packaging Bermudez, Meat Processors, Colgate, Flavorite and National Petroleum; not to fail to mention the “illegal” 1982 T&TEC strike that brought the country to the brink.

Earlier in my tribute I referred to Sylvester as a working class intellectual.  You see, he was no Doctor or a holder of a Masters or B.S.C. but he earned his industrial relations degree in the university of the work place.

Around 1984 –1985, a new concept in Industrial Relations called the Social wage was created in the OWTU.

Up to that point large surpluses from Pension Funds were exploited by Big Business to finance their Companies.  Sylvester pioneered, through the Collective Bargaining Process, the use of Pension Funds to improve the livelihood of workers at T&TEC.

For the first in the history of the O.W.T.U., T&TEC workers won the right to secure a Mortgage loan at reduced interest rates from their Pension Funds.

As a consequence they were now able to buy, build, extend and repair their homes at considerably reduced prices.  For this the working class of Trinidad and Tobago owes a huge debt of gratitude to Sylvester Ramquar.

Sylvester also played a major role in bringing the Salaries and Wages of T&TEC workers on par with Oil Workers.

The story is that during negotiations for a new Collective Agreement that was five years old, Ramquar proposed to the OWTU team that C.O.L.A. be consolidated to the existing wages at the time. T&TEC agreed and as they say the rest is history.  He also played a major role in the creation of innovative formulae in the calculation of pension funds.

Sylvester was also an independent thinker and consistently took principled positions on issues he believed in.  In the late 1980’s, he exercised his fierce independent views and stood up against what he viewed as the undemocratic path being pursued by the OWTU leadership at that time.

Sylvester, I want to thank you for the role you played in my own development in the OWTU.

Workers of T&TEC, in particular, and all workers of Trinidad and Tobago are beneficiaries of your contribution.  Thanks to Mrs Ramquar and Fidel for lending Sylvester to the workers army.

When the history of O.W.T.U. is written and, provided the author does not cheat on the facts, Sylvester Ramquar will occupy a few paragraphs for the roles identified earlier in my tribute.

Long Live the Spirit of Sylvester Ramquar

Walk good my comrade

Rest In Peace Soldier.

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