The passing of Lyle Townsend has sent a high voltage electric shock through the veins of the Labour Movement in Trinidad and Tobago and the
No doubt his passing will be seen as “good riddance” by some and regrettable by others. “Good riddance”, by the detractors of the progressive labour movement and the employers who felt his wrath as a shrewd and uncompromising negotiator on industrial relations matters and his astuteness in political manoeuvrability.
He will be regrettably missed by those who knew and understood that the course he had chosen for his life was incomplete and there was still a lot of work to be done.
Charlie or Chic, as most of us called him – he actually gave himself that nick-name, Chic – was a twentieth century revolutionary, with an ideological bias towards the needs and aspirations of working people. His politics reflected an unwavering position in defence of working people. And he exerted all his energies in ensuring that they got their just dues.
It is unfortunate that in his last years, he became very disillusioned with the direction of the CWU, in particular, and the Labour Movement in general and was literally sidelined for his defying stance on matters of independence of the union and, by logical extension, the labour movement as a whole.
His undying commitment to the correctness of the line in achieving people’s power; “let those who labour hold the reigns”, led to his violent conflict with those who digressed from what he deemed to be the only way forward.
Chic literally changed the words of the famous cliché and the CWU’s Motto, “The Price of Freedom is Eternal Vigilance”, to the “Price of Freedom is Eternal Struggle”. And he breathed, ate, slept and lived every word – his home was the Union Hall.
But Lyle Townsend was not what he was and what we will always remember him to be without the network of comrades, allies, friends and even his enemies, who he was able to manipulate as a means of support when such was necessary.
This is evident in the cross-section of persons who formed the first Progressive Leadership of the CWU after we removed Carl Tull from office at the Bi-Annual National Convention in 1976. It was prior to the 1974 Bi-Annual National Convention that the mobilization had started to bring down Tull. To call names without detailing individual contributions would distort the true history of the CWU and the Labour Movement from the 70’s to present. The space and time does not permit this writer to dare or to be so "boldface".
The first attempt in 1974 to move the reactionary Carl Tull regime failed miserably, due mainly, to a lack of understanding of the concrete conditions, the absence of a scientific plan and the failure to identify, garner and mobilize the progressive elements within and outside of the union. Having reviewed the situation the progressive elements, led by Chic and others of the Progressive Workers’ Committee, devised a plan and embarked on a mission to do what was needed to be done.
The result of four years of work was the elected Executive Board of the CWU, period 1976 - 1978.
President Carlton Savary (TELCO); 1st Vice President Michael Marcano (TEXTEL); 2nd Vice President Joel Moore (TELCO Southern Branch); 3rd Vice President Betty Nedd (Trinidata); Secretary General Lyle Townsend (TELCO (Western Branch); Deputy Secretary General Cedric Branche (TEXTEL); Assistant Secretary John Williams (TELCO Western Branch); Treasurer Cornel Alexander (TEXTEL); Deputy Treasurer Ken Braithwaithe (IA(C)L); Trustee Irwin Bobb (TELCO Eastern Branch); Trustee James Toppin (TELCO Eastern Branch); Trustee Lawrence Flament (TELCO Southern Branch).
Not all of the above belonged to the Progressive Workers’ Committee, but in order to neutralize and/or win support of the opposition and those “fence-sitters” it was necessary to put these up for election. It was further necessary to have elements of the old regime to ensure continuity of the Union’s business with as little disruption as possible.
Indeed, Chic was able to revolutionize labour and industrial relations practices, hold the reins of power in the CWU for nearly 30 years and turned it into the tower of strength that it is today.
For this we salute him as a twentieth century revolutionary.
Dennis T. E. Olivier
Former President Communication Workers Union
APRIL 29 2012