Labour Day

Labour Day celebrations in Trinidad and Tobago was declared an annual national holiday in 1973. Celebrated on June 19th, it is the anniversary of the day of the Butler Oilfield Riots which took place in 1937. Prior to this time there were ongoing tensions between workers and employers in many sectors of society. These were characterized by situations of worker abuse, underpayment for labour, racism, economic depression and a considerable fall in the living standards of the working class.

Between 1934 and 1937 workers became more influenced by a need for change resulting in strikes and riots on the sugar plantations and in the oil fields and in September 1937, the Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU) also became the first registered trade union in the country representing the rights of those in the petroleum industry. This social unrest then extended throughout the Caribbean and gave rise to several prominent labour leaders in Trinidad and Tobago such as Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler, Captain Andrew Arthur Cipriani, George Weekes, Albert Maria Gomes, Adrian Cola Rienzi, Elma Francois, and C.L.R James.

During a labour dispute on the Port-of-Spain wharves in November 1919, Captain Andrew Arthur Cipriani called on the workers to withhold their labour, and this resulted in their first important industrial strike in Trinidad.

George Weekes, another well known Trade Unionist, possessed a powerful political leadership style which moved people toward a confidence to stand for what was just and right. He gave them a vision that planted seeds of liberation to move beyond salaries and working conditions – along the road of self, world view, economics and government.

Albert Maria Gomes became a City Councilor and Legislator who fought for social and political justice for the people of Trinidad. He was also a supporter of the literary and visual arts; in 1931 he founded a magazine “The Beacon” which provided a forum for well known figures such as C.L.R. James and which led to the recognition of excellent literary works in later years from writers such as Earl Lovelace, Merle Hodge and many others from Trinidad and Tobago.

Adrian Cola Rienzi served as the mayor of San Fernando in November 1939 and administered the borough for three consecutive terms, until November 1942. He was a member of the franchise committee which was appointed in 1941, and strongly advocated universal adult suffrage.

St. Vincent born Elma Francois became a founding member of the National Unemployed Movement and its more radical successor, the Negro Welfare, Cultural and Social Association, to which she devoted the rest of her life.

Regarded as one of the most celebrated thinkers of Trinidad and Tobago, and the whole Commonwealth Caribbean, C.L.R James was against colonialism and against racial prejudice in all its forms and he began to formulate his thoughts on the just and classless society. Apart from his contributions to politics, his passion for poetry and literature reward him with the nation’s highest decoration, the Trinity Cross.

Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler, a Grenadian immigrant who worked in the oilfield, was instrumental in the development of the labour union movement which emphasized the importance of collective unionism in treating worker discontent and the abuses they faced by their employers. Butler was awarded the nation’s highest honor, the Trinity Cross, and the country’s main highway has been re-named in his honor. Today, a statue of Butler stands at the Fyzabad junction also known as the Charlie King Junction, the place where police attempted to arrest him on June 19th, the day of the historic riots 1937.

A Historical Timeline of The Labour Movement in Trinidad and Tobago 1897 to 2004

1897 - March 1st: twenty one year old Charles Phillip forms The Working Men’s Reform Club.

1897 - Port of Spain druggist, Walter Mills, forms the Trinidad Working Men’s Association (TWA) to represent skilled black urban workers.

1902 - Establishment of the Rate-Payers Association (R.P.A.).

1910 - TWA establishes links with British Labour Party.

1916 - Establishment of the East Indian Destitute League by Mohammed Orfy.

1917 - End of East Indian immigration.

Strike of oil and asphalt leads to the arrest and imprisonment of five leaders under wartime defence regulations.

1919-1922 - Dockworkers strike leads to nationwide labour unrest.

1921-1922 - The Wood Commission visits the West Indies to make recommendations on constitutional reform in the colonies. It recommended elected members in Trinidad’s Legislative Council.

1922 - The TWA Begins publication of a paper, the Labour Leader.

1923 - Captain Arthur Andrew Cipriani becomes president of the TWA. The TWA agitated for the recognition of trade unions, an eight-hour workday, overtime pay, workmen’s compensation and improved working conditions, as well as for greater self-government and constitutional reform.

1925 - In Trinidad’s first National Elections, Cipriani won the Port of Spain seat with an overwhelming majority. He held the seat until his death in 1945.

1932 - The Trade Union Ordinance is enacted, making it possible for trade unions to be legally registered and recognized.

1934 - TWA renamed the Trinidad Labour Party to indicate that it had become a political party instead of registering as a trade union.
- Sugar workers stage protests and hunger march from Caroni to Port of Spain.;
- Formation of the National Unemployed Movement (NUM) by Jim Headly, Dudley Mahon and Elma  Francois.
- Formation of the socialist Negro Welfare, Cultural and Social Association (NWA).

1935 - Workers at Apex Oilfields go on strike in March; this was the beginning of Butler’s emergence as a working class Leader. Butler and Adrian "Cola" Rienzi form the Trinidad Citizens League.

1936 - Butler leaves the Trinidad Labour Party (TLP) to form his own party.

1937 - June 18th: Oil workers at Forest Reserve under Butler’s leadership began strike action. The attempt to arrest Butler on charges of inciting breeches of the peace sparks widespread riots and unrest. Two policemen, Corporal Charlie King and Sub-Inspector Bradburn were killed in Fyzabad. Nine civilians were killed and fifty were wounded. 
September – The Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU) becomes the first registered trade union in Trinidad. 
November – All Trinidad Sugar Estate and Factory Workers Trade Union (ATSEFWTU) is registered. Rienzi is elected president of both OWTU and ATSEFWTU. Federated Workers Trade Union (FWTU) and Seamen and Waterfront Workers Trade Union (SWWTU) registered under the 1932 Ordinance.

1937-1938 - Further Disturbances among workers in British Guiana, Barbados, Grenada and Jamaica.

1938 - Trade Disputes Ordinance established an arbitration tribunal to provide machinery for the settlement of disputes after collective bargaining had broke down. By the end of1938 there were ten trade unions in Trinidad, more than in any other West Indian colony.

1938-1939 - West India Royal Commission by Lord Moyne investigates conditions in the colonies. It recommended more British Government effort into promoting"development and welfare" and moderate constitutional change.

1939 - Establishment of the Trade Union Congress. Rienzi elected first president.

1939 - Government amends 1932 Ordinance to legalize peaceful picketing and give unions immunity from actions for damages arising out of strikes.

1939-1945 - World War II. Butler detained. Boom in oil industry. Establishment of US bases in Trinidad create heightened expectation among working class as many experience better personnel practices and working condition.

1945 - Butler released and hailed as a hero of the working class. Death of Cipriani.

1946 - First election with full adult suffrage. Butler loses to Albert Gomes in Port of Spain for a seat in the Legislative Council.

1947 JANUARY – Supporters of Butler stage a march on the Red House- rioting and unrest in Port of Spain.

1947 - Sugar workers strike for higher wages.

1950 - Butler party excluded from executive council as Gomes heads"quasi-ministerial" administration.

1957 - Formation of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP).

1959 - Establishment of the Industrial Development Corporation.

1962 - Trinidad and Tobago becomes the second British West Indian colony to gain independence. Dr. Eric Williams becomes first Prime Minister.

1965 - C.L.R. James forms the Workers and Farmers Party with George Weekes and Stephen Maharaj. WFP loses general election.

1970 - Black Power uprising led by university students and unemployed youth. Annual Register of Trade Unions reports that there are 136 trade unions in Trinidad and Tobago.

1973 - June 19, the anniversary of the Butler Riots, was declared an annual national holiday and celebrated as Labour Day.

1975 - 800,000 man days of productive works days lost due to strike, sick-outs, go-slows and industrial action.

1984 - George Weeke’s retirement severe blow to workers struggle.

1985 - Act to prescribe the procedure to be followed in the event of redundancy and to provide for severance payments to retrenched workers.

1990 - Contractors and General Trade Union (CGTU) wins 7% wage hike for Asphalt workers.

2004 - Protesting NWRHA workers storm administration building at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex, Mt. Hope, demanding letters for permanent workers.

Current Trade Unions in Trinidad and Tobago

Trade Union Address Telephone/Fax/Email
Aviation, Communication and Allied Workers Union (ACAWU) Orange Grove Road, Tacarigua

1 (868) 640-6518/ 1808/ 6141

Fax: 1 (868) 640-6518

Amalgamated Workers Union (AWU) 16 New Street, Port of Spain 1 (868) 623-6717; 627-8993/ 6601
All Trinidad Sugar and General Workers Trade Union (ATSGWTU) Rienzi Complex, Exchange Village, Couva

1 (868) 636-2354/ 3372; 679-7644

Fax: 1 (868) 636-3372

Email: atsgwtu@tstt.net.tt

Banking, Insurance & General Workers Union (BIGWU) 27 Borde Street, Port of Spain

1 (868) 627-0278

Fax: 1 (868) 627-3931

31 Rosalino Street, Woodbrook

1 (868) 623-8641

Fax: 1 (868) 623-8639

Email: bgwu@tstt.net.tt

Communication Workers Union (CWU) 146 Henry Street, Port of Spain

1 (868) 623-5588/ 2848

Fax: (868) 625-3308

Email: cwutdad@tstt.net.tt

Contractors & General Workers Trade Union (CGWTU) 37 Rushworth Street, San Fernando 1 (868) 657-8072
Customs & Excise Extra Guard (C&EEG) Nicholas Court, Abercromby Street, Port of Spain 1 (868) 625-3311
Estate Police Association (EPA) 30 Battoo Avenue 1 (868) 658-5500
Fire Services Association (FSA) 127 Edward Street, Port of Spain 1 (868) 649-3935
National Petroleum Staff Association (NPSA) #2 De Gannes Street, De Gannes Village  
National Union of Domestic Workers (NUDE) Mount Pleasant Road, Arima

1 (868) 667-5247

Email: domestic@tstt.net.tt

National Trade Union Centre (NATUC) Port of Spain

1 (868) 625-3023

Fax: 1 (868) 627-7588

Email: natuc@carib-link.net

National Union of Government and Federated Workers (NUGFW) 145-147 Henry Street, Port of Spain

1 (868) 623-4591; 624-6518

Fax: 1 (868) 625-7756

Email: headoffice@nugfw.org.tt

Oilfields Workers Trade Union (OWTU) 99a Circular Road, San Fernando

1 (868) 652-2701/ 2702

Fax: 1 (868) 652-7170

1 (868) 623-6094

Email: owtu@carib-link.net

Port of Spain
Public Services Association (PSA) 89-91 Abercromby Street, Port of Spain

1 (868) 623-5472/ 7987

Fax: 1 (868) 627-2980

Palm Plaza 1 (868) 667-7959
80 Ramsaran Street, Chaguanas

1 (868) 672-1352

Email: psa@tstt.net.tt

Seamen & Waterfront Workers Trade Union (SWWTU) 1d Wrightson Road, Port of Spain

1 (868) 625-1351/ 1352

Fax: 1 (868) 625-1182

Steel Workers Union of Trinidad & Tobago (SWUTT) 115 Southern Main Road, California

1 (868) 679-4666

Fax: 1 (868) 679-4175

Email: swutt@tsst.net.tt

Transport & Industrial Workers Union (TIWU) 114 Eastern Main Road, Laventille

1 (868) 623-4943

Fax: 1 (868) 623-2361

Email: gensec@tiwa.org.tt

Trinidad and Tobago Airline Pilots Association (TTALPA) 35A, Brunton Road, St James

1 (868) 628-6556

Fax: 1 (868) 628-2418

Email: info@ttalpa.org

Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) Southern Main Road, Curepe

1 (868) 663-2738; 645-2134

Fax: 1 (868) 662-1813

Email: questions@ttuta.org

Union of Commercial & Industrial Workers (UCIW) 132 Henry Street, Port of Spain 1 (868) 623-8381
114 Eastern Main Road, Port of Spain 1 (868) 626- 2285
  • Tubal Uriah "Buzz" Butler
  • Arthur Andrew Cipriani
  • George Weekes
  • Albert Maria Gomes
  • Adrian Cola Rienzi
  • Elma Francois
  • C.L.R. James

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Basdeo, Sahadeo. Labour Organization and Labour Reform in Trinidad and Tobago, 1919 to1939. San Juan: Lexicon, 2003. REF WI331.8809 72983 Ba

Hackshaw, John Milton. Has the Labour Movement a Future in Trinidad and Tobago? Diego Martin: Citadel, 2000. REF WI331.8 72983 Ha

Hackshaw, John Milton. One Hundred Years of Trade Unionism. Diego Martin: Citadel, 1997 REF WI331.8 09 72983 Ha

Henry, Zin. Labour Relations and Industrial Conflict in Commonwealth Caribbean Countries. Port of Spain, 1972. REF WI 331.1 He

Keily, Ray. The Politics of Labour and Development in Trinidad. Kingston: UWI Press, 1996.

Ernst Bowen and Printers’ Union in British Guiana and Trinidad, 1927-1941. London: Savannah, 1999.REF WI 331.1881 862 Er

Information Files
Trade Unions - 1962-1979; 1980-1987; 1988-1994; 1995-

A Heritage Library Publication, 2005.