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Avellon Williams 


It has often been said that “a chain is as strong as its weakest link.” When one reads about the exploits of Arthur Andrew Cipriani, Tubal Uriah Buzz Butler, Adrian Cola Rienzi, George Weeks, James Manswell, and even Basdeo Panday, one is left transfixed and wondering what it was like to be part of the working class in those golden years of trade unionism. 

(Left) Tubal Uriah Buzz Butler, (Right) Former PM, Dr. Eric Williams/Courtesy/

These leaders were not cowed by the might of the upper class, big business nor the Government. They were not afraid to throw down the gauntlet to the establishment. They represented the workers with a passion that engendered a feeling of pride among the working class.  They led and the workers were proud to follow.

TT Trade Union Leaders /Courtesy/

Fast forward to today’s 21st-century: These stalwarts of yesteryear have given way to leaders such as Errol Mcleod, Ancel Roget, Jennifer Baptiste-Primus, Michael Anisette, James Lambert, Clyde Elder, and Watson Duke. 

While two of the aforementioned persons are no longer in public life, they did occupy leadership positions in two of the largest and most powerful trade unions and coincidentally, accepted Ministerial appointments in different political administrations.


Any casual observer at today’s reality will conclude that the Labour movement of this present era has been emasculated by the Government and big business. While one might argue that COVID -19 has forced a paradigm shift in the modus operandi of trade unionists, it must be noted that some leaders only found their voices depending on which political party was in power. 

Closure of Petrotrin /Courtesy/

The closure of Petrotrin is a classic example of this. How many of the present-day leaders joined hands with Comrade Ancel Roget in support of Petrotrin workers? 

Sugar Trade Union 1975 /Courtesy/

There was no national outrage when Caroni (1975) was closed down wiping out the Sugar Trade Union and remarkably as if we had learnt nothing, there was a deafening silence when Petrotrin was shut down, significantly weakening the Oil Field Workers Trade Union (OWTU) which had always been seen as the vanguard of the labour movement and the political voice of the working class.

State Entities/Courtesy/

The old adage, ‘when your neighbor’s house is on fire, wet yours,’ rings louder today. Following Petrotrin in 2018, there has been a gradual erosion of the membership base of the Communications Workers Union (CWU) at the Telecommunications Service of Trinidad and Tobago (TSTT) and we now have attempts at privatization of the Port Authority of Trinidad and Tobago,  and the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA). 

Solidarity /Courtesy/

The working class is yearning for labor leaders to put aside their petty differences and stand in unison to tackle these burning national issues.  Leaders can no longer operate in their own little space, believing that what is happening with one sector of the labor force has nothing to do with them. The ripple effect of the Petrotrin closure is being felt nationwide.  Whenever the port is privatized, it would mean more workers on the bread line, which is bound to affect the national psyche.


Labor leaders must not permit the Government to use the COVID- 19 pandemic to unilaterally alter the terms and conditions of workers. Every worker deserves to know that their union is standing in their defense. The recent announcement by the Prime Minister on the reopening of physical classes for vaccinated students only, should not only be of concern to the teachers’ union (TTUTA). Don’t the other unionists and members have children in school? 

Online learning versus In-person learning /Courtesy/

How would teachers teach both remotely and in the physical classroom at the same time? This is a national issue and must not be left solely to the teachers’ union.


Divide and conquer has always been a tool used by the upper class to control the working class. 

When the National Trade Union Center (NATUC) was created in 1991 following the merger of the Trinidad and Tobago Labor Congress (TTLC) and the Council of Progressive Trade Unions (CPTU) the workers greeted this move with great optimism.  But alas, this unity did not last as long as a snowball in hell. Egos and political ambitions soon got in the way and leaders retreated to their own freedom, once again dancing to the tune of the party in power and the upper class. 


The workers are crying out for leadership in this crisis created by COVID -19. There’s no room at the top for the one who declared in his Labor Day message that, “the Trade Union Movement is dead!” It is time to do some house cleaning and get rid of the albatross around the neck of the movement and provide meaningful representation to all workers. Will the genuine Labour Leaders please stand up and be counted?

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Avellon Williams

1 Comment

    When we speak about the early Labor Movement there is no mention of Elma Francois. The Labor Movement while it was predominantly Male there were females who made their mark not only in Trinidad and Tobago but also in some other Caribbean Islands.

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