Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 15th 2017 Contents BG6 | NEWS
BUSINESS GUARDIAN guardian.co.tt JUNE 15 • 2017
Reflecting on the Butler riots
Eighty years after the "Butler Ri-
ots" or "oilfield riots" in Trin-
idad, the labour movement is
still relevant, according to the
views of local trade unions and
the employers' associations.
Today in 2017, as T&T gears up to celebrate
Labour Day---a public holiday on Monday---
the country has advanced labour legislation
which allows benefits like an eight-hour day,
holidays with pay, casual and sick days as well
as grievance procedures in unionised work-
places along with minimum wage legislation
and other benefits such as pensions.
All of these would have been uniminaginable
80 years ago when Uriah "Buzz" Butler---the
Grenadian-born labour leader who was at
the centre of the 1937 riots in Fyzabad---was
fighting for better conditions for workers in
Life in the 1930s in T&T, which was still a
British colony at that time, was characterised
by poverty, lack of workers' rights, an oil in-
dustry still in its infancy and none of the rights
that workers today take for granted.
The Oilfield Workers' Trade Union (OWTU)
one of the country's and Caribbean's most
powerful unions was born out of that era 80
Gerry Kangalee, education and communi-
cation officer of the National Workers Union
(NWU), argues that the insurrection of June
19, 1937---which is celebrated every year as a
holiday in T&T---triggered not only the rap-
id development of trade unionism, but also
advanced the movement for home rule (In-
In 1973, on the anniversary of the riots, June
19 was declared a national holiday and has
been celebrated as Labour Day ever since.
He said the riots 80 years ago ushered in the
trappings of a modern neo-colonial state with
universal adult suffrage and the separation of
powers based on constitutional reforms away
from the crown colony system that existed
under British colonialism.
"Things we take for granted today were the
results of hard, committed struggles that came
to a head in 1937 and that trade unions and
other people-based organisations ever since
have had to be vigilant in defending, while,
at the same time, advancing and protecting
the interests of working people," he told the
Business Guardian by email last Saturday.
Kangalee said basic conditions that ordinary
workers take for granted today, workers of that
era did not enjoy.
"Simple things like the eight-hour day, hol-
idays with pay, paid leaves, grievance proce-
dures in unionised workplaces, minimum wage
legislation, maternity leave, occupational and
statutory pension entitlements, safety and
health that have come as a result of the trade
union movement are today under severe attack
by the employers led by the State, which is the
largest employer in the land."
Unions in the 21st
Life in T&T in 2017 is not without its chal-
lenges in a world with falling oil and gas prices
and an economy that is not diversified. Jobs
for life are no longer guaranteed and a chang-
ing employer and employee relationship has
become the order of the day with employers
opting for contract employment.
As a result, trade unions across the globe
have seen declining numbers as new industries
shaped by the global economy are evolving
and the influence of free market economics
has seen the role of the state and govern-
ment-owned industries reduced.
Some analysts argue that trade unions are a
dying breed in this precarious environment.
Kangalee sees things differently and be-
lieves that unions are now more important
in face of these "attacks" by the neo-liberal
"The Employers Consultative Association
(ECA), Chamber of Commerce and spokesper-
sons for the employers have been relentless in
attacking workers' entitlements and benefits
won over the years using the capitalist crisis as
a figleaf to cover up their efforts to entrench a
neo-liberal solution," Kangalee said.
"This is designed further pauperise working
people and ensure that labour's share of the
value produced is reduced even further and
that working people and the poor are forced
to pay for the crisis that they had no hand in
Continued on Page 7
Links Archive June 14th 2017 June 16th 2017 Navigation Previous Page Next Page