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Als remembered as man of people

Thursday, December 12, 2013
President Anthony Carmona, left, shares the sign of peace with BIGWU vice-president Mario Als during the funeral service for Mario’s brother, Michael Als, at the Cumana RC Church yesterday. PHOTO: SHIRLEY BAHADUR

In his youth, Michael Als led a march from south Trinidad to Whitehall, Port-of-Spain, where he scaled a flagpole and hung the flag of the Youth Power Movement. He was a unionist, a community leader, an author and a social activist and he had one bias that everyone at his funeral yesterday seemed to agree on: He was biased towards anything that propelled the development of the working class.



Als’ brother, Mario, while delivering the eulogy at his funeral yesterday, described him as someone who got the job done. He was remembered as the founder of the Banking, Insurance and General Workers Union (BIGWU), the father of four, a community activist in Toco and a man who felt it was his responsibility to have an effect on the lives of the people around him.


Current BIGWU president Vincent Cabrera said Als was responsible for establishing employment protection for finance workers in T&T. “The workers in the finance sector, media sector and indeed the entire services sector owe an immense debt to Michael Als. “Nearly everyone advised that Michael was crazy to leave his good teaching job to organise black workers,” said Cabrera, adding these people were proven wrong.


“Michael was a natural organiser and an expert mobiliser who demanded from all his associates great discipline and commitment in doing the people’s work,” he said. Als died last week at 67. His funeral, which took place at the Cumana RC Church,  Toco, was a well- attended event, with mourners braving rain and flood waters to pay their final respects. 


They included President Anthony Carmona, House Speaker Wade Mark, himself a former BIGWU executive, Community Development Minister Winston “Gypsy” Peters and many of the people Als interacted with through his union activity and his involvement in the Toco Foundation. He was described as a fighter for social justice, a storyteller and a man who was passionate for his community.


Wendy Diaz, a representative of the Toco Foundation, which Als founded, said he was a man who always championed a cause and who assisted civil-society organisations, especially those promoting women. She said Als would be missed not just by his community but by the nation, as his life affected students, farmers, parents and caregivers and affected positive change in the lives of many. He was buried at the Cumana cemetery.


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