As the Labour Day holiday is celebrated today, the issue of the absence of consciousness on critical issues facing the society about matters that are spoken about with fervour, but upon which there is no action, is worthy of commentary.
The context of Labour Day has been framed pretty much as an exercise in celebrating the life and times of Tubal Uriah Butler, with little or no mention of the enormous contribution of his colleague Adrian Cola Rienzi.
Recently, Prof Brinsley Samaroo published a book entitled “Adrian Cola Rienzi: The life and times of an Indo-Caribbean progressive” (Royards Publishing, Macoya, Trinidad, 2022). It is an in-depth look at the evolution of Adrian Cola Rienzi and demonstrates the extent to which knowledge of the role of Rienzi in the development of trade unionism in this country remains relatively low.
As the key mover in the formation of two trade unions, the Oilfields Workers Trade Union (OWTU) and the All Trinidad Sugar Estates and Factory Workers Trade Union (All Trinidad), there is little consciousness among the population about this history.
According to Samaroo: “Both the OWTU and All Trinidad shared the same headquarters, which was Rienzi’s office on Coffee Street, San Fernando. Membership on both Executives overlapped and the Union’s monthly “The Vanguard,” founded in 1939, carried news and commentaries relating to both industries. As Mayor of San Fernando, Legislative Council representative for Victoria and member of the Executive Council, Rienzi spoke for both industries, agitating for change in both spheres. He organised Strike Committees in both unions as well as Political Fund Committees to effect the transition from unionism to politics, similar to what was being done in Britain.” (pp 92-93).
The role played by Rienzi in crossing the ethnic divide through his formation efforts and presidency of both unions, and his advocacy for the ethnically distinct industries of oil and sugar, remain largely underplayed and ignored. It is this absence of consciousness that has been a liability for the labour movement in its evolution, as basic information about its past remains lost in translation. However, the absence of consciousness is more widespread than that.
Writing in one of his classic books about social analysis, “Beyond A Boundary” (Hutchinson Press, London, 1963), CLR James commented on the riot during a Test match between England and the West Indies at the Queen’s Park Oval on January 30, 1960.
According to James: “What then caused the 1960 and other outbursts? It was the conviction that here, as usual, local anti-nationalist people were doing their best to help the Englishmen defeat and disgrace the local players. That is the temper which caused these explosions, and as long as that temper remains it will find a way to express itself. This particular attitude is not declining. It is increasing and will increase until a new social and political regime is firmly established and is accepted by all.” (p 301 in the Yellow Jersey Press edition, 2005).
It did not take long for that “temper” that caused that “explosion” to rise in 1970. Changes were made as a consequence of 1970, however, the influence of the progressive left in this country has declined in the aftermath of the oil boom of the 1970s that followed the Black Power uprising of 1970.
During 1970, the Williams administration banned Stokely Carmichael, the well-known Black Power leader in the USA, from returning to the land of his birth. He would later change his name to Kwame Ture. Under the Basdeo Panday administration, the ban was lifted, and he was able to visit his homeland in 1996.
On Emancipation Day 2019, the then acting mayor of Port-of-Spain, Hillan Morean, announced that the Port-of-Spain City Corporation would host consultations with the Emancipation Support Committee to rename Oxford Street in Port-of-Spain after Kwame Ture. To date, no one knows whatever happened to those consultations. Between August 2019 and March 2020, one would imagine that the consultations might have been held prior to the COVID-19 lockdown. Or were they?
There seems to be very little public consciousness on this matter. While the Emancipation Support Committee continues to soldier on with this demand, somehow there seems to be very little uptake within the ranks of the Government. This is similar to the lack of consciousness on the Columbus issue. More talk and no action, indicative of an absence of consciousness.