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The Emergence Of Butler

Tubal Uriah "Buzz" Butler

THE early 1930s were trying times for working class Trinidadians. The two main sectors of agricultural economy, sugar and cocoa, never seemed to recuperate from the drop in prices in the early 1920s.

Around the same, the oil workers were subject to a variety of woes. No transport to and from worksites, rampant job insecurity, and little or no job incentives.

Despite the best efforts of Captain Arthur Andrew Cipriani and the Trinidad Workingmen's Association of the 1920s, little improvement in working and living conditions was forthcoming.

Somebody needed to step up. Enter Tubal Uriah "Buzz" Butler. An emigrant from Grenada, Butler worked in Fyzabad where there was a large Grenadian population, and he became involved in the workers' disputes.

He appealed to the emotions and the existing prejudices, and it was through his Baptist style and socialist vocabulary,that he entrenched himself as the catalyst for industrial actions in the oil districts in June 1937.

At midnight on June 18, 1937, the rigmen at Trinidad Leasehold Ltd, Forest Reserve and Fyzabad, downed their tools and sat down on the job.

Management called for Butler's arrest and tried to ensure there would be no assembling in the other oil producing counties.

During the day, police and reinforcements were deployed in the oilfields and in San Fernando. A warrant was issued for Butler's arrest.

While the police were taking Butler in custody, the crowd he was addressing, now angered by the police's actions, stormed the podium and "rescued" Butler.

One police officer, Corp Charles King, fell to the ground and was drenched in oil and burned to death.

Telephone lines from Fyzabad to San Fernando were severed, cutting off communication from the Fyzabad law enforcers to their counterparts.

This delayed the arrival of the reinforcements, and when they did arrive, they were met by stones and gunshots and other missiles. Another officer, Insp Bradburn met his death.

Just before 9 p.m. on June 19, the police still could not get their hands on Butler. The governor and the Inspector General of the Constabulary called in the British naval force in Bermuda.

On June 20, a platoon entered Fyzabad and retrieved the bodies of their fallen officers, and conducted a house to house search for perpetrators. On June 21, the strike spread across the island into a nationwide labour-crisis. Rioting hit San Fernando, mobbing business places, harassing residents and obstructing traffic.

In the Ste Madeline Refinery company officials were assaulted, staff residences were stormed and raided, trains loaded with sugar were halted and factory workers chased off the plants.

The following day, another mob of hundreds stormed a Waterloo Estate armed with sticks and stones, cutlasses and iron, and stopped work at two or three more estates along the way.

That day, the trouble reached Port of Spain, Tabaquite and Rio Claro. By June 26, the unrest had gained momentum. Every major sector of the economy was affected.

To commemorate the events of 61 years ago, trade unions throughout Trinidad and Tobago stage a march from various points and congregate in Fyzabad, where their membership is addressed by many prominent leaders of the trade union movement.

Usually, the march starts at 8 a.m.

Preceding the march is a 20k marathon which normally attracts top Caribbean athletes. This race starts at OWTU Building on Royal Road, San Fernando, around 6 a.m. and takes the runners to Avocat Junction, near the statue of the labour leader himself, "Buzz" Butler.

After that, the crowds of thousands are usually united and very vocal, and whatever is the popular grouse at the time, can be sure to get top billing at any public platform.

¤ Butler - A leader born to fight

¤ Butler - Labor leader and politician

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