The history of the trade union movement in Trinidad and Tobago would be totally incomplete and unfinished if the life and times of Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler are not the DNA of such a history. Butler was accredited as being the “Chief Servant of the Lord”. He believed that man’s purpose in life was the fulfilment of God’s purpose and as such, he owed no obligation to anybody or anything but to God..
Butler was staunchly and fiercely anti-Colonial and uncompromising. He believed “the right of a people to govern themselves is a fundamental principle and to compromise on this principle is to betray it.” In this regard, Butler was indeed “A Man among Men” who not only fought for the rights for the expendable, redundant lumpen proletariat, that is, “the least of these in society” but also for the “Wretched of the Earth” who toiled from sun-up to sun-down in the oilfields in south Trinidad. Butler challenged the British Crown colony system of government in acerbic rhetoric and was even prepared to accept the charge of sedition which was accompanied by a two-year prison sentence.
In this well-researched and well-documented magnum opus titled God, The Press and Uriah Butler, Dr Hollis “Chalkdust” Liverpool delineates the heroics of Butler—a true, genuine “Caribbean man”. The book proves that as early as 1936, Butler was in the vanguard calling for full, autonomous, political independence for the colony of Trinidad and Tobago. The historical record shows that he was indeed the first to do so. Butler totally rejected any British–style, independent model as some did in the 1930s. In fact, Butler denounced the much bandied about notion that if the system was good for the British, then, it should be good for the Caribbean people also.
In the oilfields of south Trinidad, Butler fought tirelessly for maximum improvement in the social and economic conditions of workers. Indeed, he was very instrumental in getting the British colonial governor to accede to the formation of representative trade unions, even on a limited scale.
However, historical hallmarks of this book are that it recognises the salient reality that the legacy of Butler is not just the laying of wreaths and silent prayers every 19th June at his statue in Fyzabad. That’s not Butler’s history. This is HIS-Butler-STORY: Butler led the demand/fight for adult suffrage, even on a limited scale for the colonised. Butler never backdowned from opposing injustice regardless of its original source. Butler was more than prepared to die for the workers he represented.
Butler instilled overt fear in the hearts and minds of both the British colonial governor in Trinidad and the powers that be in the Colonial Office in Britain to the extent that they were forced to collude and manipulate the system so as to prevent him from becoming Chief Minister in 1950.
Butler was a people-oriented person; material luxury was never his claim to fame. In fact, throughout his career, financial and other forms of support/assistance had to be given to him. He was humble and steadfastly pro-labour.
Butler was the first to establish a Woman’s Arm in any political party and in fact, women’s activities of Butler supporters preceded all of Butler’s speeches and meetings. The female supporters of Butler were the ones who rescued him from the police. Thus, it need occasion no surprise that Butler is indeed the undisputed father of electoral politics in Trinidad and Tobago. He was the ultimate, original political thinker.
It is significant to note that Butler was never accused of embezzling trade union funds. He was always transparent and trustworthy. That’s his claim to fame.
In his trade union career, Butler engaged/involved all creeds and races in the anti-colonial struggle umpteen decades prior to the 1970 anti-neo-colonial struggle/revolution.
However, more importantly, Butler was always adamant about the fact that young people (students) need to know the true history of the Caribbean and that history begins with Butler at its apex.
On a regional level, Butler sowed the seeds for the eventual transition of trade unions into genuine political parties and this phenomenon spread like wildfire across the entire Caribbean islands from the 1930s and beyond. Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler initiated that avalanche.
Indeed, to his maximum credit and living legacy, Butler goes down in history as the only trade unionist politician who fought to destroy the British Crown Colony system of government “by any means necessary”.
In the final analysis, this book fills the crucial historical void in the pivotal contribution of Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler in the development of the colony and country of Trinidad and Tobago. Let the evil that Butler may have done remain buried with his bones while the good he has done will forever live on after him. And just maybe Liverpool’s magnificent opus will engender the national probe/debate as to who is really and truly the “Father of the Nation”, that is, someone who laid his life on the line versus someone who just laid his bucket down?
Could you tell me?
Dr Kwame Nantambu is Professor Emeritus Kent State University, USA.