Book review by Dr. Kwame Nantambu
Professor Emeritus, Kent State University, USA
June 24, 2022
The history of the trade union movement in Trinidad and Tobago would be incomplete and unfinished if the life and times of the man called Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler are not the DNA of such a history. Butler was accredited as being the “Chief Servant of the Lord.” That was indeed the invisible “Buzz” in his revered personality. Butler believed that man’s purpose in life was the fulfillment of God’s purpose and as such, his inherent belief system informed him that he owed no obligation to anybody but to God.
Furthermore, Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler firmly believed that he was God’s chosen Messiah of the colonized Caribbean peoples and that, whatever trade union and political activities he pursued, God had his back. He feared no man nor system.
Butler was staunchly and fiercely anti-colonial and uncompromising. He was the only trade unionist at that time who totally refused to work within the British Crown Colony system of government. Butler was prepared to destroy this repressive system “by any means necessary.” The other trade union leaders at that time vowed to work within the system. Indeed, they falsely argued that if that system is good for the British, then, it should be good for Caribbean peoples. Butler strongly believed that “the right of a people to govern themselves is a fundamental principle and to compromise on this principle is to betray it.” In this specific regard, Butler was “Ä Man among Men” who fought for the human, civil, socio-economic and political rights for the expendable, redundant lumpen proletariat, that is, “the least of these in society.” He challenged the British Crown Colony system of government, including the governor in acerbic rhetoric and was prepared to accept the charge of sedition which was accompanied by a two-year prison sentence.
In fact, the record reveals that Butler described the then governor of Trinidad and Tobago Sir. Hubert Rance as “Rance Rancid” and called the then King of England George V! “a (god) dam bastard”.
In this well-researched and well-documented magnum opus titled God, The press and Uriah Butler, Professor Hollis “Chalkdust” Liverpool delineates the heroics of Butler. The book proves that as early as 1936, Butler was in the forefront demanding full, autonomous, political independence for the colony of Trinidad and Tobago. He was the first to do so. And that’s precisely why he is indeed the undisputed, legitimate Anti-colonial Father of this Nation.
In the oilfields of south Trinidad, Butler fought tirelessly for maximum improvement in of the social and economic conditions of workers. Indeed, he was very instrumental in getting the Euro-colonial British government to accede to the formation of representative trade unions on behalf of the workers even on as limited scale.
This is HIS-Butler-STORY:
Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler led the demand/fight for adult suffrage, even limited, for the colonized. Butler never back downed from opposing injustice regardless of its original source. He was prepared to die for the workers he represented. The struggle of the workers was his life. In this regard, he spent eight years in prison.
Butler instilled overt fear in the heart and mind of both the British colonial governor in Trinidad and Tobago 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; outward material luxury was not his forte/lifestyle. In fact, this book proves that throughout his illustrious trade union career, financial and other forms of support/assistance had to be given to Butler. He was indeed humble and steadfastly pro-labor in the same breath.
As the Anti-colonial Father of this Nation, Butler laid the foundations for political organization in the country; he was the first to establish a Woman’s Arm in any political party and in fact, this book reveals that the female activities of Butler’s supporters preceded all of his speeches and meetings. Let us not forget that female Butler supporters were the ones “who eventually hid him after June 1937 when the police sought to arrest him for the disturbances.”
Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler sewed the seeds for the transition of trade unions into genuine political parties and this phenomenon spread like wild fire through out the entire colonial Caribbean islands from the 1930s and beyond. Butler initiated that anti-colonial avalanche. For example, his Trinidad Workingmen’s Association later became Trinidad Labour Party in 1934. Butler was the ultimate, original political thinker, par excellence.
Moreover, what Dr. Hollis “Chalkdusk” Liverpool points in this book is the salient, reality fact that Butler was never accused of embezzling trade union funds. He was always transparent and trustworthy. That’s his historical claim to fame. In addition and most significantly, Butler carried his original birth-given African-Christian name to his grave in 1977. He DID NOT abandon or reject it in lieu of a derived/adopted Euro-centric name identity/personality. Furthermore, it is a tremendous historical relief that Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler was not university degreed in law or history.
Indeed, our colonial history shows that, to his maximum credit and living legacy, Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler was the only trade union politician who was absolutely and completely opposed to Crown Colony Government and sought to put an end to it “by any means necessary.”
In the final analysis, let the evil that Butler may have done remain buried with his bones while the good he has done for We the People of Trinidad and Tobago will live on after him.
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