Submitted By the Oilfields Workers Trade Union
As labour leaders once again march the roads of Fyzabad on June 19th 2020, we are called to remember the movement that began in this very community. It was a movement that began with civic unrest as large companies lined our shores to exploit our natural resources of oil and gas. As these enterprises were set up, they focused entirely on ultimate extraction for the maximization of profit. They brought funds to our economy while simultaneously destroying the environment and upsetting the community that surrounded them.
The mere existence of these oil and gas multinationals was so detrimental that the socio-economic and political reality of the country was thrown into unrest. The Fyzabad community, a community of persons who served predominantly the oil belt, included workers, their families and friends. As they lived within the community, they suffered from worker abuse, racism, poor health care, high prices and poor housing. Poverty was the rule rather than the exception.
The risks associated with working and living near the oil belt were high and the quality of life offered resembled that of slavery. Malnutrition was quite common, and workers slaved away for long hours with little or no compensation even in the event of injuries caused. Residing near these companies also exposed the communities to the fumes and chemicals emanating from the oil belt. The life of the community of Fyzabad therefore remained closely tied to the development of the industry itself, especially its impact, whether this role was acknowledged by companies or not.
In fact, it was in the community of Fyzabad that the Hunger March began in 1935 from the Apex Oilfields to Port of Spain. This Hunger March was led by none other than the Chief Servant to the Labour Movement himself, Tubal Uriah Buzz Butler, well known for his contribution to our national development. It was also in Fyzabad that Tubal Uriah Buzz Butler addressed the workers during his historic speech where the civic unrest peaked resulting in a clash between the community and the police. In fact, it was on June 19th 1937, the day we now know as Labour Day where the police came to arrest Butler during his address and he asked them, “Shall I go Comrades?”; to which they all shouted no. As he then disappeared into the crowd, the clash began, resulting in the death of a police officer named Charlie King who the junction is now named after.
As Labour leaders walk the streets of Fyzabad in their limited numbers due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we remember the great history that the community holds for the labour movement and also the country. We must hold dear to the lessons learnt by the multinationals so many years ago and take a more holistic approach to development. As industry flourishes, so too must the people and the environment. Economic development must occur in conjunction with social and ecological advancement. It should not occur at a cost to its social and environmental counterparts. As a partner of the European Union-funded ‘CSOs for Good Governance,’ the Oilfields Workers Trade Union urges extractive industries to better understand the need for sustainable development. As decisions are made, fence line communities and environmental actors should be proactively engaged. They should ensure that decisions will build our mutual advancement and ensure a common future which can benefit us all.