BOOK REVIEW: God, The Press and Uriah Butler

Dr. Hollis “Chalkdust” Liverpool. (2020). God, The Press and Uriah Butler. Trinidad: Juba Publications.

By Dr. Kwame Nantambu
November 24, 2020

Dr. Kwame NantambuThe history of the trade union movement in Trinidad and Tobago would be totally 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 the “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 or anything 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 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 indeed “A Man among Men” who not only fought for the human, civil, socio-economic and political 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, including the governor, 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. Tubal Uriah “Buzz” 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 brings to 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. NO! that’s not Butler’s history. This is HIS-Butler- STORY:

Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler led the demand/fight for adult suffrage, even on a limited scale for the colonized.

Butler never backed down 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 heart and mind 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 always a people-oriented person; outward material luxury was never his claim to fame. In fact, throughout his illustrious trade union career, financial and other forms of support/assistance had to be given to him. He was indeed humble and steadfastly pro-labour in the same breath.

It is vital to note that Butler laid the foundations for political organizations in this country; he was the first to establish a Woman’s Arm in any political party and in fact, the historical record reveals that the female activities of Butler supporters preceded all of Butler’s speeches and meetings. Let us not forget that female supporters of Butler were the ones who rescued Butler 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 is 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) needed 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 Dr. Hollis 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 laid his bucket down?. “Could you tell me?”

Dr. Kwame Nantambu is Professor Emeritus Kent State University, USA.

2 thoughts on “BOOK REVIEW: God, The Press and Uriah Butler”

  1. With that being said, Where is Butler in Trinidad’ Chalkdust music? from his inception into the Kaiso world, Mr Liverpool has made a name for himself as an antagonist. You mean Mr Liverpool have known Revolutionary Butler all these years, without educating in song? sic. In continuance, history will be the judge of these waste men scribes. Mr Butler paved the road that the Eric William’ PNM band wagon rode on. After being denied the Chief ministership on winning the Trinidad colonial elections, being a REBEL was the only excuse given. in reality, Mr Butler’ African background, and the lacked support of established East Indians 70yrs ago, played a major role in him being relegated and Cipriani the White French Creole elevated to lead the Colony. With the coming of Eric Williams, Mr Butler’ vast working class support was transferred to the emerging PNM. Up to this day, Oil workers whom Mr Butler gave a greater part of his life fighting their cause, continue to be kicked by the PNM into oblivion. Coming from the East-West corridors, Mr Liverpool reminds me of novelist Mr Walcott, who during his lifetime received tremendous awards on his portrayal of Haiti, while in his own words , never stepping foot in the Nation of St Dominigue. Mr Butler suffered during the post 1956 PNM elections, prior to the George Weeks led OWTU housing Mr Butler, this great soul of Trinidad working class consciousness, was squatting in Guapo,Fyzabad. One Christian lifetime later, the Struggles of Uriah Butler are facing modern day workers straight up, but no Uriah “Buzz” Butler in sight.

  2. Butler was a coward hiding from the colonial masters and was spared the death penalty because of the brilliance of Adrian Cola Reinzi. The colonial masters were so impressed with Cola legal defence of Butler.

    It took a lot of courage and loyalty on the part of Rienzi to maintain contact with Butler until months later when Butler bravely decided he would give himself up.
    In the face of Rienzi’s insistence that Butler should be given a safe conduct, Governor Sir Murchinson Fletcher, influenced by the hostility of his government, had to refuse. Fletcher declared that in the country’s interest it was crucial for the oilfield strike to end and until the strike was called off, there could be no talks with Butler.
    On the one hand, Rienzi pointed out to the government that Butler had a legitimate right to appeal to his fellow oil workers to stop work in support of their demands yet on the other hand, he was objective enough to press Butler to call off the strike.
    Butler wrote to Rienzi at this time: “Dear Mr. Rienzi, I deeply regret to inform you that as a result of a referendum I find myself in the perhaps unhappy position of not being able to call off the strike As a mediator between myself and the Government I respectfully beg that you communicate this information to His Excellency the Governor through the strike committee.
    Thanking you for your efforts to make peace.”
    Rienzi not only informed Fletcher of this, but in his anxiety for peace between Butler and the Government, he went to see Governor Murchinson Fletcher. On July 9, 1937, Fletcher told the Legislative Council: “I saw Rienzi on the morning of the 28th June and I informed him there could be no question of a safe conduct for Butler.”
    The truth was that Fletcher, who was at the time being bitterly criticized for being “pro-Butler”, had to put on an appearance of toughness.
    However, this was the interlude when Rienzi had Butler’s fate in his hands. The whole police force was scouring the length and breadth of Trinidad for Uriah Butler, but Rienzi, who was in constant touch with Butler, stood firm, when he could have easily given in and “sold” Butler to the authorities.
    And this is particularly interesting because the oil workers had come to depend on Rienzi for advice and leadership in Butler’s absence, a clear invitation for Rienzi to usurp Butler’s position.
    Another thing to consider is that when police and troops swooped on Fyzabad in the early hours of Sunday, July 2, 1937, they caused chaos and confusion amongst the strikers, severely hurting their confidence, and causing disarray.
    Rienzi rallied these workers together, called for courage, and persuaded them to organise themselves for the common good. He urged them to meet together to consider the goals ahead of them for the sake of the working class.
    The workers did get together. The meeting took place on July 27, 1937, and what emerged from it was the formation of the Oilfield Workers Trade Union. Rienzi was asked by these workers to be their President-General.” Triniview…

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