Tubal Uriah Butler Edit Profile
He left school at age 13.
He joined the West Indian Regiment and went overseas during World War I. He returned to Grenada in 1919 but left in 1922 for Trinidad, where he secured a job in the oil industry.
At the time of his arrival, the Trinidad Workingmen’s Association (TWA), under the leadership of Arthur Andrew Cipriani, was the most important working-class organization in the country. Butler became a member of the TWA. However, in 1934 he mounted a major challenge to Cipriani, when Cipriani refused to sanction a strike by oilfield workers.
Butler’s fiery oratory was honed in the Moravian Church, which he served as a pastor. Convinced of his God-appointed mission to free the West Indian masses from colonial bondage, Butler founded his first political party, the British Empire Workers and Citizens Home Rule Party, in 1936, believing that Cipriani had become a spent political force. Between 1935 and 1937 Butler rallied the black workers to his cause. He saw the socioeconomic woes of the Depression as a direct consequence of colonial exploitation. Initially convinced of the necessity to exhaust all channels of negotiation, Butler pleaded with the colonial administration to enact political, economic, and industrial reforms on behalf of the working class. When his pleas failed, he called for a general strike, which, although planned to be peaceful, was met by force and became a violent con¬frontation that left 14 people dead, 49 injured, and enormous loss of property. The strike served as a catalyst for similar riots thorughout the Anglophone West Indies.
As a result of these events, a West Indian Royal Commission was convened, under the chairmanship of Lord Moyne, to investigate conditions throughout the Anglophone Caribbean. The report, submitted in 1939 but not released until after World War II, made recommendations for labor and political reform, in¬cluding more representative government and universal adult suffrage.
The Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU), which was initiated by Butler, emerged out of the rioting. Butler’s participation in the union was hampered by his arrest for his role in the riots of 1937. He remained in custody until May 6, 1939. Upon his release, as general organizer of the OWTU, he mobilized the workers against the oil companies and attempted to forge a political union be¬tween the predominantly black oilfield workers and the predominantly East Indian sugar workers. His expulsion from the OWTU in 1939 was a tremendous blow to organized labor since it led to a 90 percent drop in the union’s membership.
Butler was incarcerated for almost the whole of World War II as a “danger to the war effort.” On his release in 1945, he formed the Butler Party and a new union, the British Empire Workers, Peasants, and Ratepayers Union to represent the oilfield workers.
The 1946 elections were the first under universal adult suffrage. The Butler Party, which had forged an alliance with East Indian political leaders, won three of the nine constituencies, tying with another mass-based party. This victory was a genuine multiracial effort in an election fraught with racial animosity between the black and East Indian populations. In 1950 the Butler Party won in 6 of 18 constituencies and achieved a voting bloc of eight members after two independents joined its ranks in Parliament. Although winning the largest number of seats, the absence of a clear majority left it up to the governor, who refused to nominate anyone to the cabinet from the Butler group.
After 1950 racial politics led to splintering of Butler’s party as the East Indian members deserted him for a new Peoples Democratic Party. By the next general election in 1956, the Butler Party crumbled under the onslaught of Dr. Eric Williams and his Peoples National Movement. Butler lost his own constituency, and the party was able to capture a mere 2 seats of the 24 contested.