Labor Day celebrations in Trinidad and Tobago were declared an annual national holiday in 1973.
Celebrated on June 19th, it is the anniversary of the day of the Butler Oilfield Riots which took place in 1937.
Prior to this time there were ongoing tensions between workers and employers in many sectors of society.
These were characterized by situations of worker abuse, underpayment for labour, racism, economic depression and a considerable fall in the living standards of the working class.
Between 1934 and 1937 workers became more influenced by a need for change resulting in strikes and riots on the sugar
plantations and in the oil fields and in September 1937, the Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU) also became the first registered trade union in the country representing the rights of those in the petroleum industry.
This social unrest then extended throughout the Caribbean and gave rise to several prominent labour leaders in Trinidad and Tobago such as Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler, Captain Andrew Arthur Cipriani, George Weekes, Albert Maria Gomes, Adrian Cola Rienzi, Elma Francois, and C.L.R James.
Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler, a Grenadian immigrant who worked in the oilfield, was instrumental in the development of the labour union movement which emphasized the importance of collective unionism in treating worker discontent and the abuses they faced by their employers.
Butler was awarded the nation’s highest honor, the Trinity Cross, and the country’s main highway has been re-named in his honor.
Today, a statue of Butler stands at the Fyzabad junction also known as the Charlie King Junction, the place where police attempted to arrest him on June 19th, the day of the historic riots 1937.