Tubal Uriah 'Buzz' Butler, also called 'Supreme Chief Servant,' was a Grenadian whose active trade union work in Trinidad earned his assessment as a 'national hero' by the People's Revolutionary Government (PRG). Upon the stature of Butler, the ideal of Revolutionary Grenada's trade union movement was to be built.
Born in St. George's, Grenada, Bluggo Cottage, on 21 January 1897, Butler was raised during a time when the sugar industry was failing. His family moved when Butler was a small child to St. George's where his father set up in his trade at a blacksmith shop. Because his father was the sexton of St. George's Anglican Chapel, free tuition was given to Butler to attend St. George's Anglican School, an educational institution in Grenada with high reputation.
After Butler had finished primary grades at age 13, the family had no funds for further schooling. Butler ran up against the unspoken rules of the Grenadian social structure in St. George's. He could find no work or means for further education. The First World War was looming on the horizon. At 17 years old, Butler told military officials he was 20 years old. He became a volunteer in the First Contingent of the British West India Regiment. Butler served in the British Army from 1914-1918, stationed in Egypt.
He returned to Grenada in 1918 at the age of 21 whereupon he formed the Grenada Representative Government Movement [calling for universal adult franchise] and the [GURS] Grenada Union of Returned Soldiers [seeking benefits and employment].
Returning soldiers were riled about the lack of jobs and their resulting difficulty to find means of subsistence. In 1920 the capital of St. George's was almost destroyed by fire. Some have attributed the arson to the wrath of the returning soldiers.
Butler also became associated with Marcus Garvey and his Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Grenadian authorities blamed fires on the teachings of Garvey. From November 1927 until August 1940 there was a UNIA chapter in Grenada. 'Man's rise to greatness,' a famous speech delivered by Marcus Garvey in 1937, at the Queen's Park Pavilion in St. George's, may have been heard by Butler.
Butler's long history of trade union work in Trinidad paralleled the journeys of Grenadian men to Trinidad who became oil workers and lived in the oil district of Fyzabad. In January 1921, Butler landed in South Trinidad at the age of 24 where he was a pipe fitter at the Roodal Oil fields. He also was a preacher at the Moravian Baptist Church of Fyzabad. He lived in Fyzabad where 25% of the people were Grenadian. In 1929 his mobility was lessened by a permanent limp—the result of an industrial accident. Trade union work started for the man in 1935.
In March 1935, Butler led a 'hunger march' from the Apex oifields to Port of Spain for higher wages and improved working conditions. He launched his party 27 July 1936, called the British Empire Workers' [BEW] and Citizen's Home Rule Party [CHRP].
On 19 June 1937 the oil workers went on strike action at Fyzabad. Butler disappeared, thus the song "Where Was Butler?" by Calypsonian Atilla The Hun told everyone about this 'mystery'. In a couple of days, the action expanded into an all-island workers strike. Butler was finally arrested on September 27, 1937, tried for sedition and sentenced for two years. He was released in May 1939 and again detained on 28 November 1939 for a 5-year term in prison as a security risk.
Released in 1945, Butler led strikes in 1946 and ran for political office in 1950. According to writer Raffique Shah, "For Butler, race did not exist in his mind." In Shah's view: "What Butler did in 1948—give up his stomping ground in St. Patrick to his friend [Timothy] Roodal, and choosing instead to do battle against the powerful [Albert] Port of Spain—spoke volumes about the Chief Servant's view of the 'race' question." Butler lost the election to Gomes.
Butler died in Trinidad on Carnival Sunday 20th February, 1977. In 1981, "Liberation," the organ of the NJAC (National Joint Action Committee) printed the last words of Butler from his death bed:
NOTE: Labour Day in Trinidad currently falls on the anniversary of the Fyzabad rally on 19 June 1937. There is much more about Butler's trade union activities in Trinidad. The focus of this page is to form a portrait of this Grenadian and his links to and impact on his homeland. Check out Obika's "An Introduction to The Life and Times of T.U.B. Butler, the Father of the Nation; Jacobs' "Butler Versus the King," and Fedon Publishers' "In the Spirit of Butler" on the Bibliography page.
"As long as there is a single worker whose shack is broken down and is told you have no place in the area the fight must go on."
Described as militant and compassionate, fanatical and extreme, as a popular demagogue and a demanding activist, Butler gave rousing speeches, articulating worker grievances, using the Bible and its messages as allegories, figuratively clarifying the current situation of the workers. Butler also used words from hymns like:
I have a sword in my hand,
Help me to use it well . . .
Butler's speech from the dock, 9 December 1937, is a quotation taken from the edited records of the Supreme Court of Trinidad and Tobago, Port of Spain, concerning the 1937 trial of Uriah Butler and subsequent appeals from the book 'Butler versus the King: riots and sedition in 1937,' edited by W. Richard Jacobs:
'We too must be prepared to hand gifts to our fellows by sacrifices. We have to make sacrifices to make gifts. We are not in a position to make gifts without making sacrifices. So I want you to remember the words of John Ruskin: 'Out of the hands of pain and suffering more gifts have come to us than from any other source.' When you remember others you are bound to have a feeling to make sacrifices, as I feel where I am standing.
Yes, I can die. I can suffer pain. I can suffer anything in this fight for justice for the oppressed people of beautiful Trinidad. Make no mistake about it. This is a cause that demands real men as leaders. Yes, a time like this demands real men as followers. A time like this demands men, real men, men of opinion, men of will, men whom the lust of office cannot kill. Yes. Men with the soul of the Master, the mind of the Master to make sacrifices that others might enjoy a better an brighter day.
Where I am standing I am in a position to tell you that I have sworn to serve you loyally, faithfully and well, unto the end. There is no power in Heaven or in Hell for that matter to make me turn. There is no power, no bribe, to make me turn aside from the paths of truth and beauty and freedom. Beauty and freedom and all that these contain fall not like ripened fruit about our feet. We climb to them through years of sweat and pain, without life's struggle's none do you attain . . .
Yes, friends, I want you to take home with you the thought that at this very hour there are men and women who are greatly grieved at heart. I want you to conjure up in your minds the picture of an Ethiopian tent; a picture I drew before you a while ago; a picture of homeless people' a picture of gardens that were blooming but yesterday, now destroyed to make room for a tank spot.
I want you to take home with you the thought that these things will happen in the ordinary course of things, but that must not happen in Trinidad at the expense of poor humble village folks. That's the idea. We want you as humble workers to feel, to realise, and to know that you are not alone in this fight for equal rights, and equal opportunities, for existence.'"
Celebrated in song, the album "Where Was Butler?" was once produced:
[Recording History] FOLKLYRIC/ARHOOLIE / PI-161 (9048) (1989)
WHERE WAS BUTLER?
A CALYPSO DOCUMENTARY FROM TRINIDAD - Various Artists
A-1: Money Is King / The Tiger
A-2: The Gold In Africa / The Tiger
A-3: Send Your Children To The Orphan Home / The Lion
A-4: Paramaribo / The Caresser
A-5: Treasury Scandal / Atilla The Hun
A-6: I Don't Know How The Young Men Living / Atilla The Hun
A-7: Too Botheration / The Growler
A-8: Down The Road / The Tiger
B-1: The Strike / Atilla The Hun
B-2: Miss Marie's Advice / The Tiger
B-3: Where Was Butler? / Atilla The Hun
B-4: The Governor's Resignation / Atilla The Hun
B-5: We Mourn The Loss Of Sir Murchison Fletcher / Lord Executor
B-6: Mr. Nankivell's Speech / Atilla The Hun
B-7: Commission's Report / Atilla The Hun
B-8: Sedition Law / King Radio
[Current Listing] ARHOOLIE/FOLK LYRIC/CD 7004 (1991) - notes by Dick Spottswood
CALYPSOS FROM TRINIDAD: Politics, Intrigue & Violence in the 1930s, including the Butler Calypsos
- Here Now and Long Ago - Atilla The Hun and Lord Beginner
- Money is King - The Tiger
- The Gold in Africa - The Tiger
- Bargee Pelauri - The Lion
- Send Your Children to the Orphan Home - The Lion
- Paramaribo - The Caresser
- Ah, Gertie - The Caresser
- Treasury Scandal - Atilla The Hun
- I Don't Know How the Young Men Living - The Executor
- Shop Closing Ordinance - The Executor
- Too Botheration - The Growler
- The Rats - The Tiger
- Down the Road - The Tiger
- Try a Screw to Get Through - The Tiger
- The Strike - Atilla The Hun
- Miss Marie's Advice - The Tiger
- Where Was Butler? - Atilla The Hun
- The Governor's Resignation - Atilla The Hun
- We Mourn the Loss of Sir Murchison Fletcher - Lord Executor
- Mr. Nankivell's Speech - Atilla The Hun
- Commission's Report - Atilla The Hun
- Sedition Law - King Radio
- The Five Year Plan - Atilla The Hun
Partial lyrics from "Where Was Butler?" -
"I ask Butler what was the mystery
He said, 'Atilla, I was right in the city
Arrest by the police is what I really feared
So I just clip me moustache and I shave off me beard.'"