TRIBUTE BY DAVID ABDULAH POLITICAL LEADER OF THE MOVEMENT FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE AT THE FUNERAL SERVICE OF TEDDY BELGRAVE OUR PARTY’S EDUCATION OFFICER WEDNESDAY JULY 24TH, 2013 On behalf of the members of the labour movement for whom Teddy was perhaps the greatest teacher and a comrade; and on behalf of the Movement for Social Justice of which Teddy was a founding member and leading light; and on behalf of all those who shared Teddy’s passion for justice and fairness; I express deepest sympathy to the children, siblings and other members of Teddy’s family on his sudden and untimely passing; and thank you for giving me the privilege of offering this tribute to him. “Those who do not count”. Those words will forever be etched in the collective memory of those of us in the MSJ and the labour movement. They were the words of Teddy Belgrave and sum up in a single phrase his philosophical position: this society is organized in such a way that there are those who count and those who do not count. Others have described this dichotomy as being between the have’s and the have nots; or between the rich and powerful on the one hand and the poor and powerless on the other. More recently in the US the anti-austerity movement coined the phrase – we are the 99%. But I think that Teddy’s phrase sums it up much better because those who do not count – the ordinary people, the working men and women and their families – describes why there is so much injustice in this land of ours, a land that is wealthy beyond measure. The fact that people suffer for decent medical care; or that the majority of our children are routinely failed by education system; or that people have to beg for decent housing; or struggle with food prices on a minimum wage – is all because those in control of the economic and political system do not suffer these injustices on a daily basis. They therefore have no impetus to change the system for they are primarily concerned about themselves. The interests of the majority – those who don’t count – are not the concern of those who control the power, except at election time when those who do not count, count only as votes, as numbers.
For all his adult life Teddy Belgrave committed himself to those who do not count. He was adamant that the system had to be changed so that each and every citizen could live a decent human existence. Teddy hated injustice and people being treated unfairly and disrespected. He was passionate about this and always expressed these views openly and strongly. But he was never an armchair critic. He sought to take action, to change things: to right the wrongs. Thus it was not surprising that as a young student at the Sir George Williams University (now called Concordia University) in Montreal, Teddy became active in radical politics. He was part of the students group that organised the historic Black Writers’ Conference in Montreal in 1968 at which Walter Rodney, Stokely Carmichael, CLR James were but some of the keynote speakers. It was the banning of Rodney’s return to UWI, Mona by the Jamaican government that sparked widespread protests in that island. Teddy was one of the student leaders who occupied a campus building in protest against the racism of a lecturer, which conflict escalated into the infamous burning of the Computer Centre and the subsequent arrest and trial of many West Indian students, Teddy and his wife Valerie amongst them. The Sir George Williams affair precipitated protests by students and progressive trade union and other activists in Trinidad and Tobago against Canadian owned banks on February 26th, 1970. The protests developed into one of the most powerful mass movements in this country’s history. On his return to Trinidad and Tobago, Teddy got active in the National Joint Action Committee but in early 1971 Teddy, Russell Andalcio and others broke with NJAC as they were of the view that the ideology of “black power” or, as it would have been described then “cultural nationalism” limited the possibilities of bringing about fundamental change. In Montreal Teddy, Val and others were exposed to other ideas of radical politics and he brought this to the task of change in the interest of those who do not count. Around him were young activists – both on and off the UWI St. Augustine campus – and we read all the classical works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Mao, Fanon, Che. But Teddy was never dogmatic in his thinking. Thus it was that we also read and held in high esteem the far less heralded Amilcar Cabral. I never forget the exchange that some of us had with Trevor Munroe in the birdong panyard on campus. Trevor, then being seen as a
leading ideologue tried to pin us on where we stood ideologically – Lenin, Mao, Che. And Teddy simply said – we are closest to Cabral. Trevor was somewhat confused. A similar reflection of this was in his seeing the political value of being involved in the steelband. Pan, for Teddy was not simply about the music, it was an affirmation of his belief in the institutions created by those who do not count. I remember some other political activists ridiculing Teddy for starting birdsong, since for them, panmen were lumpen and thus not revolutionary! How little did they know of our society. Teddy’s view of popular culture were in sync with two other outstanding radical activists who became our mentors – John La Rose and Lennox Pierre. Teddy’s faith in the institutions created by those who do not count is rooted in his understanding of social change. For him the mass movement was all important. In Teddy’s own words: “The mass movement is the term used to describe the political activity and self-organisation of the lower strata of society. They engage in these activities so as to advance their social, economic, cultural and political interests. This agenda is continuous as contradictions become resolved, new contradictions present themselves. It can be characterized, therefore, by a series of political actions of varying intensities – political ebbs and flows. From time to time, in its march forward, it places on the political stage of history its leaders and even whole classes from amongst its ranks. The mass movement engages, sometimes, in tactical compromises, even to the extent of establishing political alliances with groups or classes outside its border” The mass movement was a constant in all that Teddy did. It took him to the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union, following Lennox Pierre’s strong appeal. Lennox it was who encouraged George Weekes to have Teddy re-establish the Union’s Education and Research Department. The fact that almost 40 years after, the OWTU has the strongest and best programme of education and research of any trade union in the English speaking Caribbean is living testimony to Teddy’s legacy. He left the OWTU so as to allow the work to continue devoid of any internal conflict between the older heads in the Union and the young radicals who were being supported by Weekes. Although in the more staid environment of the teaching service, Teddy never wavered from his commitment. He therefore threw himself wholeheartedly
into the struggle of teachers for a single union - TTUTA - and his contribution to that union was no less valuable than his work in the OWTU. He always believed that in spite of so many mitigating factors, teachers had an important role in the progressive labour and mass movement and he did everything to encourage and convince them of this. In the latter part of his life his trade union “home” was the Communication Workers’ Union. This was quite natural because of the long political relationship which he had with Lyle Townsend, the outstanding leader of that union. Teddy wrote the history of the CWU, an important work entitled “Dare to Struggle” and though much of his time was spent there he rarely turned down a request to facilitate seminar sessions at the OWTU and other unions. All this work in the labour movement had two related objectives – the strengthening of the Butlerite tradition in the movement; and the building of a political party that would truly represent the interests of those who do not count. Teddy was therefore part of the formation of the original United Labour Front in January 1976 and served on its Central Committee. He was at that time in the OWTU. He was an integral part of the so called Shah Faction of the ULF when that party split in 1977. The Shah faction eventually became the Committee for Labour Solidarity (Preparatory) in 1981 and Teddy was a leading member of its Steering Committee. When the CLS transitioned into a party - the Movement for Social Transformation (MOTION) in 1989, Teddy was our General Secretary. MOTION was very well poised to challenge those who controlled power but was affected by an internal conflict. This pained Teddy immensely because he saw two decades of patient and difficult work of building, being destroyed by some whom he had once trusted. He often lamented in those years of the mid to late 1990’s – “boy, you could imagine if we had MOTION now!” But his commitment to those who do not count was unwavering and so he, together with Lyle Townsend, Roosevelt Williams and I would meet – as the remnants of MOTION to discuss the political developments of the day, the state of the mass movement and its leadership and organize to build a political party once again. I likened this process to the Long March in China.
And, the work did take place as evidenced by the formation of the Movement for Social Justice. Teddy was a founding member and served as our Education Officer. He was very happy with the development of the MSJ. As he quipped to me – “things are just going perfect. We just have to continue to do the work and have faith in the mass movement”. And his last words to me a few hours before he lapsed into a deep sleep were “Things are going to work out”. Ralph Haynes, an old friend and comrade of Teddy’s, said to me the day after Teddy passed that Teddy was the architect. That he was, but he was also a master builder. He had a vision. He believed in that vision and he planned and worked and built organizations that would be dedicated to achieving that vision: the vision where those who today do not count would one day, but must, hold the reins of power. Teddy Belgrave has left a rich legacy for us in the Butlerite trade union movement and in the political struggle for social justice. His genuine love for humanity, his theoretical insights, political sagacity, tactical acumen and organizational ability are amongst the finest that can be found anywhere in the Caribbean. He deserves to be counted in the pantheon of Walter Rodney, Maurice Bishop and Tim Hector, all of whom were his contemporaries. Today, he is no doubt with them and his mentors – John La Rose and Lennox Pierre – with Pat Bishop very close by; discussing politics and the parlous state of this country which they all loved. And of course the discussion would continue more passionately when the subject of the steelband inevitably comes up! I end with the words of the Guyanese poet Martin Carter: “Dear Comrade If it must be you speak no more with me nor smile no more with me nor march no more with me then let me take a patience and a calm for even now the greener leaf explodes sun brightens stone and all the rivers burn
now from the mourning vanguard moving on dear comrade I salute you and say death must not find us thinking that we die” And because Teddy was an internationalist I add the words of the movements that were fighting against Portugese colonialism: A Luta Continua (which translated is “the struggle continues”); and those of Che to Fidel – “Hasta La Victoria Siempre”! (translation – Onwards, Always towards Victory!). Thank You!
Published on Jun 15, 2014