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October webinar on life of ‘mighty’ Joe Young, trade unionist extraordinaire

“[Joe Young] was in his 30s when he led the bus strike that changed the nation, and when he spoke at the funeral of Basil Davis, one of the revolutionaries killed in 1970.

“As a young person he was making real change, not just for himself but for a large number of people who had been systemically disenfranchised. He did it with integrity and with humanity and we celebrate that in this webinar…”

The following is the press statement from the Universal Movement for the Reconstruction of Black Identity (UMROBI) and The Cloth, a design company co-founded by Joe Young’s son, Robert:

Photo: Late trade unionist Joe Young.

Almost nine years to the day in October 2012 when he departed this life, trade unionist Joe Young, a hero of the T&T labour movement, will be the subject of a webinar commemorating his life and contribution to Trinidad and Tobago.

Organized by the Universal Movement for the Reconstruction of Black Identity (UMROBI) and The Cloth, a design company co-founded by Young’s son Robert, the webinar is scheduled to come off ‘live’ on YouTube from 5.30 pm (AST) on Sunday October 3, 2021.

Chairing the event will be UMROBI chairman, Winston Suite, UTT professor emeritus, who will also deliver the opening address.

The proceedings are divided into different areas of focus: historicizing Joe Young’s place in trade unionism, politics and the economy; contextualizing the gains and losses of the trade union movement in contemporary society and politics; and the life of Joe Young as a man.

Joe’s brother Allan Young and his friend Ferdie Ferreira are included on a distinguished panel of speakers assembled for the occasion.

Photo: PNM founding member Ferdie Ferreira who was a close friend of the late union leader.
(Copyright Kelly Ann Bobb)

The list also includes Oberlin College Professor Emeritus James Millette; The UWI former deputy principal, Prof Emerita Rhoda Reddock; retired Industrial Court justice Albert Aberdeen; Industrial Court Justice Gregory Rousseau; Canon Dr Knolly Clarke; trade unionists and activists Ida Le Blanc, Clive Nunez, Jude Alibey, Trevor Contaste, Carlton ‘Man Child’ Collins, Cecil Paul, Alwyn Brewster and Mario Als.

Former TTDF lieutenant Raffique Shah, whose name will be forever associated with the 1970 uprising, is also expected to speak while Josanne Leonard, a high-profile teenage revolutionary during the February Revolution, will serve as rapporteur.

The February Revolution was but one of the many critically important moments in Trinidad labour history in the second half of the 20th century in which Young played a central role.

“He was in his 30s when he led the bus strike that changed the nation,” said Young (R), “and when he spoke at the funeral of Basil Davis, one of the revolutionaries killed in 1970.

Photo: Mourners march down Frederick Street on 9 April 1970 during the funeral of the slain Basil Davis.
(Courtesy Embau Moheni/NJAC)

“As a young person he was making real change, not just for himself but for a large number of people who had been systemically disenfranchised. He did it with integrity and with humanity and we celebrate that in this webinar.”

Apart from the focus on the life of Joe Young as a man, the webinar will attempt to historicise Young’s place in trade unionism, politics and the economy as well as contextualise the gains and losses of the trade union movement in contemporary society and politics.

Born in 1932, at a time when the colony was wracked with labour troubles, Joe was himself the son of Thomas Young, who was instrumental in unionizing workers in New York in the 1930s and 40s.

In 1961, Joe Young founded the Transport and Industrial Workers’ Union (TIWU). As head of that union, he organised bus strikes that eventually led to the formation of the PTSC, the national bus service, and included the much ballyhooed one in 1969 which is widely recognised as having played a part in triggering the February Revolution.

Canon Dr Knolly Clarke, cleric, social activist and lecturer at the Cipriani Labour College will be among the speakers.
(Copyright Kelly Ann Bobb)

A vocal opponent of the Industrial Stabilization Act of 1965, Young became one of the visible leaders of the Revolution and, in the mid-1970s, was one of the founders of the United Labour Front (ULF), going on to sit as one of that party’s representatives in the Senate in 1976.

After a career as an industrial relations advisor to a number of trade unions, he was appointed to the Industrial Court in 2000.

Before he died on 1 October 2012, he declined a national award, famously declaring: “If I am to be honoured, it must be by the workers for whom I have fought and not by the Government against whom I have fought.”

Young (R) said this commemorative event to honour his father’s legacy has been long in the planning and was forced to move online by the Covid-19 pandemic. This, however, is a positive since it has created an opening for many more people to have access to the event so a whole new generation can learn about Joe Young’s life and work.

Photo: Robert Young, son of Joe Young, and one of the event’s organisers.
(Copyright Kelly Ann Bobb)

Remembering Joe Young: An Online Discourse to Commemorate the Contribution of Joe Young to the Trade Union Movement and the Working Class Struggles in Trinidad is free and open to the public.

More information can be had by going to the Instagram page, theclothofficial.

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