Adrian Cola Rienzi
Adrian Cola Rienzi

Adrian Cola Rienzi: History of Labour Day in Trinidad and Tobago

Adrian Cola Rienzi was born as Krishna Deonarine on January 19, 1905 and died as Desh Bandu on July 21, 1972. He was a trade unionist, civil rights activist, politician and lawyer.

Krishna Deonarine, born in Palmyra, Princes Town, Trinidad and Tobago, comes from a Brahmin Indo-Trinidadian family. Originally, their surname was Tiwari, and their ancestors hailed from North India.

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Seeking refuge from British retaliation due to their involvement in the Indian Rebellion of 1857, Krishna’s grandfather, Chaithnath Tiwari, fled Bihar, India, and settled in Trinidad. In Trinidad, he married Lakshmi, the granddaughter of a general who had also participated in the rebellion alongside Babu Veer Kunwar Singh.

Krishna’s father, Deonarine Tiwari, squandered the family’s inheritance, compelling them to relocate to his grandmother’s shop on Coffee Street in San Fernando. Despite attending Naparima College, Krishna had to abandon his studies during Form 3 due to financial difficulties.

Krishna adopted the name Adrian Cola Rienzi in 1927

After leaving school, Krishna secured a position as a law clerk at JC Hobson’s law firm, a prominent lawyer located on Harris Promenade in San Fernando. Hobson played a pivotal role in encouraging Krishna’s pursuit of knowledge by lending him books. It was through these books that Krishna became acquainted with the story of Cola di Rienzo, a 14th-century Italian activist and patriot.

Adrian Clarke, an English magistrate, also mentored Krishna during this time. Inspired by both Hobson and Clarke, Krishna aspired to become a lawyer. To mitigate potential obstacles resulting from his distinctly Indian name, Krishna decided to adopt the name Adrian Cola Rienzi in 1927. He chose “Adrian” after his mentor Adrian Clarke and “Cola Rienzi” after Cola di Rienzo.

Krishna, now known as Adrian Cola Rienzi, pursued his legal studies at Trinity College in Dublin, where he joined the Irish section of the League Against Imperialism. Although his original intention was to travel to India to combat imperialism, he was denied a visa. Consequently, Rienzi relocated to London in 1931, enrolling in the Middle Temple.


Cited as a ‘communist agitator’

During his time in London, Rienzi formed a close relationship with Shapurji Saklatvala, an Indian-born socialist and trade unionist who had served in the British Parliament. Rienzi collaborated with Saklatvala within the Indian Freedom League and the Indian Independence League, while also maintaining ties with the Irish Republican Congress and the US-based Universal Negro Improvement Association.

In 1934, Rienzi was called to the Bar and returned to Trinidad. However, his application for admission to the local Bar was initially rejected, citing his reputation as a “communist agitator.” It was only through the intervention of British Labour politician Stafford Cripps that Rienzi gained acceptance.


Adrian Cola Rienzi adopted the name Desh Bandhu in 1943

Adrian Cola Rienzi also served four terms on the San Fernando Borough Council (three as Mayor of San Fernando) and represented Victoria on the Legislative Council from 1937-1944. He then worked in the public service as a Crown Counsel.

After 1943, Adrian Cola Rienzi adopted the name Desh Bandhu, meaning “National Patriot” in Hindi. After adopting the name Desh Bandhu, Adrian Cola Rienzi continued to play an active role in Trinidad’s socio-political landscape.

He became a prominent figure in the labour movement and fought for the rights of workers. Rienzi founded the Federated Workers Trade Union (FWTU) in 1937, which aimed to address grievances and improve the working conditions of labourers in various industries.

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Advocate for fair wages, better treatment, and improved working conditions

As the leader of the FWTU, Desh Bandhu Rienzi organised strikes and protests to advocate for fair wages, better treatment, and improved working conditions for workers. He was known for his fiery speeches and charismatic leadership, which garnered him significant support from the working class.

Rienzi’s efforts were not limited to labour activism alone. He also championed the cause of Indian indentured labourers and fought against racial discrimination. Rienzi strongly believed in the principles of equality, justice, and national unity.

His activism and involvement in the labour movement led to conflicts with the colonial authorities, who often labelled him as a troublemaker and agitator. Despite facing opposition, Rienzi remained dedicated to his cause and continued to advocate for the rights of the working class.

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Committed to the principles of social equality, workers’ rights, and national liberation

Desh Bandhu Rienzi’s influence extended beyond Trinidad. He forged connections with international organisations and movements fighting against imperialism, such as the Indian National Congress and the Pan-Africanist movement. Rienzi’s efforts in bridging the gap between various anti-colonial movements earned him recognition as a leading advocate for social justice and decolonisation.

Throughout his life, Desh Bandhu Rienzi remained committed to the principles of social equality, workers’ rights, and national liberation. His legacy continues to inspire generations of activists and serves as a reminder of the ongoing struggle for justice and empowerment.

He founded both the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union and the All Trinidad Sugar Estates and Factory Workers Union and was involved in the establishment of three other trade unions.

In 1936, after breaking with Arthur Cipriani and his Trinidad Labour Party, Rienzi founded his own party, the Trinidad Citizens League, which was based on the workers in the sugar belt in mid and south Trinidad.

He was also the first president of the Trinidad and Tobago Trades Union Council, from its foundation in 1938 until 1944.

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Worked for rights of Indo-Trinidadians

In addition to working for workers’ rights, Rienzi also worked for the rights of Indo-Trinidadians. He helped secure more employment for Indo-Trinidadians in the public service, the right to cremation, the recognition of Hindu and Muslim marriages and the establishment of schools by non-Christian religious groups.


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