Albert Gomes
Albert Maria Gomes

Albert Gomes: History of Labour Day in Trinidad and Tobago

Albert Gomes was born in Belmont, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad on March 25, 1911. He played a significant part in the establishment of the development of the trade union movement in Trinidad and Tobago.

Ever since the 1930’s, he was an active trade union leader. He was a unionist and politician, and was the first Chief Minister of Trinidad and Tobago.

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He was the founder of the Political Progress Groups and later led the Party of Political Progress Groups. He was active in the formation of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) in Trinidad and Tobago.

Albert Gomes established The Beacon

In the 1930’s, Albert Maria Gomes made demands for workers’ rights, and improved salaries, and also criticised the colonial power structure with revolutionary arguments. In the 1930’s, he also established a literary magazine called The Beacon.

When the colonial government banned an issue of Time Magazine which referred to the Caribbean islands as a “dung heap of empire”, he got hold of a copy and published it on the front page of “The People Newspaper” he edited.

When the paper’s office was raided, he published that as well. The Beacon closed its doors in 1933 and Albert Gomes began working in a pharmacy which his father owned.

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Fought for better working conditions, wages and free speech

Albert Gomes contested the Port-of-Spain Council elections, organised workers and formed the Federal Trade Union. He fought on behalf of the lower class, for better working conditions and wages.

He fought for free speech and citizens’ right to assemble. At a point, political meetings were banned in Woodford Square, Port-of-Spain. He used his voice to demand the right to assembly and free speech.

During an argument with Mayor Arthur A Cipriani, he made a scene by lying flat on his back on the floor, when he was asked to leave the Parliamentary Chamber. Gomes was over 300 pounds, so it took several officers to remove him from the Chamber. He eventually returned and the motion was accepted.

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Built FWTU that played critical role in establishment of trade unions

During the 1940’s, Albert Gomes was elected the President of the Federated Workers Trade Union (FWTU) working together with Quintin O’Connor as its Secretary.

Gomes and his team were successful in building up the FWTU, an organisation which played a critical role in the establishment of trade unions in Trinidad and Tobago.

After the labour riots of 1938, Albert Gomes was elected to the Port-of-Spain City Council. Which he served for 9 years.

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Won the First Election in 1946

In 1945, he contested and won the seat on the Legislative Council, as a member of the West Indian National Party (WINP) which was held by Mayor Cipriani.

He won the First Election held under adult suffrage that was held in 1946, (which allowed adults from 21 years of age to vote).

In 1946, he was the Chief Delegate for Trinidad and Tobago at the conference of the Federation held in Jamaica. Many of his principles were adopted by other West Indian leaders. ​

In 1947, as a member of the Reform Committee, he proposed changes to the Legislative Council, which allowed the people to have a voice in the legislative process.

From 1950 to 1956, Gomes was re-elected to the Legislative Council and served as the pre-Independence Minister of Labour, Industry and Commerce. He was the leader of the Conservative Party.

He was the first Minister of Labour, Industry and Commerce.

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Defended calypso, steel band and Shouter Baptist

While minister, he led a delegation of calypsonians to protest censorship at the British Governor.

Elected to the House of Representatives, he represented St George East.

He publicly defended the steel band movement.

He demanded an end to the censorship of calypso. While minister, he led a delegation of calypsonians to protest censorship at the British Governor’s house.

He fought for the Shouter Baptist whose worship had been banned since the First World War, who was liberated in 1951.

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Leader of Political Progress Groups

Albert Gomes was the leader of Political Progress Groups (POPPG). From 1958, he served as a member of the West Indies Federal House of Representatives, which dissolved with the break-down of the Federation in 1962.

When the POPPG was defeated by the only nine-month-old People’s National Movement (PNM) in the 1956 election by winning 13 out of the 24 seats (that is, 1,458 votes more than the POPPG), Gomes took the defeat very hard and left Trinidad to live in England. He later passed away in 1978.

He once said, “The worst bedevilment of all is being in exile within one’s own skin.” He wrote, “It was the feeling that our right to be ourselves was sacred that spurred me to protest all acts of cultural imposition.”

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