Arthur Andrew Cipriani
Arthur Andrew Cipriani

Arthur Andrew Cipriani: The history of Labour Day in Trinidad and Tobago

Arthur Andrew Cipriani lived the life of a remarkable person who left his mark on the history of Trinidad and Tobago. He was a visionary leader and prominent union organiser.

One of the three children of planter Albert Henry Cipriani from Santa Cruz, Arthur Andrew Cipriani was born in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad in 1875. According to author and historian CLR James, the Bonaparte family and the Cipriani family are closely related.

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His mother died from typhoid fever at an early age, while his father passed away shortly after. He was raised by his paternal aunt. Up to the age of sixteen years, he studied at St Mary’s College in Port-of-Spain.

Despite his academic achievements, Cipriani chose not to attend veterinary school after graduating from high school. He worked as a jockey and racehorse trainer, and was appointed as the secretary of the Trinidad Breeders’ Association.

Arthur Andrew Cipriani achieved prominence in the labour movement

In addition, Arthur Andrew Cipriani worked on cocoa farms that were owned by his friends and family members. He became an advocate for better working conditions and higher wages for the common people. He achieved prominence in the labour movement due to his ability to articulate the difficulties faced by workers.

He was involved in the recruitment of soldiers at the beginning of World War I. He later received the rank of captain with the British West Indies Regiment and enlisted in 1917.

In 1919, he founded the Trinidad Working Men’s Association, giving workers a forum to come together and demand their rights. The modern labour movement in Trinidad and Tobago was established by this organisation.

He came to the conclusion that the West Indian population was capable of self-government after being impressed by how they handled the logistics of modern warfare. Upon his return to Trinidad, he rose to prominence among both labourers and ex-soldiers, attracting both working-class Afro-Trinidadians and Indo-Trinidadians as followers.

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President of the Soldiers and Sailors Union

He was chosen as the President of the Soldiers and Sailors Union in 1919, a group that promoted the rights of former service members. He also became a member of the Trinidad Workingmen’s Association (TWA), serving as its president in 1923. Under his direction, the TWA expanded its membership and political clout, becoming the primary institution through which employees’ complaints were expressed.

Cipriani’s influence went beyond labour laws. He supported universal suffrage because he believed that every citizen should have a say in how the country developed.

Through Cipriani’s efforts, Trinidad and Tobago took a big step toward democracy in 1925 with the establishment of a representative government. The year 1925 saw the election of Arthur Andrew Cipriani as mayor of Port-of-Spain. In Trinidad’s first general election, he also won a seat on the Legislative Council by defeating oil magnate Randolph Rust.

On important issues like the minimum wage, pensions, universal suffrage, workers’ compensation, and child labour, Cipriani had the chance to advance social and constitutional reform with the help of this new platform.

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Served as councillor and was mayor 8 times

Arthur Andrew Cipriani served as a councillor for Port-of-Spain from 1926 to 1941, and he was chosen as mayor eight times. He was chosen in 1925 to serve as a member of the Port-of-Spain district in the Trinidad and Tobago Legislative Council, where he remained until his death in 1945.

As a supporter of self-governance, Cipriani declined to register the TWA under the Trade Union Ordinance of 1932 and instead reorganised it as the Trinidad Labour Party in 1934. Here, newcomers like Adrian Cola Rienzi and Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler developed the knowledge and abilities necessary to later change their focus and advance the fight for the rights of oilfield and sugarcane workers, respectively.

The Mayor of Port-of-Spain from 1926 to 1941 was Arthur Andrew Cipriani. He was elected eight times and worked to protect working-class rights from the government and their employers. He served as the chairman of the newly formed Carnival Improvement Committee in the late 1930’s, which worked to promote Trinidad’s Carnival as a must-see travel destination. Cipriani served on the Legislative Council until his passing in 1945.

Cipriani’s commitment to serving the public and unwavering dedication to the welfare of his fellow citizens was not ignored. He was chosen as Port-of-Spain’s mayor in 1941. Initiatives to enhance housing, education, and sanitary conditions in the city were prominent during his term as mayor.

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Supporter of the cultural heritage of Trinidad and Tobago

Cipriani persisted in his fight for social justice even after he stopped running for office. He was a fervent supporter of the cultural heritage of Trinidad and Tobago, and the rights of the disabled, and marginalised groups.

It is impossible to overstate the influence Captain Arthur Andrew Cipriani had on Trinidad and Tobago. He was essential in establishing the country’s labour movement, defending workers’ rights, and laying the foundation for democratic rule. Generations have been inspired by his unwavering efforts and vision, which serve as a constant reminder of the value of equality, justice, and the effectiveness of group action.

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Statue honouring Arthur Andrew Cipriani

He passed away on April 18, 1945, and was laid to rest in Port-of-Spain’s Lapeyrouse Cemetery. On April 17, 1959, Chief Minister Dr Eric Williams had a statue honouring Cipriani’s contributions to Trinidad and Tobago erected at the corner of Independence Square and Frederick Street in Port-of-Spain.

Dr Eric Williams proclaimed at the time: “Captain Cipriani is the pioneer of the nationalist movement of Trinidad and Tobago. With the unveiling of this statue, we honour our own historical advancement, our own constructive action, our own native history created by native hands, and the aspiration of our native peoples.”

@sweettntmagazine Arthur Andrew Cipriani: The history of Labour Day in Trinidad and Tobago Arthur Andrew Cipriani lived the life of a remarkable person who left his mark on the history of Trinidad and Tobago. He was a visionary leader and prominent union organiser. One of the three children of planter Albert Henry Cipriani from Santa Cruz, Arthur Andrew Cipriani was born in Port-of-Spain, …Read More » #labourday #mayday #june19 #labour #longweekend #trinidadandtobago #laborday #cipriani #uriahbutler #labourdayweekend #workersday #union #strike #workers #happylabourday #fyzabad #labourparty #worldlabourday #work #internationalworkersday #votelabour #holiday #trinidad #tobago #labordayweekend #internationallabourday #happylaborday #workersrights #betterpay #socialism ♬ original sound – Sweet TnT Magazine

The Cipriani College of Labour and Cooperative Studies (CCLCS), which opened its doors in 1966 and bears Cipriani’s name, was created to offer worker and trade union education.

With the personal and financial support from Trinidadian cricket player Learie Constantine, CLR James was able to publish The Life of Captain Cipriani: An Account of British Government in the West Indies in 1932. The Hogarth Press of Leonard and Virginia Woolf released an edited version in 1933 under the title The Case for West Indian Self-Government.

Arthur Andrew Cipriani


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