Feb 26, 2012 News
Pull quote: “Back in the old days, persons had nowhere to go, so they stayed on and fight when faced with challenging work-related issues and matters, but today, instead of staying and fighting, they say ‘I goin’ to the Islands, I ain’t able. And because of this, it weakens the root of the movement.”
By Leon Suseran
Samuel Theophilus Fraser popularly called ‘Sam T’ of Vryman’s Erven, New Amsterdam, is an accomplished
trade unionist. His name would most certainly ring a bell in the mining sector, bauxite to be more specific. He is proud of his achievements and was careful to point out that he was one of the only trade unionists in the country that represented workers’ rights and interests while being employed in the company at the same time.
But before he entered trade unionism, Fraser was a dedicated young policeman- -a traffic rank at that. He spent a lot of time on his Honda motorcycle on the road ensuring there was law and order on our roadways. He was stationed for quite some time at Leonora on the West Coast of Demerara and later at Adventure on the Corentyne.
Born at Weldaad on the West Coast of Berbice, on August 29, 1949. He was popularly known in his village as ‘Bryan’, “and it was 14 of us kids…4 died and 10 were left”. His mother, Rose, was a huckster and his father, Daniel, a farmer. He automatically became the eldest in the home after an older sister left to live with her grandmother. This gave additional responsibilities to young Samuel, who recounted “I used to take care of the little ones when my mom and dad left home for the day—either she gone to town to sell or my father gone to the farm”.
Samuel attended Belladrum Primary School, which was at the time known as St Alban’s Primary, but had to leave school at the tender age of 13 to assist financially in the home. He did pass Fourth Standard and “I went to Fifth Standard…but I did not spend too long in Form One because I had to remain at home with the smaller ones”.
He spent some time in the home, “when both my mom and dad used to go away for the week to cut rice in the Abary Creek and so, and they would come down on weekends to be at home with the kids, to wash their clothes, cook for them, but we would have neighbours and so—and my grandmother who lived in front—would overlook us”.
After crop season in 1964, his uncle who was a diamond-seeker acquired some diamonds, “bush men called it a big shout” and “he had a lot of money so he purchased a store – a cake shop in those days”.
Having only one child, Samuel’s uncle asked that he be around to assist in the store, “so I was there in the shop and they purchased another one (shop) and I ran it”.
“I became like a son to him and I can remember the first bank account I acquired was by him. He took me to Royal Bank (of Canada) in Georgetown and he opened an account for me with $100—which was a lot of money then,” he recalled.
His uncle then purchased a car, and at age 17, Samuel applied for his hire car licence. “I obtained a licence to drive a private car.” These were all opportunities, according to Fraser, to make him more marketable.
During this period of running the shop, he met his wife, Urna Miller. She used to come and purchase stuff from the shop. She was 12 and he was just 14, “and we used to play and one day the guys at the shop (his friends) told me that she was a decent girl and that girl is one who can make you a wife… talk to her seriously”. Fraser noted that the relationship started to develop into a serious “boyfriend/girlfriend relationship”.
He joined the Police Force on April 1, 1969, as was later posted at the Traffic Department in Leonora, West Coast Demerara. He served there for some time.
“Things happened quickly that year. My mother went and asked home for the girl…and then I wrote to her (Urna) and I was accepted and the very year, 1969, my mom encouraged us to engage, because she said always marry a girl you know about—somebody from within your area.” They got married on December 2, 1970. Their union produced five children – Stacey, Tracey, Royden, Rhonda and Ronnette. He did have a daughter, VIssil, prior to his marriage.
The couple has been together for 42 years now.
EDUCATION DRIVE AND BAUXITE INDUSTRY
Adventure commenced for young Sam at 18 years, when his uncle passed away and he was identified to visit the Kurupung Mountains in the interior to the diamond field to attend to his (uncle’s) gold and diamond claims.
In those days, due to limited means of transportation, this trip took him one week by water and land through Bartica. He outlined the painstaking process whereby he and some friends climbed the various mountain ranges and even wanted to give up and go back home.
He climbed those mountains within the range such as ‘Wind Breaker’, ‘Long Lady’, ‘Archie Bruk me up’ and the biggest one ‘Look and
Weep’ which was “high like the clouds and when you looked down you saw Kaieteur Falls and the river very small”.
Samuel enrolled for several correspondence courses with Bennett College in England. The courses he completed boosted his knowledge and enabled him to write the Police Entrance Exams which he passed with flying colours. He managed to acquire Intermediate Bookkeeping via self studies, Principles of Accounts through GCE and Secretarial Science at the New Amsterdam Technical Institute (NATI).
Approximately six years after marriage, on April 1, 1976, he left the Guyana Police Force due to stagnated promotions and joined the Bauxite Industry at Berbice Mining Enterprises (Bermine) Everton (East Bank Berbice) as an accounts clerk. There, he would begin his career in trade unionism. In this instant, his previous jobs and experience served as an asset to him. But before he did anything else, he completed his Diploma in Accounting at the University of Guyana in 1989.
It was at that opportunity that his journey as a trade unionist commenced, due to the fact that there was a particular supervisor, who was very aggressive towards subordinate workers in the department, and Fraser, with his police knowledge and experience, challenged the individual. The person approached him arrogantly and pointed a pen into Mr Fraser’s face, almost sticking him in the eye. This sparked a conflict and Fraser was determined to have the matter resolved. After lengthy deliberations, the supervisor was forced to apologize and with this occurring, it brought the dawn for Mr Fraser’s Trade Union activities. Further, he was unanimously elected shop steward for the Finance Department in the Clerical and Technical Branch.
“We had a meeting and I was elected and appointed in 1977. I was very active, representing workers and shortly after I was promoted to Assistant Secretary.”
He said he was tutored by Luther Phillips and Cecil Phillips, and Keith Murray to whom he is very grateful for training. He was then appointed National Treasurer of the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union in November 1978 and was seconded to Linden where he spent the next four years.
Fraser attended the Critchlow Labour College where he did a one-year course in Industrial Relations. He returned to Everton in the Finance section “and became the Branch Secretary in the Clerical Branch and two weeks after I was promoted to Supervisor (a foreman status)”. He was also a member of the Guyana Mining Enterprise (Guymine) Workers’ Pension and Thrift Plan and President for the Workers’ Club and Vice-president for the Bermine Management Centre. He attended numerous Trade Union Conferences including a Bauxite Union Conference in Rio de Janiero, Brazil in 1980 – and a Safety, effects of noise in the workplace workshop in Barbados in 1994.
DECLINE IN BAUXITE and POST- RETRENCHMENT YEARS
In 1990, when the industry started to decline, Fraser recalls that Lincoln Lewis asked him to be a full- time officer in the Bauxite Supervisors’ Union. He was the Education, Research and Field Officer, where he represented Omai workers from 1992.
Fraser pointed out that Omai did a lot of retrenchment during that time “because the activities scaled down and the cost to run the industry skyrocketed”. And due to this, the union was getting smaller, and it was then left upon Fraser to expand the base of the union.
The name was then changed to the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers’ Union so that this could have been accomplished.
He asked then Human Resources Manager of the Union, Mr Norman Semple, to be retrenched (so that he could have received his benefits) in 1995, but Semple advised him to put his request in writing, “and I wrote it and sent it and I was put on the retrenchment list”.
Later, Fraser became First Chairman of the Bauxite Credit Union and was doing credit union work full-time. In 1997, Carville Duncan from the Guyana Labour Union asked him to join to represent workers at the Municipalities in Berbice (Corriverton, Rose Hall and New Amsterdam). This he did from 1997 to 1999. He joined Stabroek News in 1999 as an Advertising Representative in Berbice on April 1, 1999. In 2006, he became the Human Resources Manager with the Dipcon Road Building firm until their projects ended and “had a short stint with Roshan Khan Security as Administrative Manager”.
Coincidentally, Mr Fraser started several jobs on April 1: the police force, Bermine, Dipcon, RK Security and Stabroek News. “It was a coincidence. Anytime I applied for a job and the employment would start on April 1, I would not lose that interview,” he reflected with a smile. Today, he is taking it easy at home, assisting his grands with their homework and tending to his chickens. He is also a trained mediator and enjoys helping people with their issues.
THOUGHTS ABOUT BAUXITE AND TRADE UNIONISM
Mr Fraser opined that, “Bauxite is on the move…and now would play an important role if you hadn’t the Chinese and Russians there. The High Grade Bauxite is being exported for Low Grade Bauxite so we lose there, a lot. In our time, there was the Calcined and MAZ bauxite but now, they just dry all and export it and not classify them”.
“The problem now is that these guys came here with a view to manipulate the system and to extract the…we got the best bauxite in the world, the Sweet Ore, and if we should mine the bauxite ourselves, it would have been better; either we or the Canadians,” he said.
“Bauxite could have done a great lot for the country, because when things are down with sugar, the bauxite used to be up…both products never used to be down and up at the same time….so the income generation – one used to brace the other when one is down. So I feel that these guys who come now, they come to exploit it, and this country ain’t getting anything from it, they robbing us.”
“The politicians have to review the contracts given to Rusal and Bosai.”He added that one of the things he is not pleased with is the way they treat workers.
Speaking about the state of trade unionism in the country today, our ‘Special Person’ believes that “it is on the downturn and what has contributed is the (lack of) training”.
“Most of the trade union leaders back in the day had to go to Critchlow Labour College, because of the subvention that was taken away, the training stopped, and as a result of that, workers are a bit oblivious of their rights within the workplace. Migration has also contributed to the weakening of the trade union activity.”
“Back in the old days, persons had nowhere to go, so they stayed on and fight when faced with challenging work-related issues and matters, but today, instead of staying and fighting, they say ‘I goin’ to the Islands, I ain’t able. And because of this, it weakens the root of the movement.”
Samuel Theophilus Fraser is truly an inspirational Guyanese, he is one of those persons who have definitely made their impression and left an indelible mark on this great country.
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