Quite recently popular and controversial PPP/C activist/councillor Ian Halls on his television programme ‘Under the Microscope,’ while commenting on Black History Month (February) expressed his concern about how reluctant we are to recognize and pay respects to the local heroes within our midst who have made valuable contributions to the community, especially if they are ordinary working-class individuals of no status. At the same time we hypocritically pay homage to notable personalities of international repute. I have to endorse this point of view, since we do behave that way. Too often through pettiness and envy we refuse to recgonise persons for who they are and their worth, and bestow upon them what they rightfully deserve, and this to my mind is an unpardonable sin. That aside, I noted that Halls’s comment was made on the exact date in February when a certain once prominent trade union activist in the Linden community was born, and whom bauxite workers once rallied around. It made me further reflect on how often we fail to acknowledge the genuine people around us.
Editor, the Linden personality I’m talking about is Desmond Moffatt, a person I’ve known and had working relations with for many many years through the trade union movement, the Organisation of Working People (OWP) and other social and political activities. Moffatt is no longer active in any movement, and lives a quiet life in the community. He can be seen every now and then making trips to the market and so on, but with the exception of a few adults and former bauxite workers, he is not much recognized by a large section of the community, as seems to be the case with some elderly folks. But Moffatt has played a commanding role in this community; his contribution has been grand, like a worker/community champion. His once radical, revolutionary and progressive stance helped to inspire and motivate the labour movement in Mackenzie/Linden. Bold and fearless he led from the front, stood up against both company and government, and challenged any senior personality who dared to stand in the way of workers’ rights. Older folks still remember and talk about a strike situation where Moffatt and colleagues made a noose on the big tree in Cuffy Square symbolically to hang the GMWU President Winston Verbeke who was due to address workers; he (Verbeke) was accused of “selling out.”
And though he did these things with aplomb and daring, his decency would not permit him to become disrespectful to anyone. He once addressed former President Forbes Burnham in a manner that angered him (Burnham) and caused him to slam his phone down. When Burnham was forced to come to the union hall (GMWU) on Wismar Street during a strike/workers meeting and was questioned by Moffatt and workers over slamming down his phone, Burnham responded, “Comrades, I put the phone down heavily.” We the younger ones looked to him for example and took courage from him. Moffatt to us – both young and old – was like a beacon of hope; not just a teacher, but a headmaster. At union meetings he was the one we waited on to challenge, oppose, question, explain, interpret, debate, guide and finally state the next move or direction we should take.
No meeting with union officials could have been completed without his input; he simply was in command and the workers delighted in him, because he made no fun with our bread and butter issues. This now quiet Lindener stands tall among the few who laid the foundation for militancy; he is one of the forerunners of the many gains and benefits that workers and the community received then – the Shopping Plaza comes to mind. This complex was a result of union-company negotiations and agreement, and remains the workers’ union and community building to date, even though at the moment they have no say in how it functions. But the man Moffatt as I know him would not be the least happy with me heaping. praise upon him, and giving him all the credit, without mentioning the positive contributions of other militant, brave and steadfast individuals within the union and workforce rank and file who were also champions of working class solidarity. These were men like Cedric Smith; Maurice Noble; Cedric Austin; Frank Abel; Leroy Jardim; Ian Halls; Brensford Seals; Malcolm Thompson; Horace Williams; Ivelaw Benjamin (Reds); Ashley Luke; Ali Majeed; Andy McKinnon; Cush; Todd; Afrani; Django; the Johnson Borthers; Sullivan; Campton Hall; Simon ‘Chicken without feathers’; ‘General’ Randolph Cato; ‘Powers’ Ewart Griffith and so many, many more brave and bold soldiers who tied a knot and dared to retreat. Yet forever in the midst of all this was Desmond Moffatt. But since this letter is dedicated in his honour, and though very belatedly on his birthday, I have no other choice than to blow his trumpet.
In many ways he qualified as a role model, which unfortunately many of us youngsters did not emulate. Discipline was then and still is his hallmark, and he lived by a number of strict rules: he worked strictly 40 hours, refusing overtime; would be at work on time and never quit before time; he stood up for principle – no wheel and deal; his word was his bond; was not one to talk with forked tongue; and very forthright. In a word, he lived what he preached. His moral values were strong and his ego never got the better of him; he never pushed himself for a position, and always he would say, “Is what the people/workers want, not me.” I submit that the man is of a rare type and to find one like him now would be like searching for a needle in a haystack. I know of times when he became bitter and frustrated either by the inaction of or lack of positive action by workers and even the community as a whole in defence of their own well-being.
And though many times he must have missed the mark, since as humans we all have our imperfections and have come up short, whatever his failings, they can be forgiven, moreso since the positives outweigh the negatives.
His discipline once caused me some uneasiness. I recalled he lent me a book Ten days that shook the world by John Reid, and told me he didn’t mind how long I took, just to care it, but I was careless and the back cover got damaged. I was so worried and reluctant to return it in that condition, that I searched in vain for a replacement. When finally I summoned the courage to return it, I was pleasantly surprised that he accepted it without even a murmur of fuss.
I’ve tried to roll back the years by giving an account of someone alive and well in our community whom I have known for many many moons and deserves to be honoured. This is a simple but serious and courageous man, never known for parties, ‘limes’ and late nights, whose interests were reading, philosophy, history, stories/tales, poetry, physical fitness, sport, expressive and appealing calypsos that addressed serious social issues, and of course, trade unionism and the workers’ struggle. So Editor, as Halls has noted, we do have outstanding people in our midst whom we should seriously consider for special commendation and awards. We have personalities with beautiful stories, eg, the late Hugh Harris of Harris Drug Store, regarded by many as the community doctor; Cecil Jones, the dramatist and indefatigable community activist; the late Edward ‘Screw’ Richmond, an outstanding sports personality; Desmond Hector, the 800m athlete; the first Guyanese Lindener to make it to the Olympics by doing his training only in the hills at Wismar and on MSC ground – Terrence Ali the boxer; and Ivelaw ‘Reds’ Benjamin, a radical worker and fighter. It is my wish that as a consequence of this letter we can put in place a formula by which we can single out and honour our outstanding personalities.