DURING the early part of 1962, two disquieting events took place in Trinidad and Tobago, both in politics and labour.
There were political differences between the government led by Premier Dr Eric Williams and Opposition Leader Dr Rudranath Capildeo over the issue of Independence for Trinidad and Tobago.
Capildeo was alleging that Indians were discriminated against and were "advocating for equitable treatment for this powerful minority group" who wanted "proportional representation and quotas in Parliament similar to the custom in Kenya and Cyprus".
But after three weeks of discussions, the issues were settled amicably in May 1962 at Marlborough House, London, England, with intervention from Reginald Maudling, Secretary of State for the Colonies.
In the end, an agreement was reached whereby Trinidad and Tobago would become independent on August 31, 1962.
During that time, there was a war of words between the executive of the already powerful Oilfields Workers' Trade Union (OWTU) and its president general and education and research officer, John Rojas.
The executive had accused Rojas of "failing to carry out the directives of the General Council of the union" and wanted him investigated and removed from office.
The impasse was settled on April 12, 1962, when Rojas resigned his position after serving as president general for 18 years.
His resignation was accepted and George Weekes was appointed to act as president general for the balance of the term.
By August 31, Trinidad and Tobago had become an independent nation with a Constitution that guaranteed equal rights to all citizens.
The OWTU introduced a constitution that gave individual members the right to vote into office a new executive.
The union had amended its constitution in 1961, to make it possible for every financial member to have a direct say in the affairs of the union through a system approved by the General Council.
At the time of the takeover by the new executive, Rojas was under constant pressure from a group calling itself the Rebels, headed by Weekes and other key members, including stalwarts such as Walter Annamunthodo, Donald Mike, Darnley Steele and Oswald James.
Before his resignation, Rojas was accused by the Rebels of failing to carry out the directives of the General Council, and calling an industrial strike in 1960 to buttress confidence among the membership of the union.
Those members in support of Rojas had argued that "it was during his term of office that a labourer's wage had increased from seven cents per hour to 73 cents in 1962, and the wages of a skilled worker had moved up from 13 cents per hour to $1.13 per hour."
This argument, however, had little effect on the popular cry that "Rojas must go and Weekes must come".
Weekes's meteoric rise to leadership in the union reflected the new thinking among the vast majority of workers who favoured greater militancy in the activities of the union.
Prior to his temporary election as president general, Weekes was an active member of the union's Pointe-a-Pierre Branch. He had joined the union in 1950, and one year later was elected to the position of branch president and leader of the rebel team.
The new executive then comprised Urilton Pierre, first vice-president, Donald Roberts, second vice-president, and Cyril Gonzales, general secretary.
Following the election, the union's executive embarked upon a programme to recruit qualified personnel to assist with negotiations.
First to be appointed was Bernard Primus in October 1962. Primus was appointed economic adviser to assist the union with its wage negotiations with Texaco, and matters relating to retrenchment of workers at British Petroleum.
But even as the union struggled with its problems with the oil companies, it was faced with industrial relations problems from workers attached to the union's central office on Lower Hillside, San Fernando.
Within their first year in office the workers had threatened to join the Federated Workers Trade Union if their working demands were not met.
Disciplinary action was taken against several workers and a strike followed the union's action. The matter was resolved amicably and the workers were allowed to join the OWTU as full-fledged members.
Apart from Weekes's ascendancy to the leadership of the union in 1962, in that year the last instalment of a bank loan which was negotiated in 1955 for the purchase of Palms Club at Pointe-a-Pierre Road, San Fernando, was completed.
Palms Club was purchased from politician and businessman Edward Lee to be used as a cultural and business centre of the union.
During the first year of Weekes's leadership, Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams had invited the union to submit proposals for Trinidad and Tobago's entry into the European Common Market.
So impressed was Williams with Weekes's presentation that he even invited him to Europe as adviser on matters pertaining to oil.
The year following independence the union was forced to take strike action against British Petroleum.
The company had indicated to the union that it proposed to retrench part of its workforce.
The union, in reply, called a strike that lasted 57 days.
When the strike was over, the cost to the union to support the strike was calculated at $31,188.
By the end of 1967, the OWTU was numerically and financially stronger under the leadership of Weekes. But problems within the executive began to surface in 1965 when Weekes decided to partner with Bhadase Sagan Maraj in his bid to replace the leader of the sugar workers.
On September 1967, WD Steele, treasurer of the OWTU, resigned, followed later on by several other members of the executive.
It was clear at the time that while Weekes's popularity was on the decline, his union's power only strengthened.
Weekes then decided to enter the political arena.
He teamed up with the newly formed Workers and Farmers Party headed by CLR James.
But having failed to secure a seat in Parliament, Weekes resigned as leader of the OWTU in June 1987, after serving for 25 years as president general of the OWTU. He was succeeded by Errol McLeod.
In the year of his retirement, Weekes was conferred with the Trinity Cross, Trinidad and Tobago's highest award.