ABOUT ARTHUR ANDREW CIPRIANI
The Cipriani College of Labour and Co-operative Studies is named after Arthur Andrew Cipriani, a distinguished son of Trinidad and Tobago, born in Port of Spain on January 31, 1875. He was of French-Corsican extraction, who attended St. Mary’s College in Port of Spain as a schoolboy.
Cipriani, one of the most important personalities in the history of Trinidad and Tobago, excelled in many fields, including sports, military service, public service and politics. He was an ardent sportsman. As a schoolboy and young adult, he played cricket and soccer and later in life, he was owner and trainer of thoroughbred horses.
At the outbreak of World War I, he enlisted in the British army. He rose to the rank of Captain in the British West Indies Regiment, itself not part of the British army, but instead reserved for the blacks of the colonies. This unit saw only limited action in the Middle East since it was the policy of the British never to allow black troops to engage in actual fighting against European troops. Captain Cipriani was one of the officers who brought charges against the British authorities that they had discriminated against his black regiment; however, the army dismissed these charges.
In 1919, soon after he returned to Trinidad from active service in World War I, he was elected President of the Soldiers and Sailors Union, an organization formed to promote the interests of the ex-servicemen. He also joined the Trinidad Workingmen’s Association, which had been founded in 1897 by Walter Mills, a Port of Spain druggist and which appealed to working-class support. He accepted the presidency of the TWA in 1923. Under Cipriani’s leadership, the TWA rapidly increased its membership and political influence. It became the main organization through which workers grievances were articulated.
From 1926 to 1941, he was a Port of Spain City Councillor and was elected Mayor on eight occasions. Cipriani used the local government forum to agitate on national issues including various social and constitutional reforms. During those years, he was the only legislator who consistently defended the workers interests against the employers and the government. In 1925, a new Constitution provided for six elected representatives in the Trinidad and Tobago Legislative Council. Cipriani was elected to the Port of Spain seat. He served as a member of the Legislative Council continuously until his death in 1945.
In 1934, refusing to register the Association as a union under the repressive Trade Union Ordinance 1932, Cipriani helped to rename the Association as the Trinidad Labour Party, an organisation in which many of the leaders of the political ferment of the 1930’s and the 1940’s cut their political teeth.
Because of his advocacy of social and political reforms that would bring some relief to the working class, Cipriani earned the sobriquet of “Champion of the Barefoot Man.” In his more than two decades in the political firmament, Cipriani devoted his considerable political acumen, his exceptional histrionic skills and his abundant energy to many progressive objectives, some of which were achieved in his lifetime. The list of causes for which he campaigned is a long one: A Trade Union Ordinance, national ownership of the Electricity and Telephone Companies, adult franchise and self-government for Crown Colonies, minimum wages, abolition of child labour, old age pensions, workmen’s compensation, slum clearance, workers housing schemes, improvement of the Dry River and Port of Spain Harbour Schemes. It is difficult to name a progressive political or social cause of his times, which Cipriani did not support.
Cipriani was also an unswerving advocate of West Indian nationhood (which he linked to self-government and adult franchise). His clear vision on these issues is epitomized in his memorable exhortation of the West Indian Conference in Dominica in 1933: “No Federation without Self-government and no Self-government without Adult Franchise.”
In recognition of his championing of the cause of the working class, this College, which was established in 1966 to provide education for workers, was named after Arthur Andrew Cipriani.