History at a Glance


Formal labour education in Trinidad and Tobago is a relatively recent development. In referring to the subject of labour education, the 1950 Report of the Labour Department observed that there was very little achievement in the field of Trade Union education and that study and discussion groups were the exception rather than the rule.

However, in the early years of the 1950’s, a few trade unions were taking their first steps in labour education as a result of offers made by affiliates of the British Trade Union Congress to enroll a limited number of Trinidad and Tobago trade union members in correspondence courses in Trade Unionism and Industrial Relations.

Trade Union education at the national level was first introduced in 1957, when, through its Ministry of Labour, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, in collaboration with the University of the West Indies, sponsored a series of short courses on Trade Unionism. The training covered principles, practices and laws relating to trade unions and industrial relations, the management of trade unions, and also foundation courses in Civics and Economics. These course offerings were broadened over the next six years and eventually in 1963 they took the form of annual training programmes for trade unionists and management personnel.

Responding to requests from the participants in these courses for even more opportunities for training and education in labour relations, and in an endeavour to put the training arrangements on a firmer footing, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago in 1961 turned its attention to the setting up of a Labour Education Centre. In that year, it appointed a committee to consider the establishment of such a Centre which, it was envisaged, would replace the ad hoc training with regularly scheduled intensive courses within wider programmes of study. The committee did in fact recommend the establishment of a Trade Union Centre and it was proposed that the Centre should be under the administrative umbrella of the University of the West Indies.

During the Prime Minister’s conference with the Trade Union Movement in early 1963 there was further discussion between the Prime Minister, Dr Eric Williams, and representatives of the Trade Union Movement about a Trade Union Centre. The conference adopted a resolution of one of its committees that a Labour College should be established to provide trade union training and worker education, to conduct seminars and courses and other activities in the field of Industrial Relations and to undertake research into problems of Labour. The conference also adopted the recommendation that the College should be named “the Cipriani Labour College” and that one of its Halls should be named after Mr Quintin O’Connor (1908- 1958), a trade unionist who holds a place of honour in the trade union history of Trinidad and Tobago.

Following this conference, many details had to be worked out and steps had to be taken to obtain technical assistance from the International Labour Organisation. The ILO agreed to make available an expert in the field to assist with the establishment of the College. It took some time to find a suitably qualified person to serve for the required period of time.

Eventually, in mid-1966, the ILO was able to secure the services of Mr. Max Swerdlow, Education Director of the Canadian Labour Congress, who arrived on 19 August 1966 and immediately assumed duties as the first Director of the College.

In August 1966, Government appointed a Board of Governors with representatives of the Trade Union Movement, the University of the West Indies, the Government and the Public. The Board was given the responsibility for the management and development of the College. the Cipriani Labour College Act, No 4 of 1972, provides the legal framework for the functioning of the College. The opening of the Cipriani Labour College on 19 October 1966 in rented premises at Long Circular Road, Port of Spain, was the culmination of the many efforts beginning as far back as 1957 to provide workers in Trinidad and Tobago with education and training in the field of Labour and Industrial Relations.

The programme originally offered was the Two-year Diploma in Labour Studies. Over the years, the One-year Certificate and Short Courses in Industrial Relations and kindred fields were added to the course offerings. Another important development in the history of Cipriani Labour College was the integration of education and training in co-operatives into the curriculum in 1972.

Initially, the Training Unit of the Co-operative Department of the Ministry of Labour and Co-operatives was relocated to the College from where they organised a series of short courses geared to the needs of directors, committee members, staff and members of Co-operative Societies.

In 1974, Professor Howard Whitney of the University of Wisconsin, a major centre of Co-operative Education, was commissioned by the Trinidad and Tobago Government to draw up a programme of Co-operative Education and Training. Professor Whitney’s services had been obtained through the ILO.

On Professor Whitney’s recommendation a Two-Year Diploma in Co-operative Studies was introduced in 1975 in Day (Full-time) and Evening (Part-time) Programmes. The College also conducts short courses for Co-operative personnel in conjunction with the Co-operative Department of the Ministry of Labour and Co-operatives, the Credit Union League, regional bodies and individual co-operatives.

The Department of Co-operative Studies within the College also provides advice and consultancy services on day-to-day management of co-operatives and assistance to community groups wishing to organize co-operative societies. The Department also assists co-operative societies with the planning and implementation of education and training programmes for members and potential members.