Canning's Employees' Credit Union
In 1948 at the end of the Second World War, Trinidad and Tobago was under British rule and the threat of communism/socialism was heavy in the air.
The Church played an important role in the growth of credit unionism as it fought against the community’s social problems. The principle of the movement was to have a common bond of association. A principle that still exists today. It was in this scenario that the concept of a credit union in Canning and Company was conceived.
Enter Thomas Rampersad, founding member. In the late 1940s in Trinidad and Tobago, the predominant religion was Roman Catholicism and there were many forces in the society which sought to omit the church because of its belief that everyone was equal. An Irish priest at the time introduced the system of cooperatives amongst parishioners, holding meetings for all those interested and to teach them the basic principles. Thomas Rampersad chuckled as he affectionately remembered it being called the “20 Basic Questions”.
Thomas remembered that working conditions were hard at the time and grasped at the Church’s idea of private business ownership run in a cooperative manner. He was fascinated with this basic philosophy and made a personal decision to make credit unions his life’s vocation.
The two premier groceries Canning and Company and United Grocers were both located on Frederick Street in Port of Spain. Thomas walked into Canning and Company and asked Louis Girod, the then boss, (whom he later referred to as the ‘Godfather of the Credit Union’), for a job and was given a job as a delivery boy. In those days, he worked for $5.50 a week. In 1948 he was promoted to Kardex Clerk and moved over to the warehouse with five other fellows. It was there that Thomas began teaching the cooperative concept. Rocking in his chair more than fifty years later, Thomas remembered that one day “a chap named Phenmore Cummings”, a porter working for $3.50 per week, came to him in distress and told him that he owed $5.00 for the past 18 months to a moneylender named “Mr. Joe”, (who worked with them)and all he could afford to pay him was $1 per week interest.
This usury was commonly referred to as “getting a five for a six”. This gave Thomas an opportunity to practise what the church taught him. He put the cooperative concept into practise. Thomas brought everyone together and informed them of Cummings’ troubles. He explained to them, if they all saved 25 cents a week they would be able to lend Cummings the $5.00 to pay off Mr. Joe, and in return Cummings would pay 10 cents interest. They all agreed. It was at this point the Credit Union philosophy was first put into practise at Canning and Company. Simply, “people helping people”. As the cool breeze of the morning blew into his living room, a smile crossed Thomas’ face as he remembered crossing the road to purchase the first inventory book for the Credit Union – an eight-page single line copybook from Pereira and Company. The first contributors to this savings plan were Michael Beharry, Panchu Seepersad, Phenemore Cummings, George Archer, Mr. George and Thomas Rampersad himself.
When Cummings paid off Mr. Joe, it came to light that many other workers had the same problem and the plan grew to help as many people as possible. Eventually, it became too large and Thomas was not able to manage it and had to close it down. They were able to save $100,000.00 and at the time of closure, he refunded everyone their money. No one had informed management, since at that time it was not common for workers to associate with management. However, Canning and Company stood apart from the rest. Mr. Girod was quite aware of what was taking place and asked Thomas if he would assist in running a Credit Union for the company. Mr. Girod then explained that in order to register a credit union, two years of study was required and an examination at the end of this period to ensure they knew enough to run a credit union. In 1950, Messrs. Norbert Grannum (Unionist at the warehouse) and Thomas Rampersad, along with Mrs Eileen Lippincott (Secretary in Head Office) - to name a few – formed the study group.
The study group met every Thursday at 5:00 p.m. at the soda fountain on Queen Street in Port-of-Spain. It is for this reason that Louis Girod is viewed as the Godfather of the Credit Union. He ensured all Management joined the Credit Union and made regular contributions. This is very significant as it serves to re-emphasise the unique culture of the company, one that was transposed into the Credit Union. The Canning’s Employees’ Credit Union Co-operative Society Limited (CECU) was formally established on 14th October 1952 and every Friday employees of the grocery would make voluntary contributions. On 2nd February 1953, CECU’s inaugural meeting was held, and Mr. Norbert Grannum, Warehouse Manager was elected the first President of the Credit Union.