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In the 1950's labour education was conducted at the Extra-Mural Department of the University College of the West Indies under the direction of a Staff tutor in industrial relations in what was called “Trade Union School of the UCWI”. The School catered to industrial relations practitioners from among the three social partners, Government, Employer and Trade Union.

Two Conferences were held in 1959, the first at the UCWI in Jamaica to discuss labour education in the Caribbean. The recommendation from that Conference was the formation of a labour education institute. At the later Conference held in British Guiana the stage was set for a holistic approach to teaching and educating trade unionists.

In 1963, the Trade Union Education Institute (TUEI) was established on the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies, as a unit in the Department of Extra-Mural Studies. Its establishment was made possible through the cooperation of the United States Government -USAID, the AFL-CIO, the Government of Jamaica, the University of the West Indies and the TUEI's founding unions, the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union, the National Workers' Union and the Trades Union Congress of Jamaica.

In mid 1963, the Director of the Department of Extra-Mural Studies, UWI and Chairman of the Advisory Board of the TUEI, Hector L. Wynter, invited Rex Nettleford, the then Staff Tutor in Political Education in the Department of Extra-Mural Studies "to become a co-opted member of the Board" of the Trade Union Education Institute. With Nettleford’s entrance, labour education began in earnest.

By 1964 the Acting Director of the Department of Extra-Mural Studies, Adolph A. Thompson, wrote to Nettleford requesting that consideration be given to expanding the Institute's programme to meet the needs of the whole Caribbean area. On that request the TUEI evolved into a regional institution spawning several labour colleges in the region.

The overall objective of the Trade Union Education Institute (TUEI) at the time of its establishment was to promote and provide training courses for upper level trade union personnel from the English speaking Caribbean. The clientele quickly expanded to include the Netherlands Antilles.

The objectives of the Institute speak eloquently to the clarity of the Institutes founders 40 years ago in respect of labour’s struggle and the need to prepare workers to influence social change.

Hugh Lawson Shearer, George Eaton, Michael Manley, Hopeton Caven, and Hector Wynter must be recognised and respected for their foresight. It is Hugh Shearer who kept the idea for a labour education institute alive. It was easy for him to get his life long friends and colleagues Michael Manley and Hopeton Caven to go along with the idea of a labour education institute.

Hector Wynter, not to be outdone and recognising the capabilities, capacity and enthusiasm of one of his young staff members, in what would today be referred to as a “senior move”, co-opted the Staff Tutor in Political Education, Rex Nettleford to the Advisory Board of the TUEI. Wynter must have seen the making of a Vice Chancellor and decided that the UWI guerrilla unit should not only benefit but should groom him for the job of Vice Chancellor. All encouraged and supported by Prof George.