Ease the squeeze
In 1937, when the workers of Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago were being buffeted by the hardships and scarcities brought on by the 1930s recession, Clement Payne and his parent organisation in Trinidad — the Negro Welfare Cultural and Social Association — were proposing the instituting of rent controls, relief work for the unemployed, school meals, supportive measures for small black businesses, health care for the people, and measures to reduce the high cost of living.
In 2012, when Barbadian working-class households and small businesses are being placed under tremendous stress as a result of the current economic recession, who is proposing or implementing measures to relieve the pressure and save such households and small businesses from going under?
The reality is that after four years of recession the working class households of Barbados desperately need an easing of food prices, house rent, bank charges, medical fees, mortgage rates and electricity, water and telephone charges! Likewise, if the small businesses of Barbados are to survive, they need an ease – if only on a temporary basis – of commercial rents, public utility fees, insurance premiums, legal fees, credit card rates, bank charges, and various government license fees!
Well, like Clement Payne and the NWCSA in 1937, David Comissiong and the Peoples Empowerment Party are saying that such emergency relief measures can and should be instituted in 2012!
The simple and straightforward solution is for our Government to take the initiative to expand the existing Social Partnership by bringing on board the banks, commercial landlords, public utility companies, insurance companies, mortgage companies and the various professional organisations, and to use the expanded Social Partnership to negotiate and implement a Comprehensive Incomes And Prices Programme that is consciously designed to ease the squeeze on poor households and small businesses.
The fundamental rationale for such an initiative is the understanding that in a time of national economic crisis no single group should be expected to carry the burden of restraint: rather, the burden must be fairly distributed among all groups.
At present, the Social Partnership includes the Government, the trade unions, the Barbados Chamber of Commerce, and the Employers Confederation, and principally functions by restraining the wage demands of unionised (largely blue collar) workers. But all that the workers seem to have gotten in return is ever increasing prices and rates!
Clearly, this is not good enough in the hard, stress-filled conditions of 2012! The workers and their trade unions have been holdings strain and moderating their demands for many years. Now, in this period of hardship, the time has come for other entities to be brought to the table in order that they might extend gestures of relief and support to Barbados’ struggling working-class households and small businesses.
If entities such as LIME, Digicel, Barbados Water Authority, Barbados Light & Power, Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners, Barbados Bar Association, the Bankers Association, the large supermarkets, the commercial landlords and the General Insurance Association of Barbados (among several others) are made to understand their duty to the people of Barbados, there is no reason why they cannot implement modest cuts in their current charges, even if only as a temporary emergency relief measure for working-class households and small businesses.
Establishing such a national Comprehensive Incomes and Prices Programme can easily be done in Barbados, in light of the small size and intimacy of our country. The number of organisations that will have to be involved is easily manageable.
Clearly, such an initiative will have to emanate from Government, and will require some effort and patience on the part of the State to bring all the relevant entities to the table, and to get them to agree on reasonable concessions for the hard-pressed working people of Barbados. But it can be done!
* David Comissiong is President of the People’s Empowerment Party.