Brothers and sisters, as we prepare to celebrate our Nation’s 46th year of Independence we are witnessing one of the most historic periods of our time: “The aftermath of the deepest recession since the Great Depression”.
This recession has seen all across the globe a reduction and privatisation of public services on a scale never seen before. Due to this recession, private sector interests, politicians, influenced conservatives and social commentators have been heard chomping at the bit to privatise the Public Service.
The crisis in Government finances is being used to accelerate the debate. In other cases, the attack is on public servants, with some indicating that we are all lazy and do not work. If allowed to happen, the end result will be the loss of services that are not privately profitable and sacrificing quality and access while paying for health, education, garbage collection, transportation and housing to name a few.
An effective response, brothers and sisters, on this assault, requires a social movement much stronger than what we currently have. We have seen the attack on the trade union calling us obstructionist and devoid of modern day thought.
We obviously need to fight back, we know from past experience that if we do not, it only invites the other side to become more aggressive with attempts to roll back all of the gains we as workers would have made over the years. Whether it is the number of vacation days, time allotted for maternity leave, pension and other emoluments, sick leave and study leave.
But given what we are up against, being more militant is not going to be enough. We need to engage this struggle in new ways and this means re-evaluating everything about our unions, structures, processes and strategies.
Our commitment to our members must be proven in practice through the priorities we set and carry out. This means, making a strategic choice. We must rebalance our focus from traditional collective bargaining to idealising the defence of public services as a primary priority, by taking on the leadership of the fight for adequate high quality and responsive public services.
It is important to be clear about what such a re-orientation means. It will require radical changes to all our strategic tactics and structures. It implies re-allocating union resources, building new sectoral and national capacities, a profound deepening of membership, rethinking how we relate to the community, daring to publicly expose poor services while speaking to how they can be improved and developing the confidence and vision to move beyond fighting our antagonist.
The social cuts and attacks on workers’ rights that we have seen in Europe, North and South America and indeed the Caribbean from politicians of all stripes are clearly going to get worse. The more aggressive the cuts, we expect mounting pressure from economic elites – home grown and externally – ready to lead the charge: “Privatise, Privatise!”
It will be foolish brothers and sisters to underestimate what we are about to face.
Brothers and sisters, this country was built on the shoulders of the working class. We have had a public service in this country that is the envy of the Caribbean. Independence did not bring about a decline in the delivery of public services. On the contrary, the delivery of public services in this our blessed country, whether in education, health, social services, housing, the protection of our citizenry through police, prisons, defence forces, the integrity of our borders – customs, immigration, our economic and financial experts and so on, has shown a marked increase in our ability to be professional and the will to serve.
No system is perfect or all the persons in it, but let us all collectively continue to find ways to improve. There is always room to improve on effectiveness and efficiency. Let us first identify those areas and build on them before we have this narrow debate on privatisation.
In this crisis, brothers and sisters, we must insist that we continue to deliver “quality public services” to our people, especially the marginalised and the down trodden.
Let us, brothers and sisters, in this our 46th year of Independence, continue to keep those chomping at the bit for pieces of the public service to remain at the gate never to be allowed to disperse us on a false doctrine that privatisation is in your interest.
Happy Independence Barbados!
Dependence never; Independence forever.
Yours in solidarity.