When Prime Minister Freundel Stuart and his Democratic Labour Party colleagues made that fateful decision to dismantle Barbados’ 50-year-old “Democratic Socialist” tradition of providing free university education to the young people of Barbados, they re-introduced to the national agenda the truly momentous issue of what type of society should Barbados be?
From the very beginnings of Barbados’ history as a slave society in 1627, there was a strata of the Barbadian population that was determined to ensure that Barbados would always be a non-egalitarian class society. As far as they were concerned, there were no fundamental human rights to education, health-care, housing, nutrition or other elements of human well-being. On the contrary, they believed that the existence of unequal classes and social groups is the natural order of society, and that for a society to function effectively the members of that society must practise the values of individual self-interest and competitiveness among themselves.
The social forces that subscribe to that type of ideology comprise the traditional white planter and merchant classes of Barbados; their modern day equivalents in the form of Barbados’ 21st century elite business class; and a number of black middle-class and
Historically, that vision of Barbadian society produced a Barbados of severe inequalities, lack of opportunity, economic stagnation, and punishing poverty for the masses of black Barbadians! It was (and is) a vision of Barbados that could never countenance the idea of poor black children being given free university education!
But that vision of a class-ridden, “survival-of-the-fittest” type of Barbados was always challenged! It was challenged in the days of slavery by such heroes as Bussa, Washington Franklyn, Nanny Gregg,
Sarah Ann Gill and Samuel Jackman Prescod, and in the modern period by the “Labour Movement” that emerged in 1937, and that went on to struggle for a more egalitarian society under the leadership of men like Wynter Crawford, Grantley Adams, Frank Walcott and Errol Barrow.
And, or course, the alternative vision of Barbadian society that these progressive social forces held aloft was that of a society that reflected the values of equality, community, social inclusion, human well-being, fairness, cooperation, and an equality of opportunity that engendered the maximum development of the human potential of the society.
Needless-to-say, the full vision of the 1930’s generation of labour leaders – the Clement Paynes and Israel Lovells – was compromised in many important respects by the Adames and Barrows, and has never been fully realised. But, there were at least three spheres in which admirable justice was done to that 1937 vision, and these were:- the creation of a “Mixed Economy” characterised by both private businesses and Government or people-owned enterprises; the establishment of an accessible and inexpensive public health-care system; and most importantly, the provision of “free” education from the Primary to the Tertiary level.
In 1985, less than two years before his untimely death, the Right Excellent Errol Barrow explained the significance and critical importance of free education as follows:-
“I have always thought of myself as a Socialist in the general terms of the British Labour Party…….. Democratic Socialism is about planning and equality of opportunity. It has always been fundamental to our basic philosophy. We have tried to ensure, so far as possible, that every child born in Barbados has the opportunity to develop the talents with which the Lord has blessed it regardless of the family circumstances into which it happened to be born.
“That is why one of the first things we did when we won the Government was to decree that secondary education (and subsequently tertiary education) would be free of charge…… The success of that programme has been proven for all to see – some of the beneficiaries are now amongst our most vociferous critics.”
And, as Mr. Barrow intimated, there were always reactionary social forces in Barbados that were hostile to our achievement of a Mixed Economy, “free” health care and education, and to the vision of the type of Barbadian society that these achievements were leading to!
These social forces have been planning, plotting and conniving for many years now to dismantle these achievements, and it seems that they have now found willing allies in the persons of Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, Minister Christopher Sinckler and the other members of the DLP Cabinet!
Indeed, as far back as March 1990 the “Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry” joined together with the elite, multi-national accounting firm of “Ernst & Young” to stage an elite private sector convocation on reforming the Barbadian economy and society, and this is what they had to say in their document entitled “Post Conference
“Government expenditure is excessive, unsustainable and is at a level which is causing negative returns…………. Some suggested areas for reduction:
*Reduce scope of welfare services including health.
*Eliminate free tertiary education.
*Introduce entitlement programmes (means testing).
“A planned programme of privatisation is desirable…….. Targets for privatisation should include both profitable and unprofitable enterprises and be extended to central government services …Suggested targets include – CBC, Dairy, Transport Board, Insurance Corporation, BNB, Arawak Cement, BMC, IDC factories, revenue collection, Barbados Mills, Port Authority etc.”.
Well, if we examine the record of the 23 years that have passed since March 1990, we will see just how successful Mr. Peter Boos, Ernst & Young and the BCCI have been in implementing their agenda for Barbados and in achieving their vision of an unequal, capitalist or elite dominated society. To start with, they have been successful in securing privatisation of approximately 50 per cent of the targets on their privatisation list – the Pine Hill Dairy, Insurance Corporation of Barbados, Arawak Cement Plant, Barbados National Bank and Barbados Mills.
And, even more alarmingly, since the advent of the David Thompson and Freundel Stuart led DLP Administrations they have started to dismantle both the system of “free” health care and the system of “free” tertiary education! (All Barbadians should take careful note of the fact that in the weeks leading up to the 2013 Budget, the Barbados Private Sector Association announced that it had developed a plan to “reform” Barbados; that the said plan included the dismantling of free university education; and that the plan would be immediately placed before the DLP Administration!).
The sad truth is that Freundel Stuart – a man who personally benefitted from Barbados’ marvellous system of “free university education” to such an extent that he pursued no less than three university degrees at the Cave Hill Campus and another degree-like course of studies at the Hugh Wooding Law School, a total of four degree-like programmes – is now in the process of helping the wealthy elite forces of Barbados to kick down the ladder on which poor black Barbadians have been ascending over the past 50 years!
Make no mistake about it, we are now well and truly engaged in a national Civil War over what type of society Barbados is to be! Is it to be a society of equality and social inclusion – one in which the entire national population and the entire pool of taxpayers collectively bear the costs of providing critical education for our children and young people? Or is it to be a society of separation and inequality – one in which the cost of tertiary education is placed on the shoulders of the individual student and his or her immediate family, in spite of the fact that students and their families vary tremendously in terms of ownership of wealth?
I am ready to enlist in this War, and I know who the enemies are and the type of Barbados that they want to foist upon us all! I will resist them with all the strength and energy that I possess!
*David Comissiong is the President of the Peoples Empowerment Party.