This week, of course, I want to discuss the actions of the unions and the significance of their march staged Tuesday but allow me an observation. It is my view that the Barbados Meteorological Services (BMS) needs some kind of overhaul.
While I appreciate that weather is unpredictable and forecasts are only a prediction of possibilities, it is in this fact that I find consternation. Weather prediction technology and methodologies have improved over the years. Indeed, there are some Barbadians who abandon the BMS at this time of year and rely on internet or cable channels for their weather reports.
With all the information available from these sources, it feels as though the BMS is “wrong” too many times. This is partly fueling the complacency and disregard that Barbadians have about storms and hurricanes. It reminds me of the story about the boy who cried wolf. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, the BMS seems to call wolf often and Barbadians become more and more desensitized each time.
The trade union movement of Barbados, through their walk to deliver letters to the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and the two Independent sitting members of the Lower Chamber of Parliament, has brought some semblance of functionality back to Barbadian democracy. If there is any lesson to be taken away from the period in our history between the years of 2008 and 2016, it is that when people fail to engage in their democracy, things go badly awry.
In one simple action, the unions were able to reengage its members into paying attention to their role and place in the management of Barbados. This remedies what the process has become over the years and it should not be a one-off affair, but something which lasts until the constitutional, other legislative and institutional changes which Barbados needs are completed.
The political process in Barbados has somehow been diminished to the masses being involved once every five years. Some people opt to go out and vote for a member of parliament and many others opt to be passive voters. Passive voters are a major worry in a system of democracy, in my opinion.
With the two party system that has developed across Commonwealth Caribbean countries, each party is able to control about 33 per cent of the electorate as their base. It means that the remaining 33 per cent of non-partied electors perform the critical role of being the voters who control the power of changing a political party based on performance and not blind allegiance.
In Barbados over the years, there has been a perception germinated that since politics is so “dirty”, outstanding citizens should do all in their power not to be involved at any level. This is coupled with the manufactured fear about being victimized for political participation. The result is that the 33 per cent non-committed voters become 33 per cent non-voters and this results in elections being decided between the two bases of the political parties. A victory comes down to who is better mobilized during a campaign and especially on election day with inducements on election day becoming a type of insurance for the more mobilized party base.
Getting citizens involved in unions, their various forms of agitation and other types of volunteer work with the non-governmental societies makes for a voter who is engaged and seized of the issues. They are also more willing to believe the information is unbiased because the mistrust which accompanies political messaging is absent.
People who are engaged with the issues of the day before a campaign starts are more likely to see their personal vested interest in voting. It is perhaps because of the nexus between an active union and non-governmental organizations and a more engaged electorate, that the disparaging comments about the march were so unfortunate.
As unfortunate as the comments were, they were not surprising. If there is active participation as a feature of the democracy of a country, there will be a wider pool of candidates and people interested in offering themselves for elective service. In such a climate, the electorate gets a much better chance to choose strong, committed and serious people to be involved in the country’s leadership. It is not hard to figure out why some would have a vested interest in ensuring this state of affairs never is realized.
The problems which Barbados faces have largely been categorized as financial problems. Perhaps we are grossly oversimplifying where this island finds itself by this categorization. Our problems have to do with the system of governance we have invested in post-independence. They have to do with the fact that our systems, unchanged over the years, have become antiquated and insufficient to serve our needs.
They have to do with how corruption and inducement have embedded themselves into the system of public and private business and how these make us vulnerable in a world moving quickly and forcefully toward transparency. Not surprisingly, our society is showing the same stress fissures that our economic system has been showing for some months now.
If we endeavour to fix the economy without the society, we will get the same results some of our other Caribbean neighbours got at various junctures in history. Unbridled corruption which raises in the level of crime and people who feel disconnected from the system of governance are some of the consequences which can surface. The unions’ march earlier this week tied the numbers to be adjusted to the human bodies which had to be factored in while the numerical equations are manipulated.
And if weight loss resulted from the exercise, that only shows how critical sustaining the presence of the union movement is to the working masses in Barbados. Where money is tight, Barbadians really do have a vested interest in staying fit and paying attention to their wellness profiles; if their unions provide facility to do this, it should be lauded. The actions can be interpreted to originate from a deep and abiding caring of the union leaders.
(Marsha Hinds-Layne is a full-time mummy and part-time lecturer in communications at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill. Email: [email protected])