The outbreak of hostilities between education administrators and snack vendors on feeding the nation’s children at lunchtime on school premises escalated today as a national representative of vendors vowed “protest of the sort that Barbados has never seen before”.
But in issuing the threat the Barbados vendors’ association has employed a tactic now common in public conflicts – invite prime ministerial intervention.
If the row between the principal of the Grantley Adams Memorial School and the vendors who operate outside is not resolved in favour of the vendors, the president of the Barbados Association of Retailers, Vendors and Entrepreneurs (BARVEN) Allister Alexander has appealed to the Prime Minister to step in.
“In the unlikely scenario that Government does not resolve this as it should, we will be looking to escalate all the progressive forces to stage protests of the sort that Barbados has never seen before,” Alexander said.
At the stroke of noon today, the bell rang at the Grantley Adams Memorial Secondary School to signal the start of another lunchtime.
But in sharp contrast to the drama which unfolded every day for the past week, the once boisterous and steady cry of “we want food” shouted by protesting students was reduced to an intermittent whisper.
And with only two vendors stationed outside the rural high school, it appeared the school’s administration, backed by the Ministry of Education and the Royal Barbados Police Force had won the day.
But that notion was short-lived when moments later, BARVEN’s president, armed with fighting words and a large Barbados flag, brought disruption to the school routine and words of comfort and assurance to those who claim their livelihoods are now under threat.
“We will fight this, we will escalate this if necessary. This has now begun and … the only end that BARVEN accepts is that it ends in favour of the vendors. We are not accepting anything else,” said Alexander.
He told the two remaining vendors of the association’s intention to approach the Prime Minister’s Office later that afternoon to request an urgent resolution to the dispute which last Friday saw the removal of vendors from beside the bus stop, just outside the school’s premises.
Alexander charged that the school’s administration had acted far beyond its authority and expressed confidence that Prime Minister Mottley, who has spoken supportively of vendors in the past will come to BARVEN’s aid.
“We are confident that this administration under the Honourable Mia Mottley will bring not only this particular issue to a conclusion, but that… she will bring a progressive resolution to the whole issue. We are confident of that because she has played a champion role in the past concerning vendors.
“Government has established a national policy toward vending and the place that vendors have in the economic landscape of Barbados. We also charge that the administration of the Grantley Adams School has jumped the fence as far as our norms and traditions are concerned.
“It is important at this time in our history, that we show respect to who we are as a people; and vending is the mother of all black economic enfranchisement in Barbados. This is a historical fact and [vendors] should be paid full respect, especially in this period of independence,” he said.
Alexander accused the school of preventing students from exercising their right to choose what they wanted to eat, while dispelling any notion that vendors, at least one of who has been operating at the school over the past 30 years, would operate below acceptable standards.
“Obviously the vendors would be concerned about the children’s safety and security. That is part of our heritage. That is how we as a people behave; and I know that they would be very concerned about the children’s welfare.”
The students are being treated like some kind of criminals and are not given the opportunity to have a reasonable choice…we have to be very careful how we manage these situations or they can escalate,” he warned.
Last Friday, the Ministry of Education pledged its support for the decision of the school’s administration, stating that after visits to the school by Acting Education Minister Lucille Moe and officials, it was satisfied that procedure was followed in the removal of the vendors.
In a statement, the ministry said its priority is the security of the children and food safety; and therefore students would not be allowed to leave the premises without permission during the school day.
Despite the position taken by the ministry, Alexander said BARVEN will be standing its ground.