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ALL AH WE IS ONE: Obsolete partnership

Tennyson Joseph

ALL AH WE IS ONE: Obsolete partnership

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As last week’s meeting of the Barbadian Social Partnership unfolded, one sensed that the Government was fulfilling an annual obligation, rather than seeking to offer concrete responses to the issues emerging from the exercise. 
Indeed, the continuation of the claims of a “Social Partnership” in Barbados is a classic case of the subjective adherence to an “idea” when the objective basis of its “substance” no longer holds.
However it is spun, it should be remembered that the Social Partnership was created as an institution primarily aimed at the containment of labour. In the context of the need for austerity in the mid-1990s, despite the claims to a prices and incomes protocol, it has been labour which has borne the brunt of the burden of structural adjustment and global crisis. 
Prices continue to rise and workers continue to be laid off; yet the only entity that continues to believe in the spirit of tripartism is the labour movement. Indeed, it has become a sad and pathetic daily reminder of the emasculation of the unions to hear the leaders of the movement pledge their commitment to “keeping wage demands down”, due to the challenges of the economy, when the sacrifices of the other “partners” are difficult to identify.
Whilst in the crisis of the 1990s a promise of labour restraint might have been viewed as a one-off expression of patriotism in the context of a special period of austerity, the continuation of wage restraint as the permanent and only response for an extended period threatens to transform the trade union into its opposite, that is, from a movement for to a movement against the worker. 
This danger is heightened when political expediency and opportunism are mixed with global economic challenge and when labour leaders “break for themselves” in the face of their own obvious helplessness.
Apart from its continued containment of labour, therefore, other than the bringing together of all the key economic partners for a direct face-to-face conversation, there is little that was heard last week that could not be achieved through separate communication to the nation by the three arms of the partnership. 
Indeed, long before the Social Partnership formally met, all the key issues surrounding the Barbadian economy and all the key fears, concerns and proposals from the leading partners had all been thoroughly ventilated, particularly in the campaign of the recent general election. In the absence of concrete agreements on actions, nothing new was achieved.
Indeed, the early commentaries by two of Barbados’ leading economists, Michael Howard and Ryan Straughn, have both pointed to the lack of assurance that any governmental action would result from the deliberations of the Social Partnership meeting, due to the sheer scale of the required adjustment. 
After the annual Social Partnership gathering, therefore, the wait for concrete action continues.
• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, specializing in regional affairs.