ALL AH WE IS ONE: The IMF reality
The contrasting newspaper images for May Day 2013 and 2014 provide telling indications of the current reality of Barbados.
Whilst 2013 carried self-deluding pictures of a cozy, happy, joint May Day celebration by labour and capital, the wailing and gnashing of teeth of laid-off workers carried in the 2014 pictures indicated that stark reality had now set in. While the 2013 images reflected a union movement lulled by the neoliberal wine of “we are all in this together”, the 2014 images show clearly that the workers now stand alone and unprotected.
The lesson of Titanic is that while we are all in the same boat, some travel first class and others are in cargo. It is always the latter who drown.
Lessons aside, the hard fact is that we are witnessing the full impact of an International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme in Barbados. All the signs suggest that the Government is not acting in its volition, but is dancing to the will of a higher authority.
The signs include: the hard-headed response from the Government that it has no choice; the consistency and single-minded hurry with which it is pursuing public sector lay-offs; its promise of dialogue and transparency with the unions, only to violate these principles with each round of lay-offs; its imperviousness to local cries of pain; its inability to fine-tune and tailor-fit its adjustment policies to the special circumstances of the vulnerable populations as in the case of University of the West Indies students, for example.
All of these suggest to us that our leaders are not acting independently, but are in fact neo-colonial implementers of the timelines, goals and policies of a higher master.
Given this reality, our union leaders appear more and more naïve and out of touch, when they express “shock” and “surprise” at the Government’s behaviour in one week, and expect to see an improved response the next.
Once the unions accept that the Government is not master of itself, they will realise the futility of their policy of accommodation, since the Government cannot guarantee anything that it has no power to deliver.
Given this reality, the fact is that only mass action can force the Government to respond to local demands as opposed to the external IMF authority. This is not a romanticised call for action, but a necessary tactical response in the circumstances of a recolonised take-over of policy space by an external authority in the face of a comatose Government, unable to offer alternatives to the IMF programme.
While this kind of analysis often offends the union leadership, the reality is that it will win no credibility with its membership by attacking the independent observers. Only a correct analysis of what is to be done, free from false consciousness and partisan biases, can protect the workers, who are the only victims of this painful IMF reality.
• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus, specialising in regional affairs.