ALL AH WE IS ONE: Adversarial Govt
POLITICAL OBSERVERS IN BARBADOS have been trying to explain why a Government which was popularly elected in 2008 and less convincingly in 2013, could have, by early 2015, so alienated its public that major sectors now appear to be in open revolt against it.
Thus, in the past weeks, Barbados has been gripped by a transport strike, a determined protest by a private sector group of waste haulers, and impending upheaval in the Customs Department over their high-handed absorption into a newly formed Barbados Revenue Authority with potential job losses.
When coupled with the unresolved controversies involving other aggrieved groups, such as disenfranchised students, laid off public servants and persistently slighted teachers, it is likely that Barbados will see more instances of whispered grumblings being replaced by more overt action. Recent open complaints by private sector leaders provide strong indications of the growing ineffectualness of previously persistent pockets of orchestrated apology to blunt genuine grievances.
What accounts for this shift to open conflict?
One commentator, Dr George Belle, has attributed this to the failure of the Government’s previously successful propaganda to override the actual and empirical evidence of failure, measured by more challenging individual circumstances.
It is clear, however, that the Government’s lack of democratic engagement is a major contributory factor. A common call of most of the aggrieved parties, from the University of the West Indies to the waste haulers, is the need for greater dialogue.
This is not surprising. Having made the intellectual choice to capitulate to externally induced adjustment to global capital and to abandon social democracy, the first casualty was always going to be local social and economic interests. In such a context, any demands from local groups which frustrate this project are treated as unwanted distractions.
In addition, given that these choices have been made for, rather than by, the Government, there is a sense of futility in responding to calls for dialogue. Hence, given the failure of the Government to offer an intellectual alternative to the demands placed on it from outside, its only recourse has been to harden its heart to its local population and deny the public a genuine hearing. Thus, the Government has become more and more adversarial as it is judged by greater numbers, not against its verbal claims, but against people’s actual circumstances.
Ironically, as its alienation from the public deepens, the Government has found solace in weekly Sunday meetings with its yard fowl base, where it gets some psychic satisfaction that “the people are still with us”. Sadly, however, it is at such meetings that the Government’s adversarial politics is most easily unleashed, as for instance in the Prime Minister’s “PM on the Hill” attack against
Sir Hilary Beckles.
Given its intellectual failure to protect past social gains, continued protest for democratic consultation is essential to rescuing the Government from its meek abandonment of its social democratic moorings.
• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus, specialising in regional affairs. Email email@example.com.