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WHAT MATTERS MOST: Govt abandons the middle class

DR CLYDE MASCOLL, [email protected]

WHAT MATTERS MOST: Govt abandons the middle class

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IN LAST WEEK’S ARTICLE, it was noted that while it is easy to appreciate the economic difficulties, the last eight years have highlighted the need to revisit the relationships between labour and capital, governance and Government, and parliamentary democracy and leadership.

In a sense, Barbados is at a juncture, somewhat like the 1940s, not materially but spiritually.

There is a very good reason why the two major political parties carry the word “labour” in their names. The struggle was on to include the working- class men and women in the political decision-making.

The inclusion came in the wake of labour disturbances across the region in the late 1930s. A West Indian nationalism was born.

League leadership

Prior to the formation of political parties, there were progressive leagues: The Democratic League in Barbados as early as 1928. The Barbados Progressive League came along exactly ten years later. The Jamaica Progressive League based in New York that influenced the formation of the People’s National Party in Jamaica in 1938.

The early leadership of the leagues was deemed to be more middle class.

It is fascinating that almost 80 years later, notwithstanding some gains made, the relevance of the working class is still tied to its weight in relation to capital. Whenever middle class leadership betrays its historical mission, the greatest loser is always the working class. The process by which the betrayal occurs is also fascinating.

In current times, it goes like this. The reason why the country is in a prolonged fiscal crisis is because the Government is protecting the working class from job losses. It is doing so by taxing the hell out of the middle class. In the process, the middle class has become the working poor. So, after 80 years, the middle class did not make it to the capitalist class.

The analysis above is flawed on two major premises: (1) the working class only works in the public sector and (2) the middle class is capable of paying an unlimited amount of taxes.

The first premise explains why the Freundel Stuart administration has refused to publish the labour force data for the last quarter of 2016. It reveals 2 400 jobs lost in the private sector but 2 500 jobs created in the public sector.

The impression to be conveyed is that the wicked private sector is laying off workers. This is done without reference to the prolonged self-imposed fiscal crisis that the Government boxed the country into.

However, given the Government’s abject failure in managing the economy, it must find a way to make its failure look like a pass. The best way is to play off the working class against the middle class.

In the 1930s, the legitimate struggle was between labour and capital with all the attendant characteristics. In 2017, the struggle is between the middle class and the working class. Strangely, the moneyed class joins the struggle in support of the working class.

Here is how it goes. The Government can no longer fund university education because only middle class people go there. The Government can no longer fund universal access to health care because only middle class people pay taxes.

The struggle is joined and therefore the winner is the moneyed class, who criticises university education and the delivery of health care in the same breath.

But how did the once small middle class become so large in 80 years? Ironically, the Moyne Commission, appointed to investigate the social and economic conditions in the region in the 1930s, provided the framework to execute a West Indian nationalism.

In the case of Barbados, governmental intervention started in the 1940s, with effective leadership and good governance for the time, which created the conditions for the middle- class to become larger.

In the face of the first real threat, which is self-made, consideration to abandon the mission is presented in the form of a class struggle. The middle- class leadership adopts a strategy from the past that for one to gain, the others must lose. In short, collectively, life is a zero-sum game.

The very thing that was identified as the vehicle for taking the people through the various stages of social mobility is now to be abandoned to save $35 million, a pittance in a budget that should be much larger, but for the ineptitude of an unprepared Government.

Long live our forefathers! They must be looking on in amazement at a Prime Minister who does not practise what he preaches. His past rhetoric bears no relation to his current reality as a leader.

• Dr Clyde Mascoll is an economist and Opposition Barbados Labour Party advisor on the economy. Email: [email protected]