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Where I stand – (Part 2)

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I seem to have developed the knack for getting on the wrong side of governments.

Although this two-part article has taken on a different shape from what was originally intended, I want to continue briefly by recalling three instances that clearly show the nature of our politics. The incidents, though years apart, are very revealing. I taught General Paper and History at the Grammar School in the 1970s.{{more}} One day I was summoned to the Headmaster’s Office where I was told that there was a complaint from the Ministry that I was discussing politics in class. I smiled, in utter disbelief. We had been looking at topics on the Cambridge A Level papers and the discussion in question was really on one of the topics from those papers. I had to ask the headmaster how the students were expected to write their exams if they were forbidden to discuss questions likely to be on the examination papers. I heard little more of that and suspected that they might have become aware of their glaring stupidity.

Shortly after this was the 1975 Teachers’ Strike. I was one of two teachers at the school who were members of the Union. I remember distinctly being a complete loner with a placard in front of the school on the first day of the strike, since the other teacher had been assisting at the Union headquarters. Because I owned a car, one of my responsibilities was to visit the country schools. Toward the end of the strike, I was busy working with three others on the production of a bulletin – Crisis in Education – the Teachers Strike 1975, which chronicled the events leading up to the strike. We worked on this in the early hours of the morning at the home of one of the teachers who lived at Gomea, since the evenings were taken up with other activities. A day before the end of the strike, I took ill and had to seek medical attention. This was on a Sunday and I met my doctor, who was actually on his way to Bequia. I was given an appointment for the following day, but in the interim I was handed some eye drops and told that I would not be able to read while taking them. I shared a house with the headmaster of the school, Winston Baptiste, who had to actually put my pen on the line for me to sign the ‘Sick Leave’ form. After a few days, off I went back to work. Things appeared to have been going smoothly until it was pay day, when my pay never came. When I questioned this, I was told that I had not turned out to work at the appointed time, so I was not entitled to pay. My sick leave certificate meant nothing. To my utter amazement, Baptiste never made an attempt to defend me. I took this in stride, knowing that a few other teachers had also suffered.

The other case is recent, while I was still at the UWI Open Campus. Complaints about me were sent to the Vice-Chancellor and the Chancellor (I was told). Our director was warned that no assistance would be forthcoming once I was there. I am not sure if this was meant to have me fired. Unfortunately for them, I was a tenured senior lecturer. The vice-chancellor, who was still new to the politics of the region, became alarmed until the late Professor Rex Nettleford gave him a lesson on Caribbean politicians. What was funny about this was that the students would have been the ones affected, not me. There is a lot more that can be said, but so much for that.

I have some concerns about Caribbean politics and politicians. I hate arrogance, to which most succumb. This has to do with power and how it is used. Politicians take us too much for granted and treat us as though we are devoid of common sense. They are often very hostile to anyone who has an opposing point of view on any issue and hold the power of office over us, as they play on our poverty and insecurity. This is significant in a society where government is the major employer of labour and where there is a weak and struggling private sector. Included, of course, with the private sector, are the small farmers, suffering because of the downturn in the banana industry. There is nothing perceptive about these observations. Many persons share these concerns, but find themselves trapped and forced to accept the things that they instinctively resent. I have heard these sentiments voiced by so-called ordinary people who might not have had the benefit of further education, but have the experience and common sense to digest what is going on around them.

In recent weeks the country has been faced with an alarming series of robberies and crimes. I am concerned that there appears to be no urgency in addressing these. It is frightening, as fear stalks the land. As you go through the country, you become aware of the anger in people’s voices, especially the young ones. This is also manifested in the expressions on their faces. It is clear that frustration is growing, as tempers often flare up. Last Friday, I witnessed a young man pull a hell of a cutlass from his waist, as he threatened others. I felt relieved when he called my name and said “Hi.” The situation facing our country is certainly not a good one. There is, at the same time, little productivity as we remain suspended in a state of limbo, wondering what next. We need to get out of this state, and quickly too!

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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