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As we approach our 36th year

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It is perhaps my training and the perspective I hold as an historian that forces me every year at this time to reflect on what Independence means to us. It is unquestionably a major landmark in our movement as a people. Unfortunately, as I have said on a number of occasions, for most of us it is just another holiday. Even for those who wear national colours or symbols, it is a question of simply going through the motions.{{more}} There is often little behind it, for our supposed love of country is really very superficial. The day after, it is back to normal, as we await another holiday! For our young population born after 1979, that has not been told about the struggles of our foreparents, it has little meaning. They take things for granted. At school they learn about the national dish and flower and are told to identify nation builders. Little is said about what Independence is and how it was achieved. This is not strange because in the discussions and debates leading up to Independence, the responsibilities and challenges that come with Independence were hardly touched on. The view was that once we became independent, everything was expected to fall into place. We were going to join the big players!

We have grown to respect the anthem, for I do not see as many people sitting these days when the anthem is being played. I continue to have a problem with the anthem. The verse that deals with our ‘sister isles’ upsets me and I still regard the anthem as a tourist type song, not one that is meant to lift our people and to raise their aspirations. Indeed, the emphasis is on the physical country, rather than on the people.

This year on the eve of Independence, we have had to deal with industrial action. The National Omnibus Association pulled away from their threat to strike, claiming that their demands were met. As I understand it, an express route is being created to allow the vans to get out of Kingstown by going through Town Hill and then to Cane Garden at the 4 o’clock rush hour. I do not have the details on what was agreed, but I assume that since it is an express route, vehicular traffic going to Kingstown from Cane Garden will have at that time to go via the Sion Hill route. Anything else will be chaotic, for the road is not the best of roads, narrow in places and not very conducive to two-way traffic involving vans.

The Teachers and Public Service Unions were scheduled to strike on Tuesday. I do not have any details, except the report of a statement by president Robinson of the Teachers Union that about 40 per cent of teachers responded to the Union’s call. What really upsets me at this time in our history is the attitude and mentality of some people. I refer to two things. I have seen reports that at some schools teachers deliberately set tests for Tuesday, thus affecting students whose parents would have supported the Union’s call by keeping their children at home. This is really improper and stupid. It is one thing not to go along with your Union’s call, but it is another not to respect their right to take industrial action and to attempt to sabotage it.

The other matter has to do with four members of the executive whom I am told reported to work. This is stone crazy. If a majority of members took a decision to take strike action and as members of the executive you were not prepared to go along with it, that should have been indicated and the appropriate thing to do was to resign. Why are you holding on to positions if you are not prepared to accept a mandate given to you by your members? You should have lost your moral authority to continue to serve in whatever positions you held. How are members expected now to deal with any statement coming from the Union? What is exercised here is something that is now so common among Vincentians. A number of persons hold positions in organizations, but seem not to understand what comes with their acceptance of offices. Their position is something to be paraded without accepting the commitments attached. I am not at this stage really concerned about the rights or wrongs of the Union’s position. If, as an executive member, you feel not inclined to go along with such decisions, there is only one way out. How is an executive expected to function if some members disagree on fundamental matters?

I have seen statements to the effect that some public servants are satisfied with their salaries. This is amazing. I have really never heard of such a situation. It is clear that for some persons party affiliation means a lot more to them than membership of a union. This is seen in the way some teachers went out of the way to make everyone aware that they did not accept their Union’s call. But this isn’t their real focus. They want to demonstrate their loyalty to their political bosses. What really goes through some of their minds? Of what are we made? Do we stand for nothing? What does life mean to us? One expects all persons to have their political preferences, but as members of a body involved in industrial action, if you are serious about things, there is where your commitment should be. Accepting your organization’s call is not to take away from your political party’s preferences. How are we going to build a nation when many of us are so spineless!

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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