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Have we now reached the promised land?

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Next Tuesday, August 1, will be 179 years since our foreparents were relieved of their legal shackles and began a process of refashioning their lives. It did not take them long to realize that it was not going to be an easy task and that there were numerous obstacles on the way. A protest march held in Barbados on July 25 and supported by over 20, 000 people, members of trade unions and private sector organizations, could have led me to conclude, if I did not know otherwise, that we in SVG are a satisfied people. But a feeling of discontent fills the air.  Every day, there are complaints about the inability to make ends meet, dissatisfaction with health services, the alarming crime situation, and much more.

The public service and teachers’ unions have recently been complaining about discrepancies in appointments and promotions. At a press conference on Tuesday, the teachers highlighted “unfair, unreasonable, discriminatory and unlawful treatment” in those areas. The PSU had decided on a legal challenge. I am not sure about the strategy of the teachers. It is unfortunate that the unions are unable to do what is a normal strategy of trade unions – withhold services and bring their members on to the streets. They have thus lost a major trump card. The irony is that even those members so affected seem unwilling to take that step to ensure justice and their legitimate rights.

The Police Welfare Association, after being frustrated about lack of responses to their calls for improved conditions of work, discussed among themselves strategies to strengthen their demands, suggesting that they ‘storm’ the Prime Minister’s Office. This, it appears, was leaked by one of their own members and taken to the authorities, who reacted in the most farcical fashion imaginable. The use of the word ‘storm’, taken out of context, raised fears of a coup d’ état, with talk of charges of treason. I was reading a piece in one of the Caribbean newspapers that was headlined “Jamaica Storms into Gold Cup Final”. And I wondered!

We are bent on venting our frustrations by murdering and abusing our brethren, while failing even to use legitimate channels to air our grievances and fight for our rights. The public service and teachers’ unions have at least been showing that all is not well and that something is rotten in the state of SVG. Do the other unions still exist, or is it that they have been too successful in catering to the interests of their members?

Why do we continue to celebrate Emancipation Day? History is only important in that it provides context and meaning, and inspires us. It is a point of reconnection. Outside of this, holidays commemorating historical events or activities are meaningless. What has befallen our people? If our foreparents were to come alive today, they would certainly disown us. They would want to know if they had really produced such a bunch of hapless people, who have lost their way and are drifting aimlessly.

Admittedly, following emancipation, our people remained for long in the political wilderness, having to fight constantly for their rights. Independence ultimately came, but to what extent did our politicians and governments since Independence advance our struggle? In the Barbados Nation of July 25, Ian Marshall argues that post-colonial governments in the Caribbean have been hamstrung by greed, indifference, corruption, messianic politics, arrogance, and disdain, among others. In the process, in my view, they sabotaged the hopes and aspirations of the people who had elected them to office. Something must be done. And soon! We can no longer afford to grovel, as we have been wont to.      

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian

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