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Fifty One Years of Independence

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he chose for his inheritance…..” Psalm 33: Verse 12.

Barbados will celebrate its 51st anniversary of independence on Thursday, November 30th and today the Executive Council of the Barbados Workers’ Union takes this opportunity to congratulate the Government and the people of Barbados on the occasion of our country’s birthday.

This week is an opportune time for all Barbadians, black, white and brown, old and young, to seriously reflect on what we are celebrating when we speak about independence. Sovereignty, self-government or independence, whatever we call it, must represent more to us Barbadians than the traditional symbols of self-determination, such as being able to elect our parliamentary representatives, hoist our flag, sing our anthem, recite our pledge and speak at the United Nations and other regional and international fora. We suggest that every Barbadian citizen, born and adopted, must ask ourselves very honestly if we are proud of the image(s) that we see being reflected in our mirror – and the mirror about which we speak is not the mirror in our bathrooms or bedrooms; rather we are referring to the mirror that reflects the way in which we behave, the way we treat each other and, in fact, the way we respond to every aspect of life in our country.

We need only to listen to the news broadcasts by the electronic media, the newspapers and the social media and we will see the reflections of the everyday happenings in Barbados. As a consequence, we should ask yourselves if what we are observing in Barbados is what we think our political independence is all about or the things for which the Fathers of independence wished. There are several issues about which we can speak, but the troublesome matter of crime and violence among our youth is that which we can cite as an example. The question is, are we concerned about the downward spiral?

It is instructive during this celebratory period for us to reflect on the words of our National Anthem and meditate on the meaning of the words. Let’s study the meaning of the chorus of the National Anthem which goes as follows:

We loyal sons and daughters all
Do hereby make it known
These fields and hills beyond recall
Are now our very own
We write our names on history’s page
With expectations great
Strict guardians of our heritage
Firm craftsmen of our fate

Can we, today, make the claim that we are “strict guardians of our heritage”? Are we, in truth, safeguarding the fine traditions and customs for which Barbados was known? We must all recognise the reality that we are all – for the good or the bad - “craftsmen of our fate”

Since 1966, Barbados has made significant physical progress in many areas of its development, locally, and on the world stage where the sons and daughters of the once marginalised labouring class have held high office; we have also done well at home in developments in health, education and housing. Yet, something is sadly missing. The Barbados of 2017 is clearly not the Barbados of 1966 when we achieved our political independence from Britain; nor is the world in which we live the same as it was in 1966. The Barbados of 1966 was then a simple agrarian economy, reflecting a village atmosphere, in which Sugar was king and efforts were being initiated to diversify the economy using tourism and light manufacturing as the key initiatives.

Fifty one years later, the Barbados landscape has been strongly conditioned by a world view, influenced by the lowering of standards, brought about by travel and the mass media, particularly the unregulated social media.

For those of us who were alive in the years leading up to November 30, 1966 the historic date when Barbados attained its political independence from Britain, it seems like only yesterday when the opposing parties, speaking from their platforms, were filling the night air with their views as to whether Barbados should go it alone, or seek independence as part of the “Little Eight” grouping. Discerning observers recall that local party politics during the debates, at home, and in England, at times, may have detracted from the weight of the arguments as to why Barbados should become a sovereign nation. Some of the views were centred more on the individuals than on the question of sovereignty. Whether we agreed with the pros or the cons, the one thing that is pellucidly clear is that democracy prevailed and the voices of the people were heard loud and clear.

In the ensuing years, the voices of the leaders in the independence struggle have been hushed, chief among whom were the Leader of the Democratic Labour Party and former Premier and Prime Minister Errol Walton Barrow, now Rt. Excellent, Ernest Deighton Mottley, and Jack Dear, who led the Opposition forces. Gone, too, is former Barbados Workers’ Union General Secretary Frank Walcott, now Rt. Excellent, who stoutly defended the Barrow Government, as well as some members of the Under 40s, young BLP cohorts and The Underprivileged, who supported the Government of the day.

The BWU was forthright in its support for Barbados’ move to sovereignty during the heated national debates on the question. And in the past 51 years, the BWU has been pleased to be counted among those national institutions which have been solidly in the forefront of promoting initiatives whose aims have been to develop Barbados and to place it among those nations which seek to uphold the noble traditions of respect for the democratic rights of all citizens.

In the words of the Rt. Excellent Sir Frank Leslie Walcott, who served as General Secretary of the BWU from 1948 to 1991,”The BWU was never in doubt that independence was a natural and logical constitutional decision to be taken if the island was to achieve rapid social and economic progress”. Writing in his weekly column, “The Union Speaks”, on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of independence in 1971, Sir Frank stated:” Barbados’ decision to take the bold step showed that political independence is not predicated on the basis of size, but on the willingness of the people to accept the responsibility of running their own affairs.”

As we approach the 51st anniversary of our independence, there can be no denying that Barbados, under successive Democratic Labour Party and Barbados Labour Party governments has made significant strides in almost every sphere of human endeavour. Parliament, like the other social institutions such as the Church, over the years has become more reflective of the aspirations of the wider Barbadian society. Health care has improved, especially so with the advent of the polyclinics, whose emphasis on public health, allows for a wider reach of the masses. In terms of physical development, there has been much infrastructural growth with regard to the construction of roads, airport and seaport expansion, and improvements in, and access to utilities by the average Barbadian. Of significance, too, is the fact that the island’s economy has been diversified from a sugar mono crop to light manufacturing, tourism and other services which have widened prospects for employment. In addition, the building of new schools at the primary and secondary levels and the establishment of the Samuel Jackman Prescod Institute of Technology, the Barbados Community College and the expansion of the University of West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, have created educational opportunities for a wider cross section of the population.

The tireless efforts of the trade union movement led by the Barbados Workers’ Union have done much to turn the tide in Barbados by building democracy at the workplace, ameliorating the conditions of the working class in a number of ways: by way of the lobby for labour and social legislation; the creation of a voice for the once voiceless workers; through the process of collective negotiating has gained livable salaries and wages and improvements in working conditions. That Labour has made a significant contribution to the social, economic and political transformation of Barbados is incontestable, sadly, however, its efforts to better the lives of the working class has been beset by challenges at every turn by reactionary forces. Labour’s biggest challenges is that while the dynamics may change as it relates to ownership of Capital, for example, the shift from sugar agriculture to tourism, attitudes to Labour die hard.

Following on from the foundation work of the organising of workers begun in 1939 by the Barbados Progressive League, the forerunner of the BWU, to its formal registration on October 4, 1941, the BWU has been working unremittingly to fulfill its objectives, among which are: to obtain and maintain just wages, reasonable working hours, holidays and other conditions of employment, and, generally to protect the interest of its members. We also note that the BWU has been in the forefront of the lobby for social and labour legislation among which are the Holidays with Pay Act, introducing for the first time, a legal vacation for all workers and other important pieces of legislation such as the Severance Payments Act and the National Insurance Act.

Much credit must be bestowed on those loyal sons and daughters, sung and unsung, who were engaged in the heroic struggle to democratise our social institutions and to liberate the people of Barbados from the physical and mental shackles of slavery and colonialism. We make special mention of National Heroes, Rt. Excellent Samuel Jackman Prescod, through to Dr. Charles Duncan O’Neal, Sir Grantley Herbert Adams, Sir Hugh Worrell Springer, Sir Frank Leslie Walcott and the Father of Independence Errol Walton Barrow

Over the past four decades, the Barbados economy has been negatively impacted upon by the international economic turmoil, for example, the current prolonged economic recession, the consequences of which have been negative growth and cuts in Government spending, lay-offs and unemployment, both in the Public and Private Sectors. The consequential economic industrial relations challenges have been exacerbated by poor labour management decisions by some Public Sector organisations and Private Sector concerns, which, in turn, have resulted in protests by the Trade Union Movement.

This is a time when we in Barbados should become more introspective and start a rethink of where the country is heading. Economic growth seems elusive and there is moral decline. Particularly as it relates to the latter, in spite of our successes over the past fifty one years, Barbados seems to have entered a new phase where a faction of the younger demographic is behaving out of character and being engaged in activities which contrast strikingly to the precepts of the founding fathers, whose every efforts were aimed at building the country they love. While the seeming outbursts of crime and violence appeared to have caught some people off-guard, the discerning may have recognised that the gradual breakdown in the social order has been caused by a preceding breakdown in the prime social institutions such as the family structure and the reduced influence of the schools and church. Add to the foregoing man’s quest for materialism, and the putrid influences of the developed world brought into our homes by the mass media and the nascent social media, whose impact is immeasurable, which ever way we view it.

We suggest that every Barbadian citizen, born or adopted, should seek to ponder if we, as individuals and as a community, have been living up to the noble ideals of our founding fathers. As citizens, we seriously must consider how well, if, at all, we have been able to accept the responsibility of running our own affairs. If the country has prospered, each of us must ask ourselves what could we have done to make life even better, and, if we have been unable to meet our expectations, we must also enquire of ourselves what role we could have played to improve our circumstances. This period should be one of serious reflection in which we take the high ground and soberly question ourselves if we are at the position, where a country which will soon mark its golden anniversary as a sovereign nation should be at. Our checklist should seek, among other things, critically to analyse the quality of our governance at the levels of our Government and the other social partners, e.g., the Private Sector, the Trade Unions, the Church so that we may be able thoughtfully to examine how we have performed in areas such as politics, economic, the community and spiritually.

By Orlando Scott
Senior Assistant General Secretary
Barbados Workers’ Union