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A Reflection For Our 52nd Anniversary of Independence

On Friday, 30th November, our nation Barbados will mark the fifty second anniversary of political independence. Those of us who are old enough to recall the pros and cons of the arguments adduced by the politicians and citizens who were engaged in the Independence debates on the streets, the political platforms, in the House of Assembly in Barbados and in London with the Colonial Secretary, should take time out to reflect on whether we have reached the stage where we can proudly say that we have done a sufficiently good job at managing our affairs over the past half century.

The question is: what criteria ought we to use to justify whether or not we have been successful or close to being successful regarding self-government? We may ask ourselves whether political independence should be measured only in relation to the traditional trappings of independence such as having our own flag and our national anthem. Or should we also give consideration to issues such as the health of the economy, political stability and/or the effective functioning and autonomy of our democratic institutions, such as our Parliament, our Judiciary and the Press?

When compared to many of the countries across the Globe, Barbados has scored well in most of the benchmarks we have mentioned. For example, in the past 52 years since we have achieved political independence from Britain, Barbados has had eight Prime Ministers. Happily, there have never been any known attempts by any of our leaders or the political organisations they have represented to undermine the democratic process. In fact we have had enjoyed general elections after general elections without there being any violence or any publicly known attempts to destabilise the political process.

Free and fair elections as well as the ability of our trade union organisations to function without the fear of interference or terror have been the hallmarks of the democratic process in Barbados. And for us in the Barbados Workers’ Union it is our pray, as well as our intention, to work assiduously and unceasingly to ensure that the voice of Labour – the voice of the people - is heard without the fear of reprisals from any quarter. This is a freedom which all Barbadians must strive to protect. Free and functioning trade unions, which essentially Is the means by which the voice of the workers is heard and respected at the bargaining table and publicly is a true reflection of democracy. And, at this particular period in our history when the Government of Barbados is seeking to restructure the economy under the IMF Programme, all Barbadians ought to recognise the crucial role of the trade union movement in Barbados in looking after the best interests of the workforce and the wider community, given the problems we have encountered thus far in the lay-off process.

Beginning with the formation of the Charles Duncan O’Neal-led Democratic League and The Workingmen’s Association in the mid-1920s, and the founding of the Barbados Progressive League in the 1930s and its off-shoots the Barbados Labour Party and the Barbados Workers’ Union, a decade later, and the placing of the governance of our country in the hands of the majority, Barbados has enjoyed a measure of democracy, unequalled in this Region and, indeed, anywhere on the Globe. Much of the freedoms we now enjoy have come about as a consequence of the sacrificial work of our patriots, most of whom were associated with the Trade Union Movement, such as the aforementioned Dr. Charles Duncan O’Neal, Grantley Herbert Adams, Hugh Worrell Springer and Frank Leslie Walcott – all of whom have been knighted and elevated to the ranks of National Heroes. Their work in reshaping Barbados and ameliorating the social, economic and political conditions of Barbados over the past 80 years is immeasurable.

The other non-labour patriots, who are worthy of mention, are Samuel Jackman Prescod who initiated the work towards the emancipation of the masses in the 19th century and the crusading journalist, Clennel Wickham, who used The Herald newspaper in the 1920s to trumpet for reform and who gave much support to Dr. Duncan O’Neal.

In this brief presentation, we would like to raise one decisive factor which should be placed among the benchmarks of which we spoke earlier. We believe that we have fallen down rather badly regarding the management of our society. The recent spate of gun crimes and particularly the deviance among our under forties demographics are cause for deep concern and it is a situation with which we as a society seem averse to finding workable remedies. The fact that our young men and women in the under forties demographic are caught up in deviance points to the fact that we have failed in the nurturing of that generation. To compound the situation, drugs, the same issue, which is possibly that which has tainted and discoloured our way of life is the particular matter which some sections of our society are in a hurry to promote. We have failed our country big time because we have failed to live according to the age-old prescriptions which have guided our communities over the past three hundred years. We have never been perfect, having borne the stain of slavery and colonialism, but, in the past, many have sought after righteousness and have made it a practice of their life. And what is disconcerting is that the pulpit, which should be the guardian of our faith, is not sufficiently vocal. Notwithstanding, it is the duty of every institution in Barbados to prepare our nation for the future and every home is also duty-bound to take the responsibility to nourish our young people in positive pursuits.

It’s no sense in us harking back to the past. The past is past. Rather, we have to find creative ways to reach out to our young people who are living in a different and more complex age. The home and the school are the primary institutions which shape thinking and behaviour insofar as our children are concerned. Parents must therefore invest more time and energy in fostering the foundation values among our children. The point is that we can’t run our homes or our schools in the way we managed those institutions in the past, in what we may describe as “the days of innocence” – when the only visible threat was the rum shop or the dance hall. We live in a seeming accommodating age where bad is accepted as good and good is regarded as old fashion. It is an age in which we have sought to rewrite God’s commandments on the grounds that we are living in different times; yet we expect to be blessed by God. We also have the effrontery to cry out when we are challenged by shootings, murders and other forms of deviance. We can’t have it both ways. Apart from the mess that we have created, we are also challenged by the output of powerful media and occurrences which create distractions from the straight and narrow path. The mass media, especially the television and the social media, in their various forms, are potent and very influential as they can, and do, set the agenda for the way in which we think and behave; in fact they are the new mindbenders. Children can pick up any amount of dirt on their omnipresent smart phones.

The Barbados Workers’ Union has been at the centre of this country’s transformation and we believe that we must speak to those matters which hinder national development. Deviance affects every sinew in our body politic and our workspace is therefore not immune.

So, as we prepare for the celebration of our 52nd Anniversary of Independence we should honestly reflect not merely on our achievements but on where we have slipped