I had left off last week from my discourse on Electoral Reform to try and draw attention to a very important stage in our (the Caribbean) development, politically and constitutionally.
That was the long forgotten experiment in regional advancement, the ill-fated West Indian Federation of 1958/62.
However important that exercise was, it does not in any way, and cannot, negate current circumstances.
There are pressing challenges of today which must occupy our attention. Foremost among them, as far as working people, the poor and vulnerable are concerned, must be the cost of living, survivability, in the face of a rising trend that makes one wonder whether there is any tomorrow for our children’s children.
However, one can, and MUST, while focusing on these immediate matters, never ignore the broader context. It is foolish for instance to say that we cannot bother with the context in which these issues occur because we have to deal with those before us. Those who cannot walk, talk and THINK at the same time, are incapable of leadership.
For sure, the current difficulties with an ever-rising cost of living must be foremost in the minds of most of us. It has become a life-and-death matter for working people, those with young children in particular. Government has responded by making concessions, not yet in any significant way to working people. The latest of these has been to accede to the demands of the vocal entrepreneurs and drivers in the transportation sector for increases in bus fares.
Yet, these increases are yet another hurdle for working people to overcome. It is amazing therefore that the local trade union movement has not made its collective voice heard on the matter.
Workers depend overwhelmingly on public transportation to get to and from their places of employment. There is also the critical matter of affording bus fares for students and pupils.
In the midst of all this however, it appears that the local trade union movement does not have a united position on these issues. It was due to meet with government on Thursday of this week, but two of these unions, representing teachers and public service workers, seem more preoccupied with battles against the government on issues deriving from Covid and the refusal to abide with public health regulations, than in forging a broader worker position on the broader issues.
While respecting their right to pursue what they consider to be “in the best interests” of their members, or at least a small part of their broader membership, it is critical that they do not continue to be led down blind alleys by those who seem to have other agendas. The unity of the labour movement is critical at times like these, not only advancing the interests of ALL the unionized, but those of non-unionized workers as well.
The trade union movement must not allow itself to be sidetracked into fighting the battles of those who have their own axes to grind. It must be able to take up the day-to- day issues from the perspectives of the vast majority of workers and not from those of an aggrieved minority.
Those with personal and political agendas must be reminded that on five occasions in the past two decades, opportunities for the removal of the government, characterized by its political opponents as “anti-worker”, have been presented via general elections but on none of these occasions have the opponents succeeded.
Much of the failure has been ascribed to “election irregularities” and the matters have even reached the Courts, not to mention vitriolic campaigns against election officials, including harassment and intimidation of the former Supervisor of Elections.
One may agree or disagree with the extent of the blame attributed to perceived “election irregularities” but surely, while we struggle to defend our day-to-day interests, we need to pay attention to these as well. If the conclusions drawn is that this government is THE problem, and if we truly believe that the electoral set-up allows it to continue to win elections, then, is it not imperative that, notwithstanding our everyday struggles, we seek to rectify whatever flaws there are in the electoral system?
This is what is meant by being able to walk, talk and THINK at the same time. The Supreme Court in Kenya has just had to rule on the legality of recent Presidential elections, for the second time in succession. Almost every month now, whenever an opposition party fails to win elections, there are charges of irregularities and threats of refusing to accept the election results.
Does this not tell us that we cannot afford to wait until the horse has bolted from the stable before we shut the door? Should we not, NOW, not on election eve, examine our electoral architecture and find ways to improve it and rectify weaknesses so that we can be satisfied that any elections are conducted fairly and squarely and produce the government of our choice? Or do we wait, ignore the weaknesses and then complain and fight afterwards?
This is what being able to walk, talk and THINK, all at once entails. Do not ignore electoral reform; it can only be at our own peril.
Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.