Many issues, limited space
R. Rose - Eye of the Needle
March 24, 2023
Many issues, limited space

The month of March is really a very packed one, filled with occasions of national, historical and global significance. It is of course, our month, during which we commemorate National Heroes Day on March 14, but also must not forget outstanding nationals like George McIntosh and Hugh Mulzac with relevant anniversaries in March as well.

Then there is International Women’s Day, the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and several other days of national or international significance. Unfortunately, it is impossible to address all of these adequately in a column such as mine.

In addition, just as if to usurp the focus on Chatoyer and National Heroes Day, there came the Court ruling in what is now referred to as “the vaccine case” involving some public servants who had insisted that it was their right to defy the government’s mandate to be vaccinated during the deadly outbreak of the Coronavirus. The judge’s ruling, in favour of the workers, has reignited the controversy over the matter.

The politics of the matter

It is a pity that the controversy arose in the context of unfriendly relations between the government and public service unions over a number of issues. Complicating this, was the reality that in a politically-divisive small society like ours, every disagreement by any government with any potentially influential group, must have repercussions
in terms of political support.

Although the circumstances are not identical, the ULP was able to capitalize on the open conflict between the NDP government and workers in the 1999/2000 period, leading to its eventual electoral triumph in 2001. It is a matter which continues to rankle the NDP and, not surprisingly, irrespective of a different context, that party and its supporters will find it difficult not to identify with any government/ public sector disagreement.

But now that the matter has been put before the courts, not just in the industrial relations and political realm as in 2000, one has to be careful how one proceeds. The High Court has ruled in favour of the unions and workers and the state is obligated by law to obey its ruling.

But unfortunately, there is provision for the state to appeal and in the course of it to apply for a stay of execution. This would no doubt create further inconvenience for the aggrieved, and so far victorious parties, but those are the provisions of the law. There may be many who would wish that the matter would not have reached this stage, because, as the Prime Minister is fond of saying, “lives and livelihoods are at stake”.

Protests have already been embarked upon and the victorious protagonists are making a big issue of the state’s appeal and application of a stay of execution. With the governing ULP due to celebrate its 22 nd anniversary this weekend, it would not be surprising if that party would try to up the ante in terms of a political row on what should now be a matter for the courts. The political row will not help.

ULP on show

As I just indicated, this upcoming Sunday, the ULP has scheduled a political rally to celebrate its victory at the polls in 2001. Of course it is a big issue for the party, as it is no mean accomplishment. From the advertisements, the ULP is pulling out all the stops, Skinny Fabulous and Naila Blackman as well as local favourite Fireman Hooper among those providing the entertainment.

I have no quarrel with these, just suggesting an idea for March 2024. What about celebrating National Heroes Day, International Women’s Day and the International Day Against Racial Discrimination (March 21) with a similar level of mobilization? Don’t Chief Chatoyer, our precious women and our battle for reparatory justice deserve it?

I can only hope that the victors, while naturally celebrating their accomplishments, would take on board the pressing need for us all to take the matter of unnecessary political divisions, even to the point of vitriol, as an unnecessary and most unwelcome development. It would be to the benefit of us all if, given the court matter mentioned, they would resist the temptation to make any utterances which would further divisions, between government and workers and more especially, between workers themselves who may have different perspectives on the matter. We all have

our own views, on vaccines, on the need and obligation of the government to protect its citizens, the young ones in particular. But we have to learn how to handle disagreements, treating those differences as grounds for enmity gets us all nowhere.

Both sides must recognize this and in seeking a resolution commit themselves, not to the urgings of supporters but to the outcome of a process in which we appear to have faith.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.