Some people may remember the spirit of unrest that existed in some parts of the world in 1978 -1979 especially the overthrow of the Pahlavi dynasty in Iran which shook the world and here in Grenada our own overthrow of the Grenada United Labour Party which led to the reign of the People’s Revolutionary Government. Today as we follow world news including what’s happening in Russia, it seems like another period of restlessness is again existing compounded once again by the eruption of the volcano in Saint Vincent and now the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the period of public protests continues here, one may ask was it really a gamble Grenadians took on a statistician for the top political post when they voted to ease the pain of four years of structural adjustment? The programme began in 1991 under the Nicholas Brathwaite government which had inherited a shaky economy from the Ben Jones administration. Brathwaite, as deemed by some, spent the majority of his tenure under seige from his own party members, a dissatisfied public and an economy that barely responded to his austerity programmes. He finally resigned from politics to allow his deputy George Brizan to lead the National Democratic Congress (NDC) through the next national polls and the rest is now history. The country’s economy had not registered more than a two percent growth in the five years of the NDC.
The shaky economic performance inspired by a decline in the agricultural sector with bananas, nutmeg and cocoa, the three main export crops, falling prey to low world commodity prices and diseases. However, as new ideas take shape, with a hope for the future, farmers switched to producing vegetables which are readily sold on the local and regional markets as agriculture is now tied to tourism.
Through the years new hotels are being built which, apart from improving the room-stock, have been providing jobs. But then came the pandemic with its casualties all over the world is being blamed for the spirit of restlessness on the island brought on by the loss of jobs and the government loss of revenue. Teachers and Public Workers are angry once again with government and they have begun to take to the streets to vent their anger. They seem to be popping up anywhere and anytime, which seems to worry the Police who are trying to scrutinise their actions maybe to come up with something to hold against them in a bid to stop the protest actions.
The present industrial climate within the context of the teachers and the Public Workers Union seems to be at boiling point and on the brink of spilling over into the wider society. Shouldn’t this be taken seriously?
In the days when the President of the Senate was a trade unionist, he may well remember his quote in local news about storm clouds on the horizon which reminded him that the industrial climate is going back to the early days of turbulence. So he can be a resource person to educate the government as to where this turbulence can lead. At the same time, the Prime Minister is calling on workers to show restraint and patience while it tries to build a stable industrial climate. But the workers are refusing to pay any attention to the argument that the government cannot pay the 4% which is owed to them now.
They are asking how can government call for restraint and belt-tightening when it recently paid a large sum in the GRENLEC deal, is paying to support the International airport among other areas of gripe.
The issue is now seen steeped in politics with political parties and groupings coming on board to call on the government to pay the workers.
While some familiar voices of political activists are heard on radio programmes almost pleading with the government to settle the matter amicably, negotiations seem to be in deadlock. One voice in calling on the Prime Minister, reminded him that the workers are the young people who gave him fifteen seats so he should try and avoid being seen as their enemy. This reminded me of a calypso by a regional artiste who warned Maurice Bishop that “the same people that put you up are the same people that will pull you down.”
In analyzing the situation where even school children are negatively affected, most people are of the opinion that it is time that the matter of wages be seriously addressed, and what is rightly the workers’ own, should be given without much delay, thus avoiding the struggle going to the next level. The workers are saying loudly “enough is enough.”
It is our hope that some kind of intervention should take place for the right thing to be done for the good of us all. There is a saying, ‘the wiser head gives in first.’