Month: Jan 2018

Jamaica, marching to rebellion

Jamaica is in dire straits, with an economy that barely has a pulse, violent crime touching almost everyone, corruption rife and the people’s morale low, we can see where this island is looking into the eye of a hurricane. Things are made worse by the fact that we have two political parties which can ill afford to change a system which sees them directly benefit from the violent crime and the rampant corruption. Something has to give, something will give, but the question is what will take its place when the dust has settled?

Jamaica, whether we admit it or not has planted and lovingly grown a tree of anarchy, we are living in a state where rules don’t apply and those unfortunate fools who do follow the rules get buried. The people’s morale is at an all-time low and that now leaves them open and willing to accept any and everything (as seen with the JLP admin and its policies), they are desperate. They will be all the more desperate when the policies of this admin have their impact on them and then a nation that is both desperate and low on morale will be open to rebellion.

This is not wishy-washy talk, nor is this yearning for some ‘glorious and beautiful revolution’. The historical steps taken by this nation are in lock-step with others who have only wound up at revolution, the fact is that if things keep going as they are then it will happen. The odds are it probably will not be tomorrow, but the grass is dry and there are many sparks. As it relates to ‘glorious revolutions’ there is no such thing, one could fill many a tome with quotations stating things such as ‘a revolution is not a dinner-party’. They are violent, messy and pits man against man, however, it is necessary and it is where we are heading.

The evidence of us heading down this route are all around us and they have in fact intensified over the past few decades. Take for example the political and social elite of this country who are (and have been for some time) totally out of touch with the masses and their everyday realities. This is a group that has been living high on the hog for the past fifteen years while the average citizen has had to face what can only be called austere measures. This group which consists of bankers, manufacturers, large farm holders and politicians have all during the past decade and a half been getting fat at the trough while the unemployment rate in the nation gallops along. The lack of understanding is so lacking that the economy is seen to be doing well because of the opening of some BMW dealerships while the residents who live a stone’s throw away can ill afford the light bill. In a land where the most pressing issue at hand in the houses of the elite is if they will have issues going to the US on their Jamaican passports (as they are dual citizens) while the poverty rate creeps back to the 20% rate one can safely say that the seeds of rebellion have been planted.

Another harbinger of revolt is the total apathy of the people, and in Jamaica, we have a people who are bathed in apathy. This is a nation where murder no longer shakes us, it has to be dramatic, medieval for us to get talking about it. We are not surprised by corruption, it takes $200 million going astray for us to sit up. We are no longer shocked by police brutality, it now takes a pregnant woman being shot for us to talk about it. The apathy is a deadly harbinger because it shows a people with no hope, and if you have no hope its only a matter of time before you realise that you have nothing to lose and that something must change. A person in that situation who feels powerless and oppressed by a harsh system is always open to the idea of rebellion.

The spectre of rebellion is in the air, one only need look at the elections to see that the nation is in a deep state of unrest. The last two general elections have seen the PNP being elected in what could only be described as a rout on the promise of reform and then proceeded to lose in the most drastic way to the JLP who also campaigned on wholesale reform. Though the outcomes of those two elections were different (one with a supermajority and one with razor-thin lead), both were notable for their low voter turnout. The low voter turnout was made all the more interesting by the fact that in those elections some ‘die-hard’ seats, not garrisons, changed hands showing that even the dyed in the wool voters were switching allegiances. Such actions are always the sign of a restless and desperate people, and such people always rebel and revolt. If such anaemic turnouts coupled with the apathy of the people continue then that creates a situation ready for any charismatic strongman who claims that they can reform the system.

If one looks at the security forces one also sees where rebellion, again while not imminent, punctuates the air. The new NSC with Chief of Defense Staff and the proposed powers to be vested in the revamped JCF are alarm bells in a nation where a large portion of the people already feel that if the armed forces were in charge we would have some semblance of discipline. Things become even more touchy Officers (for altruistic reasons) are moved into the civil arena, they either become enamoured with the corruption and are just as bad, or become disgusted and act. This becomes a more dire situation when ex-army and policemen even in anger/jest float that possibility as an avenue out of the madness we currently find ourselves in.

The citizenry (outside of the regular voters) are also speaking in terms that are usually followed up by upheaval. Many are the individuals who have absolutely given up on the state and are going it alone, many are the individuals who, while not criminals, do react riotously to state intervention. They may be considered ‘vagabonds’, ‘squatters’ or ‘homesteaders’, whichever label you give them, these ‘poor unwashed masses’ are the perfect breeding ground for actions and activities that may very well rend the state apart. They can be seen in the small cliques and communities, some religious and some secular but these groups which have such a sceptical view of the state already should be worrying to those who fear for further instability in the land.

The clergy can also be seen as playing a crucial role in the ever-increasing rise of the rebellious fervour in the nation. The church has long been of the opinion that our leaders need to ‘come together and sing kumbayah’ so that we can right the wrongs of the nation, but in recent years we have moved past that stage as even the church is waking up to the fact that the system is inherently rotten. We hear them now no longer praying for our leaders to be divinely touched, rather they now call for full-fledged divine intervention. Divine intervention is no joke, it is a call of a desperate people who realise (or rather feel) that the prevailing system is so oppressive and strong that a mere mortal cant end the madness, only a God can stop the corruption. This is always a ringing bell for rebellion because it only then becomes a matter of time that a fanatic whips the people up into some zealous/righteous fervour a-la Iran, or the people flip the pages of the bible and see that God only helps those who help themselves. When a desperate people find knowledge such as that, that is when one knows that the barricades will be manned shortly.

Rebellions and revolutions are usually begun by some innocuous thing, an action which the heads don’t think will result in any massive sea change. Who would have thought that a man’s simple self-immolation would lead to the toppling (directly or indirectly) of four governments? Who would have thought that a relative few troublemakers on the streets of would lead to seven years of civil war? Desperate persons do desperate things and are more often than not spurred to action by a seemingly simple action. The state and powers that be have had ample time (two decades) to stem the ever-increasing tide of rebelliousness in the people and they have all failed. The people are cowed, scared and undereducated, some would say that that is a recipe for continued stagnation, but all people have a breaking point and it is clear to anyone who has eyes that our breaking point is fast being reached, what the aftermath will look like is anyone’s guess.

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Jamaican public-sector wage negotiations… we’ll all feel it

Jamaican public-sector wage negotiations… we’ll all feel it

The past decade has seen the public sector workers going through the ringer as it relates to pay. With the rate of inflation always in the back of one’s mind, the workers have had to endure a severe wage freeze or a wage increase so minuscule that when adjusted for inflation it is more like a loss of wages. The nurses, police officers, teachers etc have for the most part been rather patient and tame during these negotiations, apart from a few spasms (such as the nurses’ action) no incident of any real note has taken place, they had, for the most part, accepted it as for that decade we had to all ‘ban belly’ to ensure the economy stabilized and saw growth.

However with the economy now no longer in freefall (though it still is in choppy waters) and with a government speaking of prosperity we see where the public sector workers are no longer buying the ‘ban belly’ line and that the ruling class has fully regrouped as it relates to bashing the Jamaican worker. Dangerous things are happening and the Jamaican worker must be wary, they must understand that everything that was won from ’38 through to the 80’s was fought for, never guaranteed and always liable to be withdrawn and what is happening with the public sector workers is only the thin edge of the wedge.

The public sector workers are being asked (again) to take a pay rise that, when adjusted for inflation really looks like a loss or at best now breaking even financially. However, things get even touchier, for as the government looks to take the axe to the size of the public sector, the unions (albeit a bit late) are refusing to go along willingly to the slaughterhouse. This impasse coupled with the notoriously poor bargaining skills of the governing party has led to the public sector workers threatening to and in some cases actually taking some form of industrial action, something that has really taken people by surprise as the economy teeters along.

There are, in my opinion, two key things to be taken from this whole round of negotiations and public-sector reform. They are 1. that for the most part, the unions in this Island have no camaraderie, no inter-union linkages and 2. that the Jamaican worker is entering a whole new sea that is fraught with choppy waters. To the first point, it is important to note the trite but very true saying united we stand divided we fall. Our local trade unions need to understand how they (the industrialists) play the game and how they play them off one another. If union X demands a pay increase of 9% and the govt states it can only afford 5%, then that remaining 4% gets taken from another sector. Divide and rule is a tactic as old as time, but it is made all the easier when the parties involved don’t care if the other lives or dies.

That may sound a bit harsh, but that is what it really boils down to at the end of the day. If say the JTA demands a financial payout bigger than what has been budgeted for, then the difference will naturally be made up by other sectors (especially since we are not borrowing like before), that is a matter of life and death. This is not me saying that the unions or their officials should not ask for, nay demand any improvements on what they currently get, for the most part, remuneration in the public sector is a joke. What I am saying is demand smart and demand in unison. They should be demanding things such as housing benefits, benefits for their children, lobbying for sector transportation, more educational allowances and things of these types. If they were to demand these things while at the same time accepting the current wage offer, or even a lower one, then they the workers would still be the winners as they would no longer have to use wage increases (even a small one) for necessities and could then use it for more leisure.

The lack of inter-union solidarity is bad, and changes in how they operate are urgently needed if the workers are to meet the challenges that await us, the challenges are varied and on the face of it many of them seem childish and quartered to one sector, but they will affect all workers in a myriad of ways. Some of these insidious changes have already been mooted in the past and are being re-hashed again for the upcoming slashing of jobs. Take for example the topic of performance-based pay, this topic has always been bandied about, mainly with the teachers who have for the most part not had any of it (and for good reason), that thought and topic has now moved into the arena of the police wage negotiations (as was mooted by the PSOJ).

Now in spite of what one thinks of the teachers (and trust me there are quite a few who should be nowhere near an educational institution), that type of pay scale will do nothing to help the cause of increasing the quality of graduate, and if anything see an even greater spike in graduates who just don’t cut the mustard. Thinking about it logically, if we were to implement such a policy tomorrow for the teachers nothing would change except no teachers would be paid and it is not because they all suck at their jobs (though a shocking number do), it would be because the underlying reasons for the undereducation still exists (a lack of funds, no help outside of school etc). The same would apply to the entire public service (the underlying factors would still remain) and for nearly all public servants, up to and including civil servants who only execute ideas dreamed up by ministers.

The statements coming out regarding the actions taken by the police and also coming from the PSOJ are also troubling. Again I would never say that the police do an excellent job, or that all of them are do-gooders (quite a few are corrupt and the good ones need to be shamed till they expose the corrupt ones), but for us to state after they take industrial action that they should be censored then we have a problem. It is one thing to say that a certain critical sector should be barred from industrial action, that is understandable, but to call for the firing of these individuals and the censoring of the doctors who signed them off is beyond overkill and borders something seen in Latin American dictatorships of old. Even scarier is when the PSOJ suggested that the police be paid out of confiscated proceeds of crime. Such a suggestion while initially seemingly brilliant becomes more stupid and borderline insane when really thought out.

A cursory glance to the US where many areas have implemented such a policy will see where the police have become nothing short of bandits. Persons being arrested on trumped-up charges and their property confiscated, especially out of towners, should be a worry to us. When one really thinks about it, the PSOJ is suggesting that the police, which is already notoriously corrupt, be allowed to seize and profit from peoples property and goods, that is endorsing theft and also pitting one sector (the police) against the others as the members of the force do desperately need the cash. When actually looked at and analysed this whole wage negotiation statement from the PSOJ smacks of a group that is more than content to partially feed one sector by starving off another.

The negotiations will be concluded most likely with the unions caving in, we have witnessed them caving for almost twenty years (accelerated in the last ten) and the union heads who coincidentally get fatter while rank and file members get thinner, will claim it as some success. The private sector may very well get its way and the way we deal with employment in this nation will no longer look the same. When the inevitable bleed over happens, when it is the private sector employees who will have to face the chopping block (and that time is coming) we can look back at these wage negotiations for what to expect and hopefully we will actually fight it in a united way this time.

Beware politicians bearing ‘change’

Beware politicians bearing ‘change’

Change is a word that is always on politician’s lips, change is something that most if not all politicians promise and it is so not just because politicians enjoy hearing themselves speak or are stuck in a loop, it is because most times a serious change is visibly needed for that political system. Politicians in Jamaica are not immune from this act and we have had our fair share of politicians who have claimed to be ‘agents of change’ or are here to bring in ‘a new style of politics’, we have had numerous politicians who have promised the moon and countless have insisted that they are here to change the system and yet for some reason we seem to be stuck even further in the mire.

While it is nice to hear a politician state boldly that he/she is going to shake up the system, in our case it has always been a case of ‘beware of politicians bearing change’ as the change in most instances locally almost always results in expensive stagnation or even retardation and regression. We live in a land where every election cycle is donned with political parties who criss-cross the island that they and they alone have ruled for sixty-six years insisting that they will change the damaging policies that they have wrought. This can be seen in elections and in governance, whether the politicians and party are new in forming the government or picking up where they left off, we hear constantly of change and yet things remain the same.

If we use the last three administrations we see where much talk of change was bandied about and yet, in the end, the nation and the people, for the most part, are worse off than a decade ago. Take for example the previous PNP government and the issue of ganja; here we had a party calling for a change, stating that the laws then were totally out of step with what was (is) the reality in Jamaica. However, the ‘change’ that they implemented was to simply decriminalise, in other words, the big change was to codify what the police were already doing and end it there. No ganja industry was/has been planned, the cost of licences such as R&D and other legitimate purposes are prohibitively expensive and as such the main players in the ganja industry remains the drug lord and his cultivator. This is a party that swept to power when we were on our knees economically and the citizens were asked to tighten their belts, the PNP while in office though burnt through money for ‘official’ things like an enlarged travelling entourage and new top of the line cars. There may have been a change in how the economy was run (they did somewhat right the ship), but there was no change in their attitude towards the people bearing austere measures as they flaunted luxuries in their faces.

The previous JLP administration (2007-2011) was ushered in on the back of change, it was (even with its slim majority) touted as the panacea to the PNP poison. Change varying from political reform, electoral reform, economic reform and a systematic separation of politics and crime were peddled to the people and they bought it. In the end, the changes that actually took place were that of the state violently opening up the garrison of Tivoli, something most thought they would never see (especially by a JLP administration). And even the gains from that tragic change have been flushed away by following administrations as the gangster now look to consolidate themselves in West Kingston and the all-important port. On the economic front, we were promised a change from the stagflation that marred the PNP era, a change from living on borrowed money and a change in how we ran our finances, the change we got was, in fact, being hard hit by the financial crisis despite us having due time to prepare and the workers continuing to bear the brunt of it.

This administration has been no different in promising the moon, in trying to sell the people anything to get and remain in office. The promises of this administration have been many and all across the board, in most instances borrowing from past administrations and in all cases failing to make a change for the better. The promise of a better economic future (near term) has been shown to be a lie, it is more of the same and has meant stagnation for the workers. Promises of a change in leadership style have only seen parties acting like it was the bad 90’s in reverse, now its the PNP who repulse and turn off people by their actions and words leaving the JLP to act like the sole cock amongst hens. We see a government that promised to do right by the workers now offering what can only be called a joke as it relates to a pay increase. We have a government that after promising that they would ‘change’ dishing out contracts pre-election like its nobody’s business.

These are but a few examples of Jamaican political parties promising change or to be agents of change and we all know that there are countless more examples. The question then becomes, if we the voters and citizens want to change politics and how it works and we know that most politicians who promise change really only mean a change of party in office, what do you do? What action can the voter and the average citizen take when he/she knows that continuing down the same path will lead to ruin and yet those who not only preach change but are entrusted to be ‘agents of change’, then go and do the same thing or worse?

Finding the answer to this conundrum is simple, the implementation, however, is hard. One must elect politicians who have a record of positive change, individuals who have no linkages to the corrupted system that is Jamaican politics (there are quite a few individuals who fit the bill such as our former Contractor General). Elect persons who will and have done the hard lifting in our society, individuals from NGO’s and various charities whom we all know would ensure that a positive change takes place in the land. But as I said that is easy, we all know that is the answer, the implementation, however, will show if we really want a change. The action means writing, calling and speaking to individuals who fit the bill and pester them into entering the political arena, as many don’t want to because it entails the metaphorical selling of one’s soul.  Action means joining or forming a party so that those individuals can get on a ticket, it also means voting so that the individual can win. To see a change we need to hold our politicians accountable, vote them out when they mess up or deviate from the script the people have given them, we must ensure that they are answerable to the people in all there dealings.

Persons who want political change in this nation are a dime a dozen, everyone knows that things cant continue as they are. Everyone is grasping to or looking for something to be hopeful for, some positive change on the horizon and the politicians know this. They have had sixty plus years to make a change in the nation and if anything we have gone backwards. This current batch of politicians in both parties and youth wings are not agents of positive change, they are more of the same, that is so because the system they have designed makes them powerful and influential and changing it even in the slightest would be a major hindrance to that. If change is to come it will come outside of the two parties if a change is to come then the people of this nation will have to wise up and wise up quickly. We must learn fast that politicians bearing change are like Greeks bearing gifts, always to be viewed with suspicion and scepticism,

Principled out

Principled out

Recently with Jamaica conferring honours upon the president of the nation that practices open and blatant racist policies such as the Dominican Republic and our ‘fence-sitting’ when it came to the recent U.N vote on Jerusalem persons have asked how is it that a nation that gave us so many giants can now act like such a yes man. How is it, they ask that the nation that was one of the first to spit in the face of Apartheid, to snub the US embargo on Cuba, that poo-pooed the IMF and embraced the third-world and partook in all its struggles can now become such a tool? What of pride, what or principle?

It is my theory that Jamaica is principled out, that we (our political masters and their sycophants) are weary and beaten and no longer have the stomach for principle. Principle and pride though similar are words that actually give off a totally different meaning and will lead one to do different things and that is something that we must understand I think when we look at recent Jamaican activities when it comes to global events. Principle is defined as ‘a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behaviour or for a chain of reasoning’, while Pride is defined as ‘Consciousness of one’s own dignity’ and it is with these two definitions we can fully understand why the government and both parties have acted in the ways that they have.

We have had a long history of standing on principle, having a fundamental truth that we would not move from, a red line that we would not cross so to speak. In the 70’s for example, both the JLP and the PNP took principled political positions. The PNP (whether you liked it or not) took a principled left-wing position in a time and climate when such a position came with stiff costs, the JLP on the other hand (whether you liked it or not) took a principled centre-right stance again in a time and climate when such ideas came at a cost. These principles led to what was our mini civil-war, these principles have, in a major way led to the proliferation of guns and gangs and as such we, some forty-five years since these parties made these principled stances are still paying the bill. The bill, in this case, is the rampant crime/murder issue that we have whose genesis can be directly linked to the principled stance which both parties took.

Economically we were also footing the bill, and how. It is well known that whether by accident or design (I leave it up to you to decide) loans and grants from international agencies and governments come with strings attached, and for many a decade both parties took principled stances and had certain red lines. Seaga, for example, kept the bauxite levy (this after insisting that such a thing would be the beachhead for communism), and as such major investors have been wary to deal with Jamaica because on principle we wouldn’t go cheaply (note that even the free-zone workers who were paid a pittance were well paid by the standards of similar workers in other countries).

Times, however, have changed and we have ditched our principled stance for one of pure pride, thinking way too highly of ourselves if you will. Now we have a government and two parties that will do anything for the perceived ‘good life’, now we have a government that simply has no moral compass or overarching principle. How, for example, can one square the circle that is Jamaica conferring Honours on the president of the Dominican Republic? Simple, we need them financially, with Jamaica Producers (JP) having a major interest there, with Dominican Republic being a major money spinner for JMMB and with countless local business salivating at the Dominican Republic market it becomes painfully apparent that the cash has become more important than the principle, that pride has replaced the principle of racial solidarity.

The case with the U.N. vote is even sadder when one truly examines what has gone on. The vote to abstain (which is just as bad as a vote against the motion) is explained in many sectors with the logic that the U.S didn’t want us to vote for this, the U.S was ‘taking names’ as it were for its bad book and the U.S is going to economically hurt those who went with the motion. Another reason given is that the Palestinian issue is not our problem, not affecting us and therefore we shouldn’t bother getting involved as we have our own issues. That is pride, nothing more and nothing less than pure disgusting pride, and to hear and read Jamaicans saying things like that is stomach churning.

With that logic, where would South Africa be now, because using that logic no European nation, no Latin American nation and no North American nation would have called for the BDS that was a key nail in the coffin of the Apartheid machine? Lest we forget, Europe and N. America had little to gain and a lot to lose (especially economically) by supporting this BDS for black people in a continent no one really cared about. With that logic, we should stop this insisting on reparations for slavery, for why would Asia etc support such a move that would hamper relations with economic partners? Why should they care as it isn’t and wasn’t their problem?

The truth is, the last semi-principled thing Jamaican politicians did was extremely costly to the nation. For one reason (I don’t for a minute think it was the primary or even the fifth reason, but still a reason) why Golding was hesitant to give up Coke was on principle, and we felt it. With at least 70 dead, with a party that totally collapsed and imploded at the following elections, and with a party that is still viewed with suspicion it is easy to understand just why the government is tired of principles and wants to save pride, take the easy way out and survive.

Jamaica’s two parties are prideful and have no real principles regarding foreign policy and if they do have one it is that of whoring us and our vote out so we can eat the scraps leftovers from the imperial banquet. The third world has always had solidarity and love for Jamaica and we have always punched above our weight and this is just a further blow to the already battered reputation that Jamaica has. We avoided the UN vote in order to help (or at least not harm) our ailing economy and we confer honours upon racist presidents in order to secure our local companies, however, there is more to life than money and pride. When the history books are written we, in this case, will be on the wrong side and not for any principled reason, not because we believe Israel is the home of Jews or because the Dominican Republic is only white, but because we chose to put pride above all else.