No ‘small man’

I hate to hear politicians, Government officials, private sector “maguffies” and other so called “leaders” of society speak about “the small man” or about their doing of something “for the small man”!

Just who is this “small man” who has to have things done for him?

Clearly, the people who make such statements have an image of the tens of thousands of working class people of Barbados as relatively helpless child-like creatures who need to be shepherded along.

The late Norman Manley of Jamaica, for example, once informed a crowd of Jamaican workers who were in the process of making and leading a social revolution in 1938, that his head was wiser than theirs and that they would be well advised to follow his instructions.

Unfortunately, Manley was merely giving voice to a sentiment shared by many middle and upper class personalities in our Caribbean societies. Indeed, even so-called labour and trade union leaders are not immune from such elitist views. I once attended a Democratic Labour Party retreat, in which one of our noted trade unionists was openly dismissive of the capacity of lower and mid-rank party members to think and make decisions. As far as he was concerned “we”, the “leaders” of the party, had to make decisions for them.

This type of attitude is in complete opposition to the socialist vision of man and society. The democratic socialism that I subscribe to holds fast to the notion that the citizen/worker, possesses the ability and social insights required to participate directly and fully in the governance of his or her society.

Those who labour under a “small man” image of our people are also out of sync with the fundamental movement and patters of our history, for, at every critical juncture of our history, it was the working people who discerned and showed the way forward. Of course, the outstanding example of this was the workers’ revolt of the 1930s.

This is an issue that we in Barbados need to reflect on very seriously at this stage of our national development.

We have entered an era that is characterised by the menacing spectres of neo-colonialism, recolonisation and economic stagnation, and by the resurgence of a variety of right-wing, racist, anti-democratic and anti-Third World ideas and concepts.

We had better understand therefore that we are going to have to fight all of the old battles all over again if we are going to be able to maintain the social welfare benefits, the level of national development and the quality of life that we currently enjoy.

I am of the view that if we are to stand a chance of being successful in such life and death struggles, we must develop a system of governance in our country that allows for the full and direct participation of all of our citizens. The fundamental policy decisions in our society must therefore be made on the basis of the widest and fullest participation possible.

We do not want or need a “corporatist” system of governance in which the men at the top in Government, business and the unions sit down together in some private room, work out a programme for the country and then seek to impose it on the people.

This is a backward trend of governance that, unfortunately, is becoming more and more prevalent throughout the world today. Modern “corporatism” is a type of feudalism in which the state and the economy are run by a clique of latter day private and public sector “barons”. It is ultimately based on the fraudulent claims of the powerful that they are wiser than the rest of us.

This is a development that we have to guard against in Barbados.

Ordinarily, one would expect the trade union movement to be the people’s bulwark against a drift to corporatism. However, our major Barbadian trade union, the Barbados Workers’ Union, has developed over the years as a type of “establishment” union, with a predisposition to disciplining the workers in the interest of social and industrial peace. This, therefore, places an extra burden on our people to be ever vigilant.

The democratic socialist accepts that every society requires discipline but, for us, the discipline of the marketplace and the discipline imposed by the top people are both equally unattractive. We believe that the self-discipline of full democratic control offers our best hope for the future.

* David Comissiong is president of the Peoples Empowerment Party.


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