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The Neo-liberal Change

posted 2 May 2011, 15:59 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 24 May 2011, 19:54 ]

The Neo-liberal Change

by Dr. Godfrey Vincent

“As you heard here today, we are in the process of real change,” Winston Dookeran.

Since 1986 the word “change” has become part of the vocabulary of proponents of the neo-liberal agenda. In Trinidad and Tobago, Winston Dookeran is one of the leading proponents of the neo-liberal agenda which is backed by the

Dr. Godfrey Vincent

Dr. Godfrey Vincent is Part-time Assistant Professor of History at James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia. 

A  former secondary school teacher, Dr. Vincent was a Community activist in Petit/Valley/ Diego Martin/Carenage/ St.James/Maraval area. He is a former member of the United Labour Front; Committee for Labour Solidarity (CLS) and Motion. 
He is a former Vice-Chair Person of Youth Voice and former President of Simeon Road Superpan and Co-ordinator of CLS West. He is a former member of  the Summit of Peoples' Organisations (SOPO). 

He is a Rapso artiste (Brother Cymande)and a former Shop Steward of DC 37, Local 2054 and a delegate of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. 
Washington Consensus and supported in the main by the IMF and the World Bank.

On April 30, 2011, he spoke of the “process of change” to reporters during the tea break of a one-day symposium on Coalition Politics at the Institute of Creative Thinking at the St Augustine campus. Therefore, when Dookeran uses the word “change,” we must not have any delusions of what he means. The word “change” like any revolutionary word has been co-opted by the conservative right and has been inverted to mean something else.

By change, the neo-liberals mean change from government intervention in the economy, where the government was pro-active to government being a mere umpire, umpiring for the market where the private sector becomes the engine of growth. This is the change Winston Dookeran subscribes to.

Dookeran is an orthodox economist who has never challenged the economic paradigm of the IMF and World Bank in any of his publications. In fact, from 1986 to the present, he has been the willing architect for the furtherance of the neo-liberal project in Trinidad and Tobago.

According to Maximilian C. Forte, “Neoliberal structural adjustment in Trinidad and Tobago therefore has entailed the withdrawal of the state from a leading role in economic development, at the same time forcing it to rework its patron–client networks in an atmosphere of increased inter-ethnic competition. The result has been that state funding of ethnic groups is highly motivated to achieve larger economic goals. In response, many of Trinidad's ethnic leaders seem to feel the need to proclaim their ethnic community's value to the development of the nation, both in symbolic and economic terms.”

This analysis clarifies why Nizam Mohammed, Selwyn Cudjoe, Sat Marajah and all other middle class leaders are promoting Affirmative Action and Multiculturalism.

What are the characteristics of the neo-liberal economic agenda? How is it applied in Trinidad and Tobago? By attempting to answer these two questions, we will understand what Dookeran means by his concept of change and what his People’s Partnership government represents.

Since the late 1980s to the present, under the guidance of international institutions such as the IMF and World Bank, Trinidadian governments and all the dominant parties have implemented the Washington Consensus’ version of neo-liberalism. These measures include privatization of public enterprises; deregulation of the economy; liberalization of trade and industry; massive tax cuts; monetarist measures to keep inflation in check, even at the risk of rising unemployment; strict control of organized labor; the reduction of public expenditures, particularly social spending; the downsizing of government; the expansion of international markets and the removal of controls on global financial flows (Manfred B. Steger). This is what Dookeran means by what he calls “the process of real change” as his government applies the Washington Consensus.

How are these applied in Trinidad and Tobago? I will use a few examples like privatization; deregulation of the economy; trade liberalization and control of labor to flesh out how the neo-liberal measures are applied in Trinidad and Tobago. Beginning with the NAR and continuing with the People’s Partnership government, the state withdrew its active role in the economy and has promoted the idea that government has no right in operating business (Thatcher).

To this end, the NAR and successive governments began to privatize state enterprises. Hence, we have the term privatization. In fact, long before it was applied in Great Britain, privatization was first test in Chile in the wake of the destruction of Salvador Allende’s government. For example in Trinidad, the government has privatized Trinidad Cement, the transportation of prisoners, BWIA (now Caribbean Airlines) and many more. What was not privatized was physically shutdown, for example Secondary Roads Limited.

In terms of deregulation of the economy, the governments have removed the barriers to state monopoly in the communication sector, hence the proliferation of radio stations, etc. Moreover, it has removed the laws that regulated pharmacies and enabled them to sell not just pharmaceuticals but food products and other consumer items. Just walk in into any one of the mega-pharmacies in the nation and you will witness the change. Furthermore, it has allowed banks to become one-stop shops for a number of financial services.

In the case of liberalization of trade and industry, the country has witnessed the proliferation of foreign fast-food companies operating in the island. These outlets like TGI Friday; Subway etc have changed the taste buds of the local population. In Port of Spain, San Fernando and Chaguanas, enclaves promoting these foreign firms have become prominent and indicates as some Trinis contend “we are coming like America.”

For example, the nation has been converted to latte drinkers, coffee drinkers and sandwich eaters. Additionally, in terms of the airwaves, foreign entertainment in the form of music, movies and TV programs have become staples. This has caused a change in our dressing patterns. For example, some Trinbago citizens are dressing in Fall, Winter and Spring clothing that suits the North American climate.

Moreover, the term “Summer” has become part of the vocabulary that we now speak in terms of Summer vacations, Summer Camps and Summer Fest. All these changes are peddled as “Globalization.” However, to date, I have not seen a Royal Castle Franchise in New York or Miami. Therefore, this trade liberalization is only for peripheral countries like Trinidad and Tobago to open up their borders to foreign firms. Do not be surprised in the near future to see Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Lowes and others opening shop in the nation. In this context, we have to understand the destruction of farmers’ crops. Under this new capitalist dispensation, we have to import all our food and open our market to subsidized meat and vegetable products from North America and Western Europe.

Finally, in the case of the control of labor, the country has seen the decimation of the trade union movement through retrenchment; down-sizing; closures, VSEP and other forms of worker buy-out. As a result, the trade union movement has been pushed out as being a major stakeholder in the society. Additionally, the control of labor has been achieved through the sell out of trade union leaders in the post-1986 period.

This is not new because history has shown that prominent trade union leaders sold out to the PNM after the passage of the Industrial Stabilization Act in 1965. However, in the Post-1986 period, the country has witnessed a new phenomenon in that trade union leaders like George Weekes, Basdeo Panday, Errol McLeod and David Abdulah whom we term progressive trade union leaders have adopted the neo-liberal agenda and have aided and abetted in the control of labor. They all have argued that labor is now in government (hogwash) which will promote the well-being of labor.

However, that tripe has been dismissed and they have exposed themselves as opportunists and traitors who have made their beds with the right-wing forces. Remember Panday’s statement that he is willing to sleep with the devil. Moreover, Errol McLeod, in the early days of the PP government, stated that he has grown up and has become a responsible man. Simply put, he has abandoned the struggle and is no longer “General Strike” who will defend workers. He has become the supporter of 5%, the furtherance of use of non-unionized labor (contract labor). In short, he is not making jail for workers.

What has been explained above has become Dookeran’s mantra of change. Change has become only a change in new managers of the economy who have become willing agents in the management for global capitalism which is peddled under the disguise of globalization. As Samir Amin wrote the Liberal Virus has contaminated the world, Trinidad and Tobago including. Therefore, what we have in play in the nation is the Neo-Liberal change led in the main by Winston Dookeran