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THE WORKING PEOPLE ARE NOT STUPID by Alvette ‘Ellorton’ Jeffers

posted 8 Jan 2020, 05:32 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 8 Jan 2020, 05:36 ]
Image result for antigua and barbuda  flagAntiguans are constantly ridiculed. Radio commentators and opponents of Gaston Brown and the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (A&BLP), use unsavoury words when decrying what they seem to think is apathy among the population.

The castigations commenced after the general election. The people of Antigua, especially those who did not vote, are not only blamed for A&BLP’s victory, they are cited for being callously indifferent to the litany of abuses opposition forces have accused the A&BLP of.

Even after two successful demonstrations held recently by opposition forces, the ridiculing has not abated. One would have assumed that the demonstrations would have given them the feeling that the momentum was slightly shifting in their favour. However, their dissatisfaction with the people has not lessened, which indicates that there may be the feeling that the demonstrations have not been sufficiently impactful.

Why, some ask, do the people remain impervious to the nightly and daily exposés and news? No one seems to know. These spokespersons are baffled. Some become incensed and then obviously disconcerted. You know they are disconcerted because they fall back on simplistic reasoning or declare that Antigua is just an “uncivilized” place, full of people who are uncaring, malleable and too susceptible to bribe, to act out their conviction, if they have any conviction. A few among the opposition have become fatalistic. They are resigned to whatever they believe is predetermined to happen in Antigua by some unseen force. In their imagining, the future is Bedlam.

The great majority of Antiguans and Barbudans are not what the opposition forces think they are. In fact, they have a very limited conception of the people they offend daily. These working-class people are cautious and calculating. Even sceptical. And rightly so: For they are weary of self-righteous charlatans appearing often on the various political stages seeking only self-aggrandizement.

The working-class people cannot be indifferent to or unconcerned with the condition of life in Antigua and Barbuda. It is their everyday, living experience. The people know they have to manoeuvre an unfriendly and uncaring political and economic terrain, for any false step could be their ruin.

In responding to the call for action against an armed, intransigent and vindictive State/A&BLP Government, they must be sure that it is not a blusterer who is making the call for action. I imagine that the working people ask themselves the following questions: Are these leaders just marching us up a hill and then down again? What is the purpose of a repetitious activity that produces no political results? Why do leaders call us out when they have no place to take us and then leaving us to feel as if “all in compassion ends so differently from what the heart arranged.”? (Ruins of a Great House, Derek Walcott.)

Antiguans and Barbudans have a history some care not to remember or study. The working people remember and sometimes recall how in 1968 they locked
 the whole island down, demonstrated, received teargas, demonstrated again, catched teargas canisters and hurled them back at the police. At the end of this great, political upheaval, the Progressive Labour Movement (PLM), accepted four seats in Parliament instead of the resignation that VC Bird offered.

The PLM acted as if the working people participated in a general strike and risked their lives so that they could settle for four seats in Parliament. Many 
understood PLM's betrayal. The chance for a new beginning was lost then and because of it, social change has been made more challenging today.

PLM, as a Government, pushed the working people to the margins of society to act as spectators, instead of encouraging their participation in a process of societal transformation. Every government, before or after the PLM, has reinforced the alienation of the people from the everyday running of the society. Yet, some pretend to be surprised when working people show little enthusiasm in their calls for action.

Notwithstanding the working people’s alienation from political power, there are these rare moments when they act outside the influences of their parties and
support a call to action. In these moments, they are catapulted into action because they become aware that a great injustice has been done to their brothers and sisters that needs to be remedied: And that is what they attempted to do in 1979 after the Antigua Labour Party government, arrested, transferred, then fired several teachers.

The students from Princess Margaret and Grammar schools protested. Later, under the direction of The Antigua’s Teachers Union, several hundred demonstrators gathered for a demonstration but were teargassed by the police before they even started. The working people knew that day, in 1979, what they were fighting for and even though there was the possibility that they could lose, yet they were willing to try. Working people cannot be shamed into action. They are not easily bamboozled. Only the politically untrained believe they can be. 

Working people will adequately respond the moment they recognize that something is so fundamentally wrong in the society that it requires their intervention to bring about the desired changes. And when they do so, as they have done in the past, it will not be a half-hearted measure but a full commitment to ending the societal scourge. Antiguans and Barbudans understand the enormity of the problem. Failing at it would be disastrous for the whole of society. Those acting as leaders do not understand what working people have learned from their past experiences.

The working people may have a sense that those acting as leaders maybe playing at it, too. If they were not performing, then there would be a Declaration stating their intentions. It would be a call to action. The Declaration would state what it is they are against, why they were against and the remedy and a course of action. This would be the main discussion among the working people. Nothing else. That is how serious leaders behave.

Image result for antiguaIf there is no Declaration, the working people are right to suspect that all these demonstrations are just called to maintain them in a constant state of agitation until the next general election. Certainly, it cannot be to educate the people about their problems. They are not unaware of them. If truth be told, the working people, who are maligned so often, are not inactive or passive. They take action at their place of work.

Strangely, the exploitation of labour is not central to the political discussion at all; and the increasing marginalization of working people due to Antiguans' preference for a foreign directed economy, receives minor attention because leaders prefer not to ask the important question; is this the way forward?

Those who continue to believe that Antigua and Barbuda’s most serious problem is corruption or the absence of governments’ accountability and that all you need is just a change of administration to amend things, are seriously out of touch or are wilfully acting duplicitously. The problems have gone way beyond that!

The needs of the political administration of Antigua and Barbuda are very intertwined with the needs of those whom they have allowed to own and control the economic resources of the country. As the foreign directed economy gains tighter hold of Antigua and Barbuda, the commitment of the political elites to the success of their strategy also increases because they are concerned with their immediate political problem, which is winning elections.

The A&BLP has to have something to show the population if it is going to win an election. But at this moment, ordinary people have begun to feel that black Antiguans and Barbudans are being sacrificed on the altar of white capital. You know the feeling is real when vendors demonstrate and declare, in 2019, in a country headed by people of African origin, that “black people have rights too.” (Observer12/3/2019)

The A&BLP government, of which some are investors, the middle professionals and those who control the commanding heights of the economy, are appearing as a united class standing in opposition to the general, public interest. For this reason, it is the whole system that needs a total realignment. Either that or the skirmishes we see today are going to be transformed into a greater conflagration.

Antiguans and Barbudans are not going to tolerate forever their marginalization and constant humiliation at the hands of government and foreign investors. The working class has not been presented with any evidence that those calling for protest are ready for the great challenges that lie ahead. And that is why they hear you but are not willing to follow. They are not following because they are not stupid.