Human rights, Social Justice; a necessary fight for Unions

The Amnesty International Report (2018) raised concerns regarding discrimination, the high levels of homicide and extrajudicial killings in some Caribbean islands. The US State Department Report for (2018) expressed concern regarding the incidence of arrest of opposition politicians in my home land Dominica, on alleged charges of obstruction and incitement. It appears that the right to peaceful protest is under threat in some countries. These human right issues, civil conflict, intimidation and social trauma are clearly prevalent in some jurisdictions in the region and warrant greater attention. 

Political independence appears to be an achievement for some. Quite a few among us are doing well enough economically as indeed we have advanced. But at what cost? How many are left behind?

Many people in our Caribbean Society are either unable to access or are cheated of the opportunity to access and or receive what is justly due them. This is appalling as these rights are enshrined in law and constitutions. Due to social, economic and power barriers many opportunities are unattainable to many. Our young people get access to higher education but return home with degrees and must settle for menial jobs, or be frustrated by long periods of unemployment and or underemployment. Precarious and contract work is like a present day plague for our youth, a formula for what can be described as “modern day working poor”. People suffer from the poverty of exclusion, powerlessness, ignorance and insignificance and wallow in unimaginable deprivation, apathy and despondence. While some country poverty assessments (CDB CPA) are over 10 years old, high levels of poverty persist in the region. Our efforts at growth are stagnated and our development as Small Island Developing States (SIDS) slow; challenged by international shocks, structural adjustment, disaster impacts, corruption, and lack of good governance. These shocks directly affect our people, especially, the most vulnerable among us. 

Some have lost faith in the promise of economic growth that political independence was expected to deliver. Our own leaders have become like the oppressors and colonisers we fought against many years ago. Some of our leaders have embraced a politics of tribalism, nepotism and segregation and have been deliberate in victimizing those whom they perceive to be adverse to their policies or actions. In the face of a world challenged with the creeping threat of white supremacy and economic terrorism, where many are treated with gross indifference and disrespect due to their sexual orientation, skin colour and religious belief. Misguided capitalistic machinations and putrid greed appear to be squeezing the middle class into submission and crushing the human dignity of the already indigent.

The constitutions of our democratic Caribbean territories outline some fundamental rights and freedoms that are self evident; the right to life, liberty, security and the protection of the Law. The right to benefit equitably from the resources of the state and the right to Social Justice ought to be a natural pursuit of a people who were was once enslaved and are now liberated. This high ideal has become the mantra of many civic minded champions, especially among Non-Government Organizations (NGO’s) and other civil society organizations. The Labour movement has also embraced these issues as a central theme and has adopted Social Dialogue as a medium for providing a labour perspective on issues and

 to negotiate on behalf of members. Yet it may be argued that social dialogue as a process falls short of a greater calling to lobby and agitate if we are to achieve a more just society for all our citizens. 

I lament that we as Caribbean people seem to be forgetting what the struggle is about in the first place. In my view, it is to climb the tide of human existence in the face of neo-liberalism and to free ourselves from that power struggle between those who are oppressed and the oppressor.  On that journey we must ponder on the question, “What Caribbean society are we creating?” We must acknowledge that we all have a responsibility to play our part to shape that liberated, safe and more just Caribbean society.

The Trade Unions that champion Social Justice are on the right path. Many more need to add their voices and actions and stand as vanguards in the struggle. Our role at collective bargaining and Industrial Relations will remain a core responsibility. However, we have a higher calling to our people, to our children, to chant down injustice and be that voice of reason. We can do more, we must be more proactive, and we must do more:

to attain the right for all to enjoy their legal, industrial and political rights.

to gain access to critical quality goods and services. 

In the face of our small islands being required to sign all these economic partnership agreements (EPAs) that usher into our shores, on our shelves foods that are less than wholesome, our people need to be empowered to grow more of what we eat and produce goods that will compete at the international level.

There must be greater participation by citizens in the decision making process.  Our leaders must be held accountable. Our people must be fully awake and ensure that our critical democratic institutions must remain actively vigilant and relevant. Our public service needs to be a professional body, independent and capable and competent. Such institutions as the Electoral Commission must work for the State rather than for a political party.

If we fail to act more assertively as a collective force, we would have failed the Caribbean project, failed ourselves and our children, failed our ancestors whose vision it was to gain for us a free, liberated and prosperous Caribbean space, to live, work, govern, invest and be happy, A place to call home. We must commit ourselves to success; to a better world for us and for our children.  We cannot afford to fail. 

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