Comrades, Brothers and Sisters, May 1 each year commemorates events which took place on May 3 and 4, 1886 in which workers fighting for an 8-hour workday were massacred by their own government. Some were actually hanged on trumped-up charges. These events took place in a town called Haymarket in Chicago, USA. Before this the exploitation of 12 – 15 hours a day was common. This brought into international focus the oppression of capitalism which treated workers, the working class and people in general as mere objects of labour.
Here in the Caribbean and Saint Lucia, only a few years earlier, the majority of our people were being treated as beasts of burden, property and were enslaved. Of course this was so in the United States as well. Haymarket in the United Sates focused the attention of the whole world on the exploitation and oppression under which people labored. It therefore became, not only a commemoration of horrendous events but a day of reflection and renewal.
It was a day to reflect on the battles workers had won and those they still needed to fight for. And over the years we have had to fight innumerable battles. Battles against slavery, battles against the inhumane conditions that continued under slavery and indenture, for better wages, holidays with pay, maternity leave, annual vacation, health and safety in the workplace, and may other conditions. And of course the fight for the right to vote – Capitalism never gave us democracy. No godfather from any mother country gave us that right. We fought for it. That is why it pains me when I hear the same people from whom we had to wrestle our democracy call themselves the leaders of the free world – and some of us repeat it.
We must continue to protect what we have won, and improve our conditions, because every day the unfavourable terms of trade that they inflict on us, their control of the banking and financial systems of the world, threaten to erode these and keep us in bondage. So our struggle continues for better social and economic conditions. (1)
So today we continue to talk about issues like minimum wage, and now, very importantly – a living wage. This is why we continue to suffer from the lack of adequate housing, inadequate health care, hospitals, schools, roads and social infrastructure – all of this is the continuing legacy of colonialism. And rampant corruption as we experienced with the last government makes it even worse. All of this, despite independence. This is why independence is a work in progress, and will continue to be over many years.
The Saint Lucia Labour Party was born out of the pressing need for our people to break out of these conditions – the need for bread, freedom and justice and to chart a course of development in which all of our people, not just a few, will make progress. That is a claim the United Workers’ Party cannot make. They have positioned themselves as the party of privilege – and clearly so under the leadership of Chastanet and his accomplices. (2)
We are the party which came from a trade union and working peoples’ background. A party in which small and medium business people played a role in from the onset that brought us the first far-reaching legislation for the protection of workers (in the Sir George Charles era). It is the party that continues in this vein. It is the party, not only of Sir George Frederick Lawrence Charles, but also of Sir Allen Louisy, Dr. Kenny Anthony and now Philip J. Pierre. And along with many other shining party Stars and the membership of the party, have worked tirelessly to put the people first. And they have always done so hand-in-hand with all sections of the people. So we put the working class first, the small and medium farmers first, small and medium business people first. We help an enabling environment for our larger businesses.
And there is of course, the pivotal policy of the Youth Economy which does not stand on its own. It is the well-spring from which on-going economic and social progress will come. (3)
We have concerned ourselves so far, with struggles of our working people. We must note however, that while we strive for better wages/salaries, to reduce high levels of unemployment, improve social conditions, health, education and all these things, we must continue this – but we must to do it while we make our economy more productive at the same time.
How else are we to achieve all that we have proposed, and that we have begun to deliver? Productivity is critical. I will not go into any text-book correct definition of productivity. But we need to have a basic understanding of what means for us and our every-day living if we and our leadership will work together to bring about the social and economic gains that we are working towards. I will simply say that productivity means that we must continuously make an effort to improve both in quantity and quality what we get out of the resources we have at our disposal. What we get out of a given quantity of resources. These resources are our skills, our limited financial resources, our limited natural resources, our technological resources and technical capacity.
Regarding our skills, we should seek to improve in our various fields of work and in our managerial skills as well. This means increased emphasis on training and education. This means the application of technology and increasing the technical capacities of our work force. While the individual must look to improve his skills, the private sector as well as Government must invest in training, education in a world economy that is becoming increasingly knowledge-based. Financial resources have to be used prudently, as financing development by high levels of debt on dwindling productivity is not a way out of underdevelopment.
The results of productivity must mean too that the people who help drive this productivity must benefit from it in terms of better wages, working conditions and social amenities. This must not be lost on our employers and government. We cannot continue with policies that ensure that investment enriches a few, especially those outside, while our people remain largely impoverished. This is underdevelopment. This is what neo-colonialism is all about. Our people must begin to architect their own future. And we have a Government that recognizes this – but there will continue to be pressures from outside to agree to DSH-type deals. So we must be vigilant. (4)
Very often when we speak of productivity, we focus on the worker – at whatever level, whether semi-skilled, skilled, professional or even managerial. This of course is because of the tendency to measure Labour Productivity, rather than to have what economists refer to as a multi-factor approach to the measurement of productivity. Coming out of this, is the erroneous attitude that if a particular sector or enterprise is not productive, as measured in terms primarily of Labour Productivity, it must be because the worker is not applying himself/herself, doesn’t care, is being paid too much etc.
Single-factor productivity measurement (in terms of Labour Productivity) remains a useful parameter, but Labour Economists increasingly agree that such an approach is too often the basis of an inadequate approach to the complex issue of productivity. And nowhere is the situation more fraught than in the underdeveloped economies hoping to break out of economic stagnation, or to effectively grapple with the distributive issues that have plagued capitalist economies.
The worker must of course deliver. However any good student of business, management or Labour Economics knows that productivity is first and foremost a function of management. It is imperative that management ensure the training, technological capacity, the designing of production systems linked to appropriate information technology, the enabling of a behavioural environment, that will facilitate the most effective and efficacious performance from employees at all levels. (5)
Productivity therefore, at this time, must be regarded as one of the touchstones of our continued social and economic development. Of course there are so many other issues that impact our development. Issues of supply chains, the control of global financial systems that favour powerful conglomerates out of the big economies, exogenous geopolitical shocks, climate issues etc. But we must increasingly recognize, that owning our own future, and engaging with the scourges of underdevelopment to which we have been subjected from colonial times – being developed as economies peripheral to mother countries (whether France or Britain or any other) – is inevitably the way forward. How we work it out will not be simple or easy but understanding what is involved is a beginning.
Long Live the Saint Lucia Labour Party!
Long Live the Forward March of Our People!
Always Putting the People First!