Orville Taylor, Contributor
The Jamaican economy has got a downgrade from an international rating agency in the most recent outing. This adds to the F the Government got by its local intellectuals. Ideally, we can, remove the F and replace it with the B that Fitch maintained.
The rating came at an inopportune time when, ironically, former Minister of Finance Hugh Small declared that the country lacks intellectual leadership. Indeed, the response by Colin Campbell, where he describes him as a quitter, is also not particularly consequential, because the comments by both might or might not be true. However, let it not be forgotten that it was Small who was finance minister just before the crumbling of the economy in the early 1990s.
Nevertheless, recent criticisms from former junior minister and People's National Party (PNP) stalwart Errol Ennis about the direction the Government is taking, and the reproach by PNP icon P.J. Patterson about the lack of communication, all point to the real problem. However, none of them can do the Pontius Pilate imitation and wash their hands; least of all, Patterson.
I am not sure what intellectual leadership means, but one does not need a PhD to use common sense and listen and take good advice. For example, Gordon 'Butch' Stewart is a money gorgon, yet he has no earned doctorate; while Miss Ivy Bwoy, with four university titles, has so much space in his wallet that NASA should be called in.
Small spoke of former PNP leaders, Norman Manley, his son Michael, and Patterson as those who had intellectual leadership capabilities. However, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Whatever Small meant, any person who has designs on leading a political party in a country such as this, with its legacy of slavery, denigration of the poor, and emasculation of the descendants of the enslaved Africans, should have had a very clear view as to what needs to work.
With the possible exception of Michael, no PNP leader, or leader of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), for that matter, has fully understood what it takes to push a country like this forward without killing off workers. All had access to Marcus Garvey's People's Political Party manifesto of 1929, and along with other local and international sources of knowledge, it should have been known that all development strategies must put workers at the centre. Neither Norman Manley nor Patterson did, and despite her rhetoric and verbal commitments, Portia Simpson Miller has yet to do so.
In the 1980s, the relationship with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank via structural adjustment programmes led to such anti-worker outcomes that the International Labour Organisation (ILO) called the period "the lost decade". Therefore, in the 1990s, the ILO became more concerned with the ill-advised anti-worker, laissez-faire economic models that some countries felt that they needed to embrace.
After the World Trade Organisation was inaugurated in the mid-1990s, concerned that the workers would again be made to suffer as in the 1960s and 1980s, the ILO militated against this global trend to push for the lowest labour standards possible. Seeking to halt this 'race to the bottom', as it was called, the ILO brought to the focus the concept of decent work.
Contrary to popular lore, what happened in the period after 1992, continued in 1997 and reinforced in 2002 was more of the race to the bottom than a thrust forward to decent work. As stated in previous columns, large numbers of unionised workers were retrenched, and re-engaged under deceptive terms, and laws to fill in gaps which were discovered from in the 1980s were not passed by a 'People's' National Party.
Maybe the powers that be might plead ignorance; but if ignorance is the plea, Small is right. However, it is not Simpson Miller who alone wears the label. The experiences of the 1960s prompted a range of intellectuals to observe that when economic growth is being pursued, which must be the goal, the policymakers must focus on poverty, education, unemployment and inequalities, while guaranteeing democratic and human rights. Dudley Seers, from the University of Sussex, remarked in 1969 that based on these, development is "much else beside economic growth". In fact, he had noted that in many cases, economic growth took place while poverty was resilient or even increasing.
Michael, in the 1970s, took giant steps to facilitate worker participation and protection. But the PNP has done little for workers since. True, there was a reduction of the poverty rate and unemployment levels from the 1990s to 2007. However, most of the work created was not decent. Furthermore, unemployment shrank because youth stayed in school longer and some just simply gave up and stopped looking for work. By the mid-2000s, the majority of persons classified as poor in this country were also persons who were categorised as employed.
Still, one of the biggest travesties was in regard to the issue of productivity. Research done in the 1970s, by the ILO, pointed to a very direct relationship between economic outcomes and working conditions. Job satisfaction was a main factor determining worker performance. Interestingly, income ranked about third in affecting a worker's level of contentment and motivation in the job. Ranked higher were job security and appreciation.
Carl Stone, of blessed memory, one of the greatest intellectuals in this country's history, and whose academic research was fact and policy-based, corroborated the research when he did his Worker Attitude Survey in 1988. Other research clearly showed that treating workers right and protecting them from frivolous dismissal paid economic dividends.
At the turn of the 2000s, spurred by the ILO, the International Industrial Relations Association and Canadian Industrial Relations Association had a conference in Toronto to discover how economic growth and labour standards could be reconciled.
have we learnt nothing?
From myriad countries, employer representatives, a few government officials and several trade unionists, as well as academics, including two University of the West Indies lecturers, the overwhelming evidence, internationally and particularly in CARICOM, was that countries with high labour protection had significantly higher economic variables. Among these were: greater levels of labour productivity and more stable economies. Again, some of these findings were shared with the public, unionists and politicians in well-attended conferences between 2002 and 2003 in Jamaica. Among the recommendations was an amendment to two critical labour laws.
Whatever the intellectual leadership at the time was, the findings were not hidden under a bushel. Yet, Government did not bite. So, what was the outcome? No changes were made; worker protection continued its decline from the 1980s through the 1990s, and crumbled like inferior concrete between 2000 and 2007. As predicted, labour productivity fell dramatically, from a unit labour productivity of 834,228 in 2000 to 806,632 in 2002. By 2005, it had slid further to 557,856, and when the PNP handed over the country to the JLP in 2007, it was 548,343. Trampling on the legacy, vision and true intellectual leadership, the legacy of Michael Manley, the PNP had fostered an anti-worker regimen with disastrous outcomes for the Jamaican worker.
To add salt to Manley's bones, two necessary legislative changes, long ignored by his successors but recommended by the intellectuals, were passed by the JLP in 2010, its third year in office. And guess what? Labour productivity shot up 560,858 in 2011, the highest since 2002. This is fodder for the thinkers in the party.
Development strategies must put workers/people first. However, it must be action, not slogans.
Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.