Saturday, March 2, 2024

ALL AH WE IS ONE: The Jones saga


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IN THE LAST TWO WEEKS there has emerged amongst some of the leading trade unions in Barbados a loud call for the dismissal of Minister of Education Ronald Jones. 

This article does not seek to engage the merits or demerits of their call.

Instead, it reflects on the political environment, and the approach to that environment by the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) administration, which might have contributed to the current impasse.

One critical factor is the Government’s tendency to respond with hostility to public figures who are perceived as being outside the small circle of party supporters. This siege mentality has damaged the potential for healthy relations with civil society.

For example, since the DLP’s emergence, some long-standing and prominent academics have been unable to gain access to the Government-controlled media.

Similarly, the Government has divided union leaders into “friends” and “enemies”. Thus, breakdown is pre-ordained based on the identity of the principal actors. How else can we interpret Minister of Housing Denis Kellman’s open expression of disappointment in the fact that while his Government had made the leader of the Barbados Union of Teachers “look good”, he was now leading the anti-Jones brigade.

It begs the question as to why or whether other union leaders had been treated differently. It is clear, however, that a climate of hostility has been fanned, rather than quelled, by the Government’s approach.

The Government’s instinctive anti-union posture has also contributed to the Jones saga. Thus, instead of calming the waters, some of the key ministers, in the most partisan setting – the Sunday branch meeting – encouraged Jones to disregard the unions. Such a stance would never have been adopted had it been the Chamber of Commerce requesting a meeting with a minister.

In addition, the Government has developed a tendency to respond to most issues via propaganda, rather than administratively. Thus for example, instead of responding managerially to the union demands, the Government has preyed on public sentiment, by seeking to paint the teachers’ union as “anti-children” and to make the Government appear as “protector of the children”.

Thus, in the second week of the Jones saga, ministers were seen hosting children to post-exam parties and making speeches about enforcing laws which protect children against brutality. Similar propaganda was being spewed about the impractical nature of “meeting all the teachers at once”, when what has been sought by the unions has been a meeting with the minister. 

Propaganda and hardened positions are only justified in times of open warfare. It is the Government’s response which has forced the work-to-rule stance by the teachers. A mature government would not respond by attacking the union personalities. Instead, a return to normalcy would have defined the approach. The separation of the country into friends and enemies is a dangerous way to govern a state.

Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, specialising in regional affairs. Email:


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