EYEWITNESS: Free…

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…to starve

We’re all preparing to CELEBRATE Emancipation Day. But we really ought to ask ourselves what exactly was achieved by “Emancipation”. In slavery, we know some folks – mostly blacks – were the property of other folks – mostly whites. But what came afterwards?? The fella behind the free trade argument that precipitated Emancipation – Adam Smith – argued that labour would now be “free”.

Interestingly, he suggested this in 1776, the same year the Americans decided to launch their war of Independence!

“Free” labour, Smith claimed, would be more efficient than slave labour, since owners of plantations and the labourers could now bargain in a “labour market” that would most efficiently decide on labour’s “worth”. A half-century later, not long after the abolition of slavery, when such matters had moved from the realm of theory to practice, Karl Marx, a close student of Smith, remarked sardonically but presciently: free labour was “doubly free” – free to work or free to starve!!

And that’s what we saw right after Emancipation, and what we’re seeing today. The ex-slaves, for instance, exercised this “freedom” to move off the plantations — the site of their degradation for centuries. But were they free to work? Yes, but at wages determined by the planters, who brought in “indentured labour”, which they could control because of their “bound” contract! The ex-slaves were forced to eke out a living as best they could – outside the sugar economy.

After Indentureship, THEY were now “free” – but their experience showed Marx was right: they were “free to starve”! Throughout the 19th century and into the 20th, sugar wages kept getting smaller and smaller – but the workers had nowhere to go but starvation street!!

That their survival instincts kicked in worked in favour of the planters. They rented small plots of land from the estates and planted rice, which soon expanded into an industry. They caught fish in the canals; reared poultry and sheep/goats, etc, and survived to work at the subsistence wage on the estates.

But at least they worked for a wage that provided a minimum safety net against total starvation. So, on Emancipation Day, let’s spare a thought for the 5700 sugar workers fired by GuySuCo directly – and the other 2000 indirectly from cane farmers. They’re now free to starve!! Imagine, this PNC Government trumpeting the significance of Emancipation, yet failing to see the cruel irony of the tragedy that’s unfolding in the sugar belt??

They glibly talk about the “callousness” of the colonial order in denying the ex-slaves a living. But what about the land and credit promised to sugar workers when the estates were to be shuttered?

Are they not also men and our brothers?

…to borrow and spend

Finance Minister Jordan says the Government is “cautious” about borrowing!! If what’s going on in this PNC-led Government’s debt portfolio is “caution”, God help us all!! In macro terms, let’s remind Jordan that in 2015 they inherited a debt load of 47.9 per cent of GDP!! The following year, that grew to 48.3 per cent, and in 2017 it jumped to 53.4 per cent. Hello!!! Do we see a trend here??

In this year alone, the Government’s MoUs on financing show us where their head’s at as far as borrowing’s concerned. There’s that US$900 million line of credit from the Islamic Development Bank; and then, only yesterday, we heard of an undisclosed mega financing from the China Belt and Road initiative on infrastructure. The World Bank’s US$35 million for getting the financial architecture right and the $30 billion bond for GuySuCo might seem like small potatoes to the new financial wizards with oil dollars in their eyes; but these things add up.

When you least expect it, it’ll bring you down when you can’t sustain repayment schedule.
Like when oil prices plummet?

…to lie

Even though it was announced that Raphael Trotman’s no longer responsible for oil, he just can’t let go! He just told a whopper on Dr Valerie Marcel, a Chatham House fellow.

He claims she recommended a “National Oil Company” for Guyana. No way Jose!! says Dr Val!!

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