THERE HAVE BEEN SOME recent policy actions by the Barbadian Government which can only be interpreted as a race to the bottom.In endeavouring to make my point and for the benefit of the larger readership, I will first explain the concept of the ‘Race To The Bottom’, after which I will outline the recent actions of the Government of Barbados which can only be interpreted within this socio-economic framework.
Race To The Bottom is a socio-economic concept which was developed to explain the phenomenon whereby countries shrink public spending on social welfare, relax labour rights standards, and deregulate the business environment with the apparent aim of attracting investments into the economy. The metaphor is very creative as it tries to conjure the image of the working class returning to the era of enslavement when they had absolutely no rights and protection against the planter class and no access to social welfare services. The Race To The Bottom, therefore, represents a return to (rather than a movement away from) the working conditions and environment characteristic of 18th and 19th century slavery.
Recently there have been at least three actions by the Government of Barbados which can be interpreted within this framework.
The first has to do with the shrinking of the public sector workforce at a time when there was an obvious contraction in private business activities owing to the 2008 international financial crisis. The laying off of approximately 3 000 public servants represents a major blow to the labouring class, as such an act could only result in a rise in the unemployment rate and a corresponding weakening of the bargaining position of the Barbadian workers, who are now left to the mercy of the unscrupulous faction of the private sector.
The second act is the removal of the tuition fee subsidy for Barbadian students studying at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill. The implication of this act was immediately felt as the student intake for the 2014/2015 academic year plummeted as much as 30 per cent. This means that roughly 3 000 students are no longer able to access higher education and move themselves out of economic hardships, because they simply cannot afford the real cost of a university education. It also means that a significantly reduced amount of students from lower income families would be able to afford higher education, while those from middle and high income families will continue to make their way through the institutions of higher education, thereby maintaining the class differentiation which should be our goal to minimise.
The third act has to do with the reduction in the allocations for the health sector. The reduction has compounded the situation of an already underfunded institution. It is known that it is the poor and working class who depend predominantly on public health care. Even without the budgetary reduction, the quality and efficiency of the services received by these groups were below expectations. These cuts, therefore, can only lead to further frustration where access to public health services is concerned.
Cumulatively, these recent acts by the Government seem to point to the adoption of a policy of the Race To The Bottom, one in which the working class, which has the least to do with the poor performance of the economy, is being asked to fetch the greater responsibility for its recovery.
University of the West Indies