Jamaica Observer / In a world where there is constant change it should not throw out our economy and cause stress every time there is change. There should be education to cope with change. We need to have a national change of mindset. Every nation on Earth has been challenged at some time, and not everyone in those nations runs away to foreign lands every time there are problems. At the same time, it is true that there are some in every small nation who believe the country is too small for them. It is also true that if everyone stayed then we would be crawling on top of each other.
In Jamaica we have endured the changes from slavery to freedom. We have endured the changes from colonial rule to self-government. We tend to compare ourselves with others, but who knows whether those countries in future years may lag behind Jamaica. All countries have had different histories and, as I wrote in my column of May 10, one size does not fit all.
I recall the Commonwealth Games of 1966, which were held at the National Stadium in Jamaica. At that time in our sporting history, Jamaica had no star athletes and came either last or second-to-last in each race. At that time our lack of national pride was really obvious as Jamaicans laughed at and jeered our national athletes.
Ten years later we were singing the praises of Donald Quarrie. And, of course, you know the rest about later years, what with Asafa Powell, Usain Bolt, and the other famous men and women athletes. The same thing can happen to Jamaica in our overall development, even if it happens after my lifetime. And it would be best to use history as a tool to demonstrate that not just Jamaica, but many nations have had all sorts of problems and yet they have survived.
Traditionally, the Jews have been steeped in their own history — and not just at the Passover meal. They can always draw on history to deal with their problems.
In 1989, an Israeli working in Jamaica asked me about the Morant Bay Rebellion. He had been taught in Israel about it because George William Gordon’s father was a Jew. When are we Jamaicans going to be taught history like that? We should also use history to deal with our troubles and keep away despair and distress. Every good thing has a downside, and the downside can cause serious dislocation. But we need to adjust and move on.
And speaking of every good thing having a downside, look at refrigeration! Everyone knows the benefits of refrigeration, which is why we all either have fridges or have access to one. It has been found that refrigeration reduces the nutrients in food. I think we can live with that, but it has a negative impact on employment. But I am not referring to those ex-employees of the ice factories around Jamaica who either worked inside the factories or on the ice trucks in an earlier era, albeit in my lifetime. I am referring to the effects of refrigeration on our banana trade.
It is true that our banana trade ended with the removal of the preferential treatment that we were given by England from colonial days. One of the effects of globalisation was that any nation can seek their trading partners anywhere.
But as true as the above is, if the banana boats had remained unrefrigerated, Jamaica would still be competitive in the banana trade, if only because we are nearer to England than Central and South America, which reduced the risk of spoilage or the bananas becoming over-ripe.
I was in first form at Jamaica College in 1964 when one of my classmates, who is now a senior politician and well-known attorney, told me a story about a trip to England, and while there being offered a banana in someone’s home. They had to bring the banana on a plate because it was so ripe that it had lost its sturdiness.
But with refrigeration it does not matter where in the world bananas come from. And this knocked out the Jamaican banana industry, causing poverty and grief in the former banana parish of St Mary. Still, we should learn to cope with it and move on.
We should make banana a value-added product, perhaps into a form of milk that can be had with corn flakes and other cereals and sell it to the hotels.
We have been taking for granted a lot of things since slavery. Many slaves found out that abolition from slavery meant that the estate owner no longer had to provide food. It is as if, with some, they were still looking to be dependent. But we all should get up, shake off the dust, and move on.
Indeed, the position held by so many that Jamaica was better off under colonialism, especially by many Jamaicans who were not born then, is a case in point. It is not true, no matter how much the economy was booming, because the wealth did not trickle down to the poor. Jamaicans are several times better off since political independence.
But we are not happier today. And it is not just because of the high levels of crime and violence. The general unhappiness, I opine, is due to the stress of servicing loans after being hypnotised by advertisements to purchase things. And salary deductions, rather than direct repayment, means that the boss knows that the employee has a loan and many times intimidates the employee who would have difficulty finding another job that can service the loans.
I believe that the solution is for employees to have other businesses, perhaps a cooperative together with others, and to have the trade unions negotiate that all workers would have the option of a four-day workweek, so that they can pursue another business ‘on the side’ to service their loans.
Michael Burke is a research consultant, historian and current affairs analyst. Send comments to the Observer or [email protected]