The sugar plantation was undoubtedly the dominant economic and social phenomena of colonial Jamaica and the Jamaican society that emerged out of slavery was very much a reflection of the sugar plantation. In such a society there is a small but dominant upper class and large but subservient lower class.
In colonial times colour and wealth were the two dominant determinants of class. Our history indicates that there has always been a class conflict of one form or the other in Jamaica . The frequent slave revolts, the guerrilla tactics of the maroons, the Morant Bay Rebellion of 1860 and the social unrest of the 1930s all emanated from this class conflict.
Incidentally, all our seven national heroes made their names from this perennial class struggle. Nanny and Sam Sharpe were leaders of slave rebellions; Paul Bogle and George William Gordon were put to the gallows for their role in the 1865 Morant Bay Rebellion; Marcus Garvey articulated the plight of the black masses and formed the first political party to represent their interest; Alexander Bustamante organized and advocated on behalf of the poor working class; and Norman Manley led the struggle for adult suffrage and political independence.
The two dominant political leaders of post independence Jamaica continued with this motif of class struggle. Edward Seaga articulated the anomalies of the ‘Two Jamaicas’ and sought to balance the economic equation between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, while Michael Manley articulated that democratic socialism was the way to bring about social and economic justice in the society.
Thanks to our heroes and successive governments, we have made some incremental strides. However the Jamaican society remains deeply divided across social and political lines. It is my view that what has emerged from the general election of 2007 has significantly widened the class divide in the society and has positioned Jamaica for a class war.
When Portia Simpson-Miller became Prime Minister, it was obvious that elements in society were uncomfortable with her lack of social pedigree and her average education. It is the view of many that the Jamaica Labour Party victory was due in no small measure to heavy financial backing it received from the wealthy.
The actions of the JLP in government so far have confirmed in the minds of many Jamaicans that it is a ‘big man’ and ‘brown man’ government. The bailout of special interests, the lack of dialogue and consultation with labour unions, the heavy taxation on the poor, the unwillingness to tax the rich, the pending public sector layoffs and wage freeze have all indicated a bias towards the upper class.
The Peoples National Party and its leader on the other hand is adding fuel to the situation by posturing as the defenders of the poor and calling for taxation on the rich.
No society has had sustained economic and social development by favouring one class at the expense of the other. If we continue to burden the poor and the working classes, there will be a repeat of the Morant Bay Rebellion and the social unrest of the 1930s and if we seek to plunder the wealth of the rich to give to the poor we will have massive capital flight as we had in the late 1970s.
Our problems have not been solved through a change of government, because governments have not changed their mindset or their approaches. The solution to Jamaica’s problems lie not in confrontation but in collaboration. Let us use this time of crisis to fashion a new political paradigm, a shared vision and social and economic partnership to bring us cross this Jordan into the promises of our rich potential.