By Alvette ‘Ellorton’ Jeffers
Each 1st of November, Antiguans and Barbudans assemble to remember the
moment we became independent. It has been thirty-eight years of celebration,
and no one seems quite clear as to what separates this period from 1967 when
Antigua won Statehood. The Antigua Trades and Labour Union (AT&LU) expected
to achieve full Independence in 1967, but it was denied by the British who
offered them, instead, the lower status of Associated Statehood.
In 1967, Antigua gained control over its internal affairs and the
right to amend the Constitution the British gave it. If, during the period of
Statehood, Antigua demonstrated maturity, the British would grant it
independence at an opportune moment. Antigua could not conduct its own foreign
diplomacy. The arrogant British elite thought they were best suited to speak
for Antiguans in international circles. It was always the thought of the British
colonialist that it had something to teach us about democracy, even though it
never practiced it on the islands. It relied on its local police force and the
British Army to squash dissent and the uprisings in the Caribbean for
self-government. It seems that our
governments have mastered colonial, authoritarian practices.
The year 1967 offered Antigua the opportunity to overthrow
colonialism with its production of violence, cruelties and self-loathing. The
system of economic dependency which replaced the colonial economy, not only
reproduced those social vices in altered forms, but from the very beginning, it
rationalised the exploitation of labour, and required an altering of the
political consciousness of workers, and the people in general, to accept that the government was ceding authority over
the economy and the development of Antigua to the emerging class of foreign
investors. In this effort, the union government expected the workers to
follow its directives.
Very few leaders were as suitably positioned as was Vere Cornwall
Bird, to craft a new, national purpose for Antiguans and Barbudans. He and the
AT&LU had the loyal support of the working class, peasants and farmers. The
union dominated the industrial and political landscape. With its ubiquitous
village and constituency branches, VC Bird and the trade union had the organisational
prerequisites necessary to start the transformation of politics and economics
by elevating these branches into economic councils for coordinating the
country’s economic reorganisation and development. It had the opportunity to
simultaneously raise the cultural level of the population to encourage this new
development, and the broadening of our national consciousness. Bird chose
otherwise. He shackled Antiguans to a
life of dependency and imposed limitations on the workers’ organisation to
permit this to happen.
Every political party in Antigua and Barbuda, despite its
pretensions, has remained faithful to VC Bird’s economic creed, with just
slight modifications. As a substitute for a national purpose, they have fed the
population a bad diet of consumerism. Consequently, the population has become
mentally groggy and less discerning of the transfer of Antigua and Barbuda to financial marauders who are daily
encircling their island and narrowing the public spaces Antiguans and Barbudans
can occupy. All this, they are persuaded to believe, will afford them the
means to consume more and more and more. It is false. But they hope for it to
To give their lives meaning, the political directorate asks them
to measure their achievements by how much money they make, for whom and where
they work, the social circles they move in, the size of houses they occupy and
the style of car they drive. Some will call this an inauthentic existence. It
remains true that men and women cannot live by bread alone. And as CLR James
noted somewhere, “humans are not pigs to
be fattened,” for life consists not in the abundance of things we possess.
Human beings are distinguished for their cultural and intellectual
achievements. It is noteworthy when they reproduce themselves through the
transformation of their material environment. The skills and intellect that
develop as a consequence of that engagement make greater achievements possible.
As a result, they become more confident in who they are, and are becoming.
Dependency produces the opposite of all this and worse, it manufactures a
cultural system which justifies servitude and gives people a reason to
celebrate their impoverished state.
When Antiguans and Barbudans become liberated from dependency and
assume mastery over their existence, at Independence, they will have something
meaningful to celebrate together.