Diary of a mothering worker
DR GABRIELLE JAMELA HOSEIN
WITH MONDAY’S “election budget” delivering promises to increase CEPEP and URP wages by 15 per cent, an ethnographic look at some of these workers shows the realpolitik of expenditures and elections.
The workers appearing here are members of a neighbourhood of squatters who often petition their political representatives for basic amenities. They also participate as women and men whose area of residence carries social stigma. They participate in general and local-level election campaigns and voting. Yet, they do not do so out of civic virtue or for an imagined greater good.
Through informal actions such as talking to a party activist or formal actions such as registering for a party group, these low-income workers/voters establish personal and reciprocal networks with higher-level party loyalists woven into government offices and practices.
Indeed, contacts with a party activist is key to employment. Leroy explained that an extended family member was “expecting PNM to be back in power and told me I could get a CEPEP work because he knew people and was in the campaigning thing.”
As Baby Girl described, “The URP was passing around to get names, they was using a voting list and asking people if they were voting or not. I say why vote if I not getting work and just before the election I get a ‘ten days.’ I took it and then for the election helped them campaign by going around with a list asking people to vote and organising a car for them. They gave us breakfast, lunch and even dinner. All campaigning people got a promise for a ‘ten days.’ I got mine and they told me I would get one every other fortnight. We had to wait to see who won the election…UNC and PNM wasn’t giving jobs to who was seen in a PNM or UNC rally or T-shirt or with a flag.”
Baby Girl had secured successive URP jobs through campaigning for the UNC, but could not turn around and openly support the PNM. She, therefore, had no contacts to turn to when the UNC lost power. However, she felt she secured a URP job under the PNM because she declared she would vote for the party.
The elision between squatters, voters, party activists and workers also plays out in CEPEP and URP work teams. As Leroy reflected, “I feel working CEPEP, if a person want to say he belong to a different party, he will keep that to himself. Either belong or keep silent. You supposed to hush your mouth if you are a UNC on the job.”
Renegade agreed, “You have to act like you belong to one party, that is how de contractor puts it to you. He tells you “is PNM gave you this work and if you don’t support them, your job could be jeopardised. He tells us we have to go to rallies. He told us we had to join the party, but that was nice to now have a card and number.”
Josanne added that workers are “mainly PNM, but half the workers are UNC playing PNM to get a work. If they a UNC we run them out.”
After getting a CEPEP or URP job, joining a party and helping campaign is common practice. Usually, the work involves sticking posters, handing out fliers, bringing in people, going to rallies, helping to set up tents, and being “up and down night and day” with the party. The constituency executive also encourages workers that are members to join party groups to see themselves as “agents of the party” and as “PNM representatives there every day in the wider community.”
In a context of high unemployment, economic discontent, scarcity, and difficulty accessing social resources, governing parties rely on these patron-client relations to win elections, control dissidence, and secure loyalty and dependence.
Giving high visibility and higher wages to CEPEP and URP is not simply about assuaging poverty and destitution, distributing income and providing social security. Deployment of state funds between those in authority and those that need their help is a means to electoral ends. Formal state channels are merely structures for extending political influence through informal contacts, especially in marginal constituencies.
Partisan allocation, however, creates the threat of resentment among those excluded, and fears of loss of power among those who benefit, fuelling the election battle as citizens are mobilised into voters. Taxpayers will fund Colm’s campaign strategy. If they get their politics right, at least some workers in insecure communities gain a better chance of making ends meet.