DR GABRIELLE JAMELA HOSEIN
“THERE ARE no millionaires where we come from,” sings local band Freetown Collecive, describing those who have grown up as the have-nots “in the middle of corrupted people.”
The hook names a raw truth about this place, which is its inequality, its contempt and its rampant complicity. We should hear these lyrics amidst the song’s beautiful melody, because there are many millionaires, many of them enriched by bloated state contracts, some of them in the Houses of Parliament, driving million-dollar cars, making decisions for the rest of us.
Whatever wage increase they accept, I want to express my solidarity with public servants and unionised workers, teachers and nurses, who have demanded more. The increase will not match inflation, making them poorer today than in 2013. There will be no millionaires among them.
These are two women-dominated areas of labour, meaning we can expect women working full-time jobs, possibly as main or single earners in their families, to be poorer than they were ten years ago.
These are also two of the most valuable jobs in our society. The first because they care for our children, who are our most precious resource, and the second because they care for us and our loved ones when aged and ill. That they earn less and have fewer benefits than politicians must feel as if they are on the front line in a class war.
The disconnect between political elites and the masses resounds, echoing off headlines, and it cannot be drowned out by shouting about how people are ungrateful. Those who have held power, which is primarily but not only the PNM, are responsible for hundreds of billions of dollars wasted, stolen, unaccounted for, misspent and frittered away. Colm Imbert himself spent $200,000 on confetti to open a bypass, such was his self-congratulatory spending at our expense, and so it has gone for decades.
We are told to tighten our belts today because of “unresponsibility,” poor decision-making, failed promises and quid pro quo. Not a soul who has read the newspapers in the last 60 years can disagree. This is why people are angry.
Were things different, citizens would understand the buffeting impact of the pandemic, the war over Ukraine and a global downturn. They would understand banding our belly, together, if it felt as if there were less division and less disconnect, more respect and more shared sacrifice.
People rightly felt insult was added to injury when told we use too much gas because we get up late on mornings and choose to drive at expensive times. This from politicians who can cut through traffic with a privilege that ordinary commuters do not enjoy. This from decision-makers who rule against flexible working arrangements, as if nothing was learned from two years of the pandemic. Imagine millionaire lawyers-turned-MPs talking of coal pots. Is there a single bike lane in Trinidad? It seems too farcical to be real.
What country are our governors living in? Is it the same one where food prices have soared? Is it the same one with hours of traffic to get to and from Port of Spain? Is it the one where unemployment and labour precarity are increasing with no end in sight?
I hear ministers talking about how much is spent on welfare, scholarships, transportation, training programmes and medicine. I agree. There’s massive social protection that helps many, but these are not gifts. In a wealthy economy, where we have no excuse for poverty, these are social rights, ensuring the democratisation of what we have gained.
With all that we have earned as a mere million-plus people, we should all have been millionaires, not grateful for a few hundred dollars of disability grant or a wage increase that dissolves at the cash register. Where has all the money gone?
It’s as if those ruling are living in a world where ordinary people are considered pampered, spoilt, wasteful, greedy and lazy; always dreaming a lot of dream. This from those who have taken no pay cuts in solidarity with workers. From those who can seek healthcare abroad. From those parking up in their Porsches and Benz. From those who can afford cheese.
Freetown Collective continues, “Bills due and meh pocket still feeble. Bread woulda make but the flour full of weevil. Hungry to kill, belly thin like a needle.”
These are lyrics of daily worry and rising crises. They speak to a reality that is making people poorer. They explain widespread public sentiment. Millionaires should not respond with such contempt.
Diary of a mothering worker