Columns

The working class needs jobs and education

Franklin Johnston

Friday, December 20, 2013    

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THE history of Jamaica is of a stratified society with a huge underclass of people in slavery, not from debt, crime, or the spoils of war, but by normal commerce between Africans who practised slavery and Europeans whose poor lived worse than slaves.

The white working class — coopers, blacksmiths, a few middle class-priests, accountants, small land owners who ventured all and lived close to their stake. The upper class were investors — sugar, cotton, spice voyages to the East and lived in Britain. Working class today is a badge of honour. They pay the most taxes to sustain society. Do they have a voice? Who in Parliament or the Senate is working class? Who represents this majority of voters? Some of the finest defenders of the working class do not look like them, and many of their enemies do. So who is working class, and why does it matter? Our working class is black. And it matters as it is the fount of all classes; fecund and malleable. Ours is stationary because of generational screw-ups by inept leaders. The channel of class mobility is blocked, and throughput is not moving fast enough to renew society — many have not moved in 40 years.

The essence of working class is manual work. But it is demoralised, disadvantaged, decimated as there are no jobs for decades. Infrastructure jobs do not employ them, as big men with heavy equipment get the bly. Like Dubai, we might soon import workers from Haiti for the logistics hub as it requires lots of basic labour and ours are degraded by lassitude. Many can't do a full day's work. Some have no desire to work; they have lost the usual aspirational streak and now think dark thoughts. Over some 40 years the wasted economy has eroded will and working class values, spawned violence and disintegrated our social fabric.

Is working class a disability? We have special interest groups for just about every disability, from mentally to physically challenged, but the working class have none. By not prospering the nation our leaders bunged up their outlets. For the working class, not working for decades is death and the flow to energise and renew our creativity is stanched. All classes emerge from its magma. The working class needs upward mobility for all of us to survive. We are all connected.

Who defends the working class? Only politicians or the church can speak for this two-thirds of our people — and few do. Most defend special interests groups which dominate communications. Workers elect politicians to create jobs, opportunity and prosperity — no go! The church is heavenly minded — no go! Workers are not well served. Did you see any priest bless a new construction site, the cathedral of the worker? Who sanctifies the fields on planting day? Who invokes God to protect the flimsy fishing craft of fishermen? Our ginnygogs sought to control the commanding heights and lost their grip on the foundations. Workers need education and jobs. Education failed them for decades. Few pass exams; fewer are educated. The 70 per cent are too dumb after nine plus years of teaching to enter a HEART Academy — a generational Ponzi scheme to fete one Rhodes scholar (nuff respec') in 30 years, and hide 70 per cent of working class kids in the kitchen cupboard. The remediation of the seven in 10 — all working class kids — costs us billions. Revolution now! The working class is not moving up, but by force of social gravity down into the category for the destitute and criminal — not working and not seeking work. The solution to working class miasma is political. Cabinet must use business or directly create manual jobs aplenty and provide quality education.

The rise of the criminal underclass is one result of the blockage. The flow slowed for decades. The same beggar is still on the corner after 20 years. Families are in the same hole as when you went on campus. The many went directly into crime before they were destitute and are invisible. The working class title is captured by feckless people, devoid of ethical moorings, who redefine it as short on values, risqué, opportunistic; not good at school or work, loud, disruptive. Poor but honest is dead!

Put the worker centre stage with his kids in good nutrition and access to good schools and we will see transformation. Crime is not inevitable. We can change the present reality. We must change it.

So, where is salvation? The working class can be revived. Belief kills and belief cures. First, we must believe. Men have souls and we must recapture that domain. What is love? Men have died for it! What is faith? Men have fought for it! Who challenges our better self? Our two major estates — church and politics — have no prophet; no Bedward, no Garvey. Both play the numbers game and rivalry is visceral. We just saw two politicians of the same colour gut each other in public for, ostensibly, position or power. The unions are not with it. The front-runners are still politics and the church.

Please God, send a champion! Will Portia help out? Do we hold our breaths for Andrew? Or is there another Lord? Nutrition is important to workers. A patty is the best invention ever. Ganja? Get a life fool! You can't eat cannabis? God bless Mr Chang and Tastee -- he is national hero! What would the worker, beggar, windshield washer eat? If the working class were assured of the nutrition security of their kids it would remove serious stress. A man will go hungry, but his manhood is at risk when he can't feed his kids. What's the result? Crime? Murder? We can pull back from the abyss by a good meal plan for kids using local foods. What will we do if Prof Samms-Vaughn reveals the impact of mercury content in tinned mackerel, and like imports, on kids? Is there a class action for big working class reparations?

Education was our greatest triumph and yet our greatest failure. Can you tutor a child for 190 days a year over 8 to 11 years and he emerges illiterate? After two generations of a puffed up Education Ministry — 2013 is its 60th birthday — it is now seeing why 70 per cent, all working class kids, end up as detritus. But because of Stone Age laws and codes those in charge can't fix it, and God knows why parents and taxpayers are not rioting as "Jah Kingdom go to waste!"

Quality early schooling is the key to working class mobility. If infants get it, the future is secure. Otherwise, crime may bring down the "dolly house". Most of our infants are trapped in poor but well intentioned basic schools. Who will give $40 billion? Five? Don't all rush!

Rev Thwaites says education is the best investment and Cabinet agrees, so let's invest in infants as the "best of the best". Is Mr Holness on board? United we can get fiscal space to give working class children a good start and a bright future. I believe! Stay conscious, my friend!

Dr Franklin Johnston is a strategist, project manager and advises the minister of education. franklinjohnstontoo@gmail.com

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