STICKING A PIN ON — POOR AND WORKING CLASS PEOPLE AND POLITICS
Written by George Grant on November 9, 2017
The demographics described as poor and working class comprise the majority of the population and their importance must be appreciated within our cultural, religious, social, economic and political milieu. In fact, their political behaviour is largely explained by the interplay of these factors.
There are some basic attributes surrounding these groups of citizens. Firstly, working class people are the children of poor people, so there are obvious generational ties. Secondly, they are people who value education on the understanding that that is the means by which they or their children could climb the socio-economic ladder. During the era of the ‘Estate System’, poor estate labourers did not begrudge the landowners, but saw in them the example which inspired them to educate their children. Access to a provider is always needed and valued. Thirdly, they quietly constitute the essence of change, big on betterment, knowledge, ambition, pride and sacrifice. They have places to go! Lastly, the poor engage and pursue their basic needs at a very emotional level and their gratitude may be long-lasting, spanning generations.
These elements help to explain the fact that their political mindset is framed by leaders and things ‘dey like and doh like’. Poor and working class people view leadership in politics as crucial to their comforts and ambition. For fulfillment to occur here they embrace leaders based largely on admiration, trust and expectation. That is why, persona, voice, message and strength play so highly in their choice of leaders. Historically, both Gairy and Keith satisfied these criteria.
Curiously, they do not require their leader to be wise! But he must connect with them and show sincere understanding. It is how they feel about the leader that matters; ‘thinking’ is not really important! They will take note of one’s natural abilities and professional training, but do not decide on that basis. These ‘grassroots formalities’ are more like cultural art than classroom science. To demand explanations of them is to misunderstand the role of culture in politics.
Therefore, a leader whose duty is to prepare and position his party for victory at the polls, must have a relationship with these citizens and a credible message capable of exciting them about the prospects for betterment. Where a leader is low on likeability, he stands a chance with these groups if he so conducts himself that they receive him at a high level of respect. Respect is something poor and working class people understand very well, having been taught it and having passed it to their children.
The evidence shows that Gairy, Bishop and Keith scored highly on message, persona and voice, while Blaize and Brathwaite were respected. Incidentally, only in 1976 did two leaders (Gairy/Bishop) sharing common appeal factors contest the General Elections, aspiring to become Prime Minister. Only on one occasion did we elect a leader whose only recognized attribute, at the time, was his message, not strength, persona or voice; and Tillman became PM. That message had a supporting buzz, mood and excitement! It was not flat and confusing! Campaign lesson 101! Looking to Terry and Josh to stir the place!
Importantly, the leader must do more than sell himself as the ‘hand of supply’. He must confront the development challenges imposed by poverty through sound projects and programs. This means that he must move from giving ‘a small change’ to investing in real change. It is where change meets education that poor and working people see opportunity. Otherwise, these folks cannot “keep moving”! Their children must begin to own green pastures!
Empowerment is the process by which opportunity is realized. Therefore, empowerment involves the drive to want to do more and better; self-worth; spirit of community; ownership and production. Successful empowerment calls for a revolutionary ‘education policy for the poor’ and creative financial policies to pay the bill (CBI revenues). In the context of Grenada’s big problem, education and finance must be applied for increased production. The pre-requisites for empowerment are resource availability and enlightened thinking.
The second fundamental for real empowerment is strengthened governance systems. Governance must generate an ‘empowerment psychology’ touching economic and social activities that encourage people to want to “brighten the corner where you are”! For this to happen, one must apply innovative governance measures to re-socialize the youth, message to individuals and households and stir pride in communities. Governance must be brought closer to the people! Therefore, for example, give the people new-age ‘Parish Corporations’, not a town-based Ministry of Rural Development.
Poor and working class people (and youth) will decide the elections. Unlike poor people, working class people require more than emotional appeal to decide who they will support. If a party thinks that its’ base is the working class then it needs to demonstrate smart thinking and offer sound development programs. These people know when things make sense and will show when they are not impressed. They know too that winning involves a process, not a presentation.