Opinion

PLP leadership has big decisions to make

  • David Burt, the Premier (Photogaph by Stephen Raynor)

You don’t have to be a prophet to know that you cannot burn a candle at both ends. Within an economy where one of the problems may be the issues of wage and benefits, and the other may just be not enough economic activity for business, the question of where do we begin to solve the problems should be uppermost.

I remember a question put to a renowned sensei by a student who inquired about how to use chi. The sensei replied: “After you get some chi, then I can tell you what to do with it.”

It naturally follows that you need a healthy economy to sustain business and to generate good benefits and wages.

Most would agree that persons should be rewarded fairly for what they do. In our complex but free environment, persons have made the choice on how they will earn their keep. Many have decided to get a steady job with a reliable wage. Others have decided to risk their talents to the whims of the market and speculate on what will be their earnings. The two choices are not the same; they are entirely different when you compare the risk factors and responsibilities.

Profit is not a curse, nor is it a given. Only a small percentage of businesses actually make a profit. Restaurants, for example, statistically have a high failure rate within the first year, during which investors frequently lose all their money.

The construction industry, in spite of being a high cash ticket, faces the highest rate of bankruptcy, lowest profit margin, greater stress-related illnesses, and even suicides than most businesses. No pun intended, but a religious minister is on the opposite end of the statistical scale and would enjoy better health and comparatively less stress.

There are businesses that do make a profit and in Bermuda, they are in direct proportion to their relationship with international business. The more the business is exposed to the international markets, the greater its likelihood of profitability.

Businesses that are dependent solely on the local economy are subject to the demands or lacks thereof, within the local economy. Given that all salaries and benefits are to be equal, businesses that are better capitalised or have become large institutions will have developed the network and the wherewithal to survive and even thrive, while the smaller businesses entering the market usually will not be able to compete carrying the same burdens.

Therefore driving for benefits may be counterintuitive where there is a need to address economic disparity and upward mobility, particularly where the emphasis is on making the marketplace more inclusive.

This leadership has a big decision on direction on its hands. Before the election, we heard the issue of economic disparity raised high as a core criticism levelled against the One Bermuda Alliance and its performance at governing. The big intellectual question is: how does, or should, a labour movement address economic disparity?

The conventional wisdom is that market initiatives address economic disparity. One approach will precede the other and not necessarily both at the same time.

When it is time to build, we need builders and when it is time to protest, we need protesters. The old saying is: “You can’t run with the foxes and ride with hunters at the same time.”

One must decide the role one intends to play. And in a political context, it becomes noticeable very quickly and foretells the difference between the potential of future success or failure. This is not a George W. Bush “if you’re not for me, you’re against me” scenario. It is more like “we know a car needs both a radiator and a fuel tank, and the simple question is: where should you put the fuel?”

Can you put water in the fuel tank or fuel in the radiator and expect it to work?

This is a balancing act that will be interesting to observe. Fortunately, the Progressive Labour Party does not have to look over its shoulders; it has a wide mandate. It is only the future staring in the face and the big question of which philosophy will guide it.

We will see if the longtails come early or late when it’s time for spring.