The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Shooting, barricades, ghettoes, misery

Jul 30, 2001

Translated from an article in Combat Ouvrier, issue of July 14, 2001, a bi-weekly Trotskyist newspaper in the French West Indies.

On the weekend of July 7 and 8 there were more than 20 dead and 30 wounded as a result of violence which bloodied Jamaica.

The incidents began in a neighborhood in the west of Kingston called Tivoli Gardens. A shootout occurred between a group of armed people and the police, resulting in dead and wounded. The next day in certain neighborhoods of Kingston – and even in the heart of the city – as well as in other parts of the island, groups erected barricades to prevent the police from penetrating into their neighborhoods. There were still more dead and wounded, among them several cops. A cop was burned in his car when he crossed a barricade. Monday, the banks and shops didn't open their doors.

Prime Minister Percival Patterson called on the army to reinforce the police, conferring police powers on the army.

These extremely violent incidents are the gravest which have occurred in the more than two months of periodic confrontations which have pitted armed groups against the police force.

In almost all cases, the armed bands which attacked the police are groups favorable to the opposition to the party in power. They say they are close to the Jamaican Labor Party (JLP) of Edward Seaga, an ex-Prime Minister.

For more than 25 years the political and social life in Jamaica has been punctuated by troubles between armed bands favorable to the JLP and others favorable to the People's National Party (PNP), currently in power with Patterson.

But it's also true that the violence always breaks out in the poor ghettoes, those immense, extremely disadvantaged neighborhoods like this ghetto of Tivoli Gardens where the latest troubles began. In its crushing majority the population of Jamaica is very poor. Most of Kingston, the capital, is made up of these immense ghettoes. The population suffers from enormous unemployment. It suffers from hunger, conditions of deplorable hygiene, the absence of medical care, and from drugs. Many youth become easy prey for the head of gangs, the "dons" who don't hesitate to enroll them. Very often these little neighborhood gang leaders are in the pay of one of the two principal political parties, the PNP and the JLP. They establish mafia-like relations among themselves. Currently, since the PNP is in power, the partisans of the JLP find it easy to denounce the PNP and to crystalize the discontent around themselves.

These armed clashes are the consequence of misery and the social disaster Jamaica suffers from. They aren't the sign of any political radicalization of the masses. They are rather the reverse. They especially show to what extent a fraction of the population is desperate. But they also show the criminal character of the leaders of the PNP and of the JLP who in turn seek to profit from the situation for electoral and political reasons.

In such a situation, it's the working class of Jamaica who could give perspectives to all the poor, the unemployed of Jamaica. But it is without its own political organization. The most conscious workers are linked either to the JLP or the PNP by means of the union federations controlled by the two parties. Among the unions, those who are opposed to the policy of U.S. imperialism in the Caribbean and elsewhere are closer to the PNP. This is the party that brought independence, that drew near at a certain time to Cuba and to certain countries called "socialist" or "revolutionary." And even if in fact it leads a bourgeois policy and quickly springs to attention before U.S. imperialism, some workers have illusions when they see in it a party of workers or a party of the poor. These workers lack a party which would be their own and which would lead a policy independent of the two bourgeois parties. A policy where everything would be oriented toward satisfying the needs of the workers and the ghetto poor.