FORUM: THE SUGAR QUESTION & NEW WORLD
It must now be obvious to all and sundry that West Indian Governments do not regard the Sugar Estate as being merely one item in the economic structure. If we analyse the Jamaican national institutions, differentiate the economic from the political, the religious from the educational, and so on, the list will still be incomplete if we do not give separate mention to the Sugar Estate. Political influences, first from the planters then more recently from worker representatives, have added to its dimension charging it with the specific duty of relieving the unemployment burden and adding to the foreign exchange earnings. The fact that sugar is the output is only incidental: any important foreign exchange earner would have done provided its labour requirement were huge. The selection of sugar was made all the easier by the fact that it was already well organised and was already doing exactly what the present political incumbents wanted done. Any political party dependent upon labour votes would have had to face the same problem, and it just happens that the JLP was saved a lot of homework because of the close liaison between its leaders and the workers on the sugar estate.
The issue over mechanisation is an economic one, tied to cost analysis and competitiveness, only to those whose major interests are operational efficiency and profitability. This is the sphere of the investors and the economic analysts. Take the important variables, define the situation as economic, and any computer would give mechanisation as the answer. The JLP however has been adamant: no mechanisation, and its answer to the challenge of competition is to negotiate an extension to the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement and to lobby for an International Sugar Agreement. Internally, the JLP – BITU question the level of profits and dividends, the size of the reserve, the efficiency of the factory installation, and managerial competence. They have defined the situation as having both political and economic constraints, and the computer is asked to take this into consideration.
The introduction of a political element makes the equation untidy and complicates the calculation, but it yields a better approximation to reality. Profitability and competitiveness are economic measurements: they can be gauged and controlled – provided there are no extraneous constraints. But these are never absent and they are not always political. They may be social, as those quickly learn who try to restrict staff recruitment to, say, whites only; and they may be religious, as the family planning sales people know, or those who peddle sectarian literature. Political constraints are highly institutionalised social constraints which mature citizens in a well organised democratic state know how to respect and to control.