Bishop Speech - Opening Address to the American Association of Jurists Conference
at the Dome, Grand Anse, Grenada
10 March 1982

[NOTE: The text of the speech below Is taken from a copy of this AAJ speech issued by the Prime Minister’s Office. The typed text was issued on legal­sized paper of 21 numbered pages. Minor typos and punctuation errors are corrected. The quote from Anatole France was sourced and corrected from the original typewritten copy. Paragraphs are split, when possible, for easier readability.]

Thank you very much Comrade Chairman.

Comrade Ministers of the People’s Revolutionary Government.

Chief Justice, Mr. Archibald Nedd,

Mr. Justice Singh,

Comrade Deborah Jackson,

Comrades of the executive of the American Association of jurists,

Distinguished Comrades, Sisters and Brothers attending this conference,

Sisters and Brothers,

Comrades All.

Comrades, I want to join with Comrade Kendrick Radix, our minister of justice, in extending a very warm and a very fraternal greeting to all of the comrades who have some to our country for this very significant conference.

We certainly appreciate very much your presence here with us on this occasion. We appreciate your presence here for several reasons.

Firstly, of course, because you have chosen our country as the site of your conference and for us that is always very important and we believe that his is probably a reflection of the support that many of you have for the political process which is developing in our country or indeed is an expression of an open­mindedness of all of the comrades who are present here.

COME SEE FOR YOURSELF

This certainly falls in line completely with one of our main slogans in the country, “Come see for yourself” — come to our country, and after you have seen then make a judgement on what you have seen and not judge the situation in our country based on the adverse propaganda which is sweeping the region and many parts of the world.


We are also very happy that you are here today, comrades, because as we understand from Comrade Deborah Jackson, this conference is a run up, preparatory conference to one that will be held by the American Association of Jurists next year again in St. George’s and of course we look forward in anticipation of your presence next year at that conference also.

Certainly we feel by that time we will be more organised, we will be better prepared, our country would have gone through more developments and therefore the circumstances of your visit on that occasion we certainly hope will be happier.

Comrades, we are also happy that you are here today because of the variety of countries that are represented: Countries from the Caribbean countries from Central America and of course from North America, from the United States and Canada, and from the United Kingdom.

We feel it is extremely important for lawyers who are engaged in active practice in so many different parts of the world to have the opportunity of getting together and holding discussions in an atmosphere of friendliness, in an atmosphere where very critical questions can be openly discussed, where views can be freely exchanged and where, hopefully, a consensus can emerge.

GOOD TO SEE OLD FRIENDS

I am happy, too, comrades, to welcome you all here, because as a former practicing lawyer myself, it is very good to see so many of my old friends, and several comrades who I have had the opportunity of working with in different cases, particularly what one can, I  suppose, call human rights and political cases over the years and the opportunity of seeing these colleagues once again is a very good one.

And finally, comrades, we are happy to have you in Grenada at this time because you have come in an extremely important time for our people, at a time when we celebrate what we regard in Grenada as being the most important event to have ever occurred in the history of our country: the 13th of March when our Revolution took place three years ago and coming here three years after that historic and glorious event is for us also an extremely good thing.

Comrades, the theme of your conference, “Human Rights in the 80’s, a Caribbean perspective: is an extremely important theme for us all to be discussing at this time and for us to develop a perspective on that which is relevant, which is rooted in reality, which has a degree of relationship to what is happening in the real world, to what is happening in our region and in the wider world outside.

That theme which you are going to be discussing this morning and tomorrow, is an extremely important one, and therefore having the opportunity this morning of giving in very few words a view from the People’s Revolutionary Government of what our own broad perspective is on this question, looked at from the point of view of lawyers, we are very glad to be given that opportunity and we certainly hope that the brief remarks which we will make this morning will have some bearing on the discussions which you will be holding over the next two days.

ONLY STRUGGLE BROUGHT HUMAN RIGHTS

By far the most important point I want to make it that human rights have always come only after struggle.

There is nothing that I will say today that will be more important than that.

Nor one singly human right has ever been won without struggle.

Notwithstanding the methodology of the law, that laws do come naturally, that some laws exist from birth and some rights exist from birth, the truth of the matter is that every single important right under the law, which today are taken for granted in many countries, (and in many more countries these laws and these rights still do not exist) every single one of those rights came after a struggle by the ordinary working people.

This can be seen certainly in slavery.

It was not as a result of anybody’s kindness, or anybody’s change of hears, not as a result of any new, sudden development, or philosophy that slavery was abolished but slavery was abolished when and only when the struggles of the slaves themselves forced the slave masters to make a new calculation, to decide whether it was worthwhile being killed, whether it was worthwhile risking on a nightly basis a new slave uprising.

Slavery only came to an end, also, when the economic realities of the age made it more prudent and more desirable to move to a new form of exploitation, the exploitation in history known as feudalism.

Under feudalism, comrades, the right which the Lord of the Manor for several years regarded as his exclusive right, was the right to sleep the first nigh with the wives of the serfs.

ONLY STRUGGLE WIPED AWAY FEUDAL RIGHTS

That was not a right which disappeared because one night a nice Lord of the Manor decided it was not nice to sleep with the wife of his serf.

That disappeared because of struggle by the serfs to end that particular form of oppression and indeed other forms of oppression under feudalism.

Take the right to wages without having to give a share of one’s own sweat and labour to the Lord of the Manor.

That did not end because the Lords decided one morning that they would no longer want to collect their ill-gotten gains.

That ended because the serfs rose up in revolt.

That ended because the new economic reality which began to emerge, the new reality of capitalism, made it imprudent and unwise for the relationships under feudalism to continue.

LAWS DID NOT SUDDENLY EMERGE

That is why it is no accident, comrades, (and as lawyers you will know this) that the law of contract, for example, the law of making an impossible bargain, the law of entering into an agreement did not emerge overnight.

That simple law of contract which today we all take for granted, and can quote millions of legal precedents around and can refer to dozens of practices that now institutionalize the provision of that simple law took hundreds of years to emerge and the law of contract arose out of the crucible of life and out of real struggle by the emerging capitalists who were at that time a revolutionary force and who were demanding the right of free trade, insisting that they wanted an easier form of exchange for the goods that they were selling, insisting that the laws relating to barter were too cumbersome, that they were not prepared to walk around with a wheel­barrow full of wheat in order to obtain some gold or something else but were anxious to move to a new trading agreement.

SUBVERSIVE CAPITALIST RIGHTS

But the relationships that the emerging capitalists in feudalist times wanted were relationship that were subversive to the whole feudal system because if you had a right to contract, if you had a right to engage in free trade, then it meant that the principle of the divine right of the king which meant that the king was entitled to certain privileges being given to him on a regular basis from his lord, and the lords in turn were entitled to exact similar privileges and entitlements from their serfs, then that whole system, that whole relationship must collapse.

Because if the serf was free to buy what he wanted, if the serf was free to engage in a contract and to reach a legally enforceable agreement then the whole system of relationships under feudalism would collapse.

That is why the emerging capitalists of the 17th Century used to be killed so often.

That is why the king declared that those people were bandits and robbers, and were open game for anybody who wanted to kill them.

That is why when this question of an enforceable contract reached before the ecclesiastics, of course, in the beginning they were always rejecting those claims.

PREVAILING ECONOMIC REALITIES

What all of the says, comrades, and says very clearly is that the law developed around the prevailing economic realities of the age.

The law is really a system of legal relations that have a direct bearing and relationship to the material relations in the society.

The law, therefore, is first and foremost an expression of the balance of forces between the oppressor and the oppressed, between the exploiter and the exploited.

That is what the law is first and foremost.

EXPRESSION OF THE BALANCE OF FORCES

The question of what laws got on the statutory books is always a question of the strength of the oppressed.

The question of what laws are enforced on a regular basis is always, in part, an expression of the balance of forces between exploiter and exploited.

That is why the right to vote did not come automatically after modern day slavery was formerly abolished in 1834, but in countries in the Caribbean that right only came in the Caribbean for one country and in 1951 for most of the rest in the Caribbean.

Because the right to vote, universal adult suffrage came as a result of concrete struggle by our working people, struggles which they led because they felt they had a right to have a say in what was going on in their country and under the prevailing system of democracy the right to vote was the key way to give expression to this demand for participation, to this ancient call of no taxation without representation.

That is also why, comrades, the right to form trade unions did not suddenly descend on us one morning in the 1840's, or 50's, or 60's, but only came gradually with the result of dozens of years of struggle by workers, not only in the Caribbean, but by workers throughout the world.

And as comrades know May Day itself, International Workers Day, is but an institutionalization of a day when many workers were sacrificed because of their struggles in demanding rights before the law.

That is why in the 1920's, and 30's, and 40's, workers had on a concrete daily basis, to struggle for these rights because these rights were never handed down or given gladly.

TRADE UNIONS DANGEROUS TO EXPLOITERS

The exploiting class, the ruling class always had a very, very clear understanding of the fact that a trade union was, and is, a dangerous thing; that if you have trade unions, that if workers have the right to gather together collectively, that is workers have the right to declare a bargaining agent on behalf of themselves to meet with the employer than the employer’s ability to divide the rule, the employer’s ability to put one worker against the other will be substantially reduced.

The employing class always understood this point and this why the workers had to fight for that right.

The right to form political parties, the right to speak at public meetings, the right to hold demonstrations, every single one of those rights only came as a result of concrete struggle.

And therefore, comrades, what I want to say in this opening is that law as an expression of the balance of forces between exploiter and exploited, as a reflection of the existing material economic reality in the particular country, the way in which laws are consolidated, the way in which laws that exist are checked, and the way in which new laws are brought into existence are always dependent on a number of critical questions which need examination.

FOUR KEY QUESTIONS

Firstly, which class is in power? Is it the working class or the representative of the working class? Or is it the ruling class?

Secondly, how strong are the opposing forces? What is the respective balance between exploiter and exploited in the given society? What is the size of the particular class? What is the level of organisation? What is the level of unity prevailing? What international links and connections do they have?

These are the concrete questions which determine the strength of wither side.

Thirdly, the prevailing economic reality: is there recession? What is the situation with jobs? What is the attitude of the trade unions in the particular country at the given time? Are trade unions on the retreat because of weak, or cowardly, or vacillating leadership, or are trade unions standing up, or are they negotiating cut backs with the bosses, negotiating reduced pay with the bosses, or are trade unions struggling for even more rights for their workers?

Fourthly: the political outlook of the executive, or the particular leadership in the country.

At one level, that point is the same point as the first point, which class is in power, but in a deeper sense there is a difference and I think the difference can be illustrated if one compares let us say a Carter with a Reagan.

Because under a Carter in the United States, there is some hope for limited justice under the law and limited justice in general.

There is some hope that the rights which women have won over centuries of struggle might be maintained.

There is some hop that the rights which workers have won over centuries of struggle might be maintained.

There is some hope that the rights which minorities have won over centuries of struggle might be maintained.

Perhaps, what should be in question is how these rights could be expanded.

At least certain rights could be maintained with a Carter in power.

Certainly, too, in that kind of situation there is always a much greater possibility of peace in the world because of a particular attitude and particular philosophical outlook.

REAGAN ROLLS BACK RIGHTS

But with a Reagan in power, comrades, what are the prospects for any of these things?

Is there any realistic basis for any optimism at all that the rights of women, that the rights of workers, that the rights of minorities, that the possibility of maintaining peace in our time can be assured?

Is there any realistic hope where any of this is possible given the national chauvinist, the racist and the expansionist outlook of the clique in Washington?

Is there any realistic hope of that, given the reality of the economic crisis that exists in the United States today?

What are the prospects for any expansion of human rights in that country?

What are the prospects for even keeping those human rights which have existed over the years?

Let us look at the situation with women in the United States.

Today, the struggle for the Equal Rights Amendment, a struggle which generations of women in the United States have been involved in, that struggle is facing its worse possible period.

Ronald Reagan is perhaps the first president in modern times to publicly oppose the Equal Rights Amendment.

Ronald Reagan has around him people like Jesse Helms, who openly says that women have no rights, they must go back home, return to the kitchen, become once again the kitchen mechanic.

People like Jesse Helms even go to the extent of saying that women do not even have the right to wear trousers and must only be seen in dresses.

That is the extent to which that new reality has begun to go down for the women of the United States.

Today, the greater number of unemployed in recent times now exist in the United States, with official figures being over nine and a half million workers being out of work.

With a situation existing for the workers of the United States where in any context of an industrial dispute, there Is now always the real possibility that all the workers engaged in that industrial dispute could lose their jobs, as the air traffic controllers discovered to their cost.

REAGAN ATTACKS UNIONS

But, perhaps even worse than that Ronald Reagan and the people around him have moved even to the stage of beginning to decertify trade unions, so that even the right to form and to join trade unions and to be certain that those trade unions will be allowed to exist, even that right is now being removed in the United States.

Minorities and the poor are in a similar situation.

The attitude of the Reagan Administration to desegregation and to business, the attitude which ensures that crimes are being committed every day against the poor people in general but against blacks and other ethnics and nationals, in particular, also gives a very clear indication to the reality.

The situation f the poor in terms of the schools being closed, the hospitals being closed, the old people’s homes being closed, the cutbacks taking place on food stamps, on medical care, on student subsidies, on farmer subsidies, etc. makes it clear that rights which previously existed and which the poor and working people of the United States had begun to take for granted, are being taken away under this present administration.

So that the human rights picture has begun to undergo a slide backwards.

Far from consolidating or going forward, the picture is that of a backward trend.

And what of the question of peace and war?

With a Ronald Reagan in the White House it would seem that war is almost inevitable, it would seem that war is almost a certainty at some point in the future and perhaps in the immediate future.

The arms industry, which is not a defence industry but a war industry, is escalating again, is again being built up to massive proportions today in exactly the same time as schools and hospitals and old people’s homes are being closed and farmers and students subsidies and Medi-Care and food stamps are being cut, $214 billion are being spent on arms.

FUTURE OF MANKIND IN PERIL

A massive arms race is once again facing the people of the United States and threatening the future of mankind.

In the 1930's when Hitler and Mussolini emerged, again the rationale was economic, again the argument was that armaments are necessary in order to keep out the Communist threat, and again the rationale is that the arms industry helps in providing jobs, when what they really mean, of course, is that the arms industry helps with ensuring that the sagging profits of the multi­national corporations are once again allowed to overflow.

Comrades, with a philosophy that is essentially fascist, with a philosophy that believes that no people have a right to self­determination, that no people have a right to develop their own process, that no country has a right to operate or to exist except in conditions approved by this United States Administration, the prospects for war are real.

Professor Richard Pipes, one of the people very close to Ronald Reagan, is on the record as saying that the socialist world system must be made to collapse, that so far as this United States Administration is concerned there is no room for peaceful co­existence, that these two systems cannot and will not be allowed to co­exist, that one or the other must go.

FEW PROSPECTS FOR PEACE

With people like that, with a philosophy like that, with a view that negates the existence of the socialist world, with a philosophy that negates the existence of national liberation movement in the world, a view that says that the people of El Salvador do not have a right to exist, do not have a right to struggle to reclaim their country from oligarchy, with a philosophy like that, comrades, what are the prospects for peace at this point in time?

With a philosophy that says that the people of Namibia do not have a right to independence and when the United Nations passes a resolution as they did in 1978, that says that the people of Namibia must be immediately granted their rights of independence, must immediately e allowed to proceed to independence, the United States stands up and votes against that and attempts to rewrite a mandate coming from the rest of mankind.

With a philosophy that says that whatever is done by their client state Israel, is acceptable, that the Palestinians have no right to their own homeland, that the people of Palestine do not have a right to exist and Israel alone has the right to do what it wants in that part of the world, go into Iraq and bomb reactors if they wish, go into Syria and bomb the people of Syria in the Golan Heights if they wish, go into Lebanon and commit murder on a daily basis and that is justified because they are allies.

Or likewise in South Africa where millions of black oppressed people are daily having to face up to the terrible conditions of an apartheid system against South Africa this is all right to Reagan because South Africa is an ally and, there are massive U.S. investments in South Africa and these investments justify maintaining that sort of double standard.

WHOLE PEOPLE’S RIGHTS IGNORED

Comrades, here you find a philosophy which says that the socialist oriented countries in the world have no right to exist, that the people of Angola do not have a right to develop their own process, but must have foisted on them [Jonas] Savimbi, a philosophy that says that the people of Mozambique, the people of Nicaragua, the people of Libya, the people of Syria, the people of Grenada do not have a right to develop their own processes and if they choose to try to develop such a process then they will be subjected to the total barrage of propaganda destabilisation, economic warfare and violent terrorism and the ever­present threat of mercenary or marine invasion.

Here’s a philosophy that says that even their so­called allies in Europe do not have the right to develop their own countries in their own way, or to use their own money for what purpose they see fit such as when the EEC countries offer to send the humanitarian assistance to war victims in El Salvador and Ronald Reagan dispatched emissaries to the EEC saying that his humanitarian assistance through the Red Cross must go to El Salvador such as when the new French president is about to form his own cabinet and decides on his own free will that he is going to put three Communists in his cabinet, Reagan decided that the French people cannot put these people into their cabinet, that America must determine this question for them.

TRANSNATIONAL CORPORATE EXPLOITATION

Comrades, this is a philosophy that says that the countries of the Third World do not have any right at all to develop their economic resources in their own way unless it is hinged to private enterprise, unless it is connected to the continued exploitation by the transnational corporations.

This is a philosophy that says not to the New International Economic Order which so many of us in the Third World are daily struggling for: the right to have fair and equal terms of trade, the right to see the global round of negotiations start immediately.

It is a philosophy that says that the New International Economic Order [NIEO] must not be allowed to come about, that the poorer countries must continue to live in the vicious cycle and circle of exploitation, under which every year the prices of our goods go down while the prices of their manufactured items go up.

Ronald Reagan feels that is justice.

Comrades, in the discussions which have been raging now in the United Nations around a regime for the law of the sea, a regime for the deep sea, it is only the United States, which has maintained a position that says that the deep sea resources must be exploited by tine multi­national corporations and used by them for their own benefits and in their own interests.

Everyone else in the entire world has come to the conclusion that an international authority must be set up to exploit the resources of the deep sea and to use these resources to help to end poverty, illiteracy, superstition, ignorance, disease and so on in the world.

Everyone else has that view.

Only the United States Administration with Ronald Reagan has been holding out.

RIGHT TO LIFE: MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL

Comrades, with this sort of situation, it seems to us that the prospect for peace and therefore the prospects for the most important human right of all, the right to life, are not good because if you are into an arms industry and every year you are going to increase by a few more billion and if the answer to the economic problems that you are opposing is to build up a war industry based on arms, then at some time a war must come and the more arms you build up and the more arms you have to sell, obviously only a war can ensure that the arms industry will continue to expand; otherwise you must reach the point where there are more arms available than people who are willing to buy those arms.

Arms can only be stockpiled up to a certain point and thereafter they have to e used and that is one of the major predicaments that humanity today finds itself facing.

Comrades, it is our very firm belief that progressive lawyers cannot be neutral in all of this, that progressive lawyers must take a partisan position on this question.

They must take a stand.

Progressive lawyers have a duty and an obligation to deal with the prevailing world reality and, as we know, that reality is frightening.

SOME ALARMING STATISTICS

In the area of military expenditures alone, I have some figures which I want to real to you very quickly.

Half the resources at present allocated to military expenditures in one day will suffice to finance a programme for the total eradication of malaria.

In just five [5] hours the world’s military expenditures are the equivalent of the overall UNICEF’s budget for child care programmes.

The number of people working in the military sphere including the armed forces is today twice the total number of all teachers, physicians and nurses in the world.

Approximately 25% of the world’s scientific personnel is engaged in military activity.

It is estimated that 60% of the overall scientific research [and] scientific expenditures is absorbed by military programmes.

The value of such research projects if five time greater than that of the projects devoted to health protection.

Countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America allocate 5.9% of their gross national product to weapons and military expenditures, whereas they devote only 1% to public  health and 2.8% to education, and 1% of the developed counties' military budget will overcome the existing deficit in international assistance for financing and increasing food production and creating emergency reserves.

The expenditures for military activities in a year during the middle 1970's, would have financed, among many other things, a vaccination programme against infectious diseases for all the children in the world, a programme for the eradication of adult illiteracy in the entire world, a supplementary food programme for 60 million pregnant women and a classroom increase for over 100 million pupils.

TRULY SHOCKING REALITIES:

Comrades, the reality of these figures is truly shocking and must be something that as progressives we have a duty to reconsider and reflect upon and the fact is that these military expenditures are occurring at this time, notwithstanding the awful problems of hunger, of malnutrition, of illiteracy and of unemployment which the Third World faces and as comrades know that reality is even more frightening.

It has been estimated, for example, that the rate of growth of underdeveloped countries' gross national product dropped from 4.8% in 1979 to 3.8% in 1980 and to 3.2% in 1981.

Every year the figure falls and as if that was not bad enough, the annual rate of growth of the lowest income countries in the underdeveloped world during the 1960's was only 1.8% and that annual rate of growth was .8% during the 1970's.

These figures mean that the lowest income countries representing ¼ of the world’s population will require some four hundred to five hundred years to reach the present existing per capita income levels of the most developed capitalist countries.

WORSENING TRADE RELATIONS:

The share of the underdeveloped countries in the world export excluding fuel was reduced from about 25% in 1950 to less than 12% in 1980.

The continuing deterioration in trade relations between basic products and manufactures sharpened by the increase in oil prices has likewise contributed to the emergence of a huge, chronic deficit in the balance of payments of oil importing underdeveloped countries amounting to some $53 billion.

The external debt of the Third World is estimated to have reached in 1981 the enormous figure of over $524 billion and the tendency points to a continued increase in a brutal, vicious circle of debt service payments with growing interest rates and more debts.

WORKERS, WOMEN AND CHILDREN HARD HIT

The reality in the Third World, comrades, is a frightening one and that reality is as bad for the workers, for the children and for the women of the world.

According to the ILO [International Labor Organization], for example in 1980 there were some 455 million workers in the Third World, over 43% of the working age population.

During that same year 46% of the labour force in Latin America was affected by open unemployment or underemployment and since then the situation has gotten worse.

In 1979, there were 75 million children under the age of 15 working in the world especially in underdeveloped countries, in many instances doing exhausting and always underpaid jobs.

Thirty-five percent of the world’s labour force is composed of women although they represent a little over one third of the total labour force, they receive only one tenth of the world’s revenues.

Women make up one third of the workers but the money they get between them is just about one tenth of all the income that is going around.

Comrades, when we consider this reality in the world and when we consider, too, the attitude of many of our own people to solutions to these problems and their idea of what a model country is, that reality needs also to be explained and to be exposed because for many people in the Caribbean today, the United States still continues with an image of being paradise on earth, still continues with an image of being the country where everyone, once you are willing to work hard, can become a millionaire overnight, still continues to have an image of being a very stable and secure democracy.

REVEALING F.B.I. STATISTICS

I found some very interesting statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and these statistics have to do with crime and therefore will be very relevant to a lawyers' conference.

In the United States, every two seconds a crime is committed, every four seconds larceny is committed, every eight seconds an assault and robbery is committed, every twenty­eight seconds a car is stolen, every forty­eight seconds someone is beaten up, every 58 seconds a hold up takes place, every six minutes a women is raped, in every twenty­three minutes someone is murdered.

These are the statistics, comrades, of the model society, of what stability and security and democracy means for many, many people in the United States.

In 1980, the FBI again declared rape cases rose to 82,000, 500,000 people were robbed, 650,000 were held up and 23,000 murders were committed.

That is the country of great human rights, the country of ideal democracy.

In Grenada, today, when a murder takes place that is the same as saying a war has broken out in some country in some part of the world. It is such a rare event.

DEVELOP A PROGRESSIVE PERSPECTIVE

Comrades, I want to urge on you that in your deliberations over the next two days, you bear in mind that in addressing this question of human rights in the 80's and developing a perspective for progressive lawyers on human rights that the most critical question is to do this in the context of the prevailing reality in the world and in the prevailing reality in our Caribbean region.

We must know what the true facts are, what the realities are for most of the poor people in our countries, and therefore the perspective we develop must be a perspective that firstly focuses on the right of the majority of the people, a perspective that aims to look at human rights in the context of developing rights for the majority of our people who still continue to be poor and over­exploited, in this part of the world and, indeed, in many other parts of the world.

Secondly, the perspective we develop must be a perspective that deals with material realities and aims to improve them, aims to ensure that the realities of poverty and hunger, that the realities of discrimination, that the realities of legal inequity are realities which we face up to and try to find solutions for.

Thirdly, comrades, in developing this perspective we must aim to look in a very serious and scientific manner at the ways in which laws are really made, at the ways in which rights really come about.

LAWS AND THE BALANCE OF FORCES

We must recognise, for example, that governments are composed of men and women who make laws according to the prevailing material realities in the country, and who make laws according to the prevailing balance of forces in the country between the exploited and the exploiters.

We should recognise also that the official slogan of their establishment that, “What we have is a government of laws and not of men”, is more of a myth than a reality.

Anatole France, a few years ago, gave perhaps the classic answer when he said, “the law in its majestic [e]quality forbids the rich and the poor alike from sleeping under bridges”.

Obviously, the question of who sleeps under bridges is really the question.

The question of whom the law is really aimed at in the first place and who the law catches is what really tell you what kind of law it is and how the law came about.

If you should examine people who are in the jails in different countries, I think it gives a very good idea of the reality in that country with regard to laws on the statutory books.

Comrade, we must never forget that it is the struggles of the working people which have brought human rights in the first place, and it is precisely our struggle today that will ensure that these rights continue, and in today’s condition it seems to me that each struggle has to be centered around three specific aspects:

Firstly, to ensure that those rights and those laws which have brought benefits but have been taken away are in fact restored!

Secondly, to ensure that those laws which are now on the statutory books in fact remain, and that no one tries to remove them, thus weakening this strength of the working people and further eroding the rights which they have won, and

Thirdly, of course, we must in a conscious and systematic way struggle for an expansion of existing rights.

FINDING NEW HUMAN RIGHTS

We must find new human rights to put on the books.

We must find new human rights that will deal with the needs of the people in housing, jobs, health care, education etc.

We must find ways of ensuring that these human rights are firstly discussed and secondly after a consensus is reached in a society that such rights must also be entrenched in the constitution and must be given to the working people in our countries.

The struggle for those new rights, comrades, must start from the promise that there can be no equality before the law if there is no social equality and so the question of legal equality cannot seriously arise.

When we examine some of these paper rights that are entrenched in all constitutions, the right of freedom of expression, for example, can really only be relevant if people are not too hungry, or too tired to be able to express themselves.

That right can only be relevant if appropriate grassroots mechanisms rooted in the people exist, through which the people can effectively participate, can make decisions, can receive reports from the leaders and eventually be trained for ruling and controlling that particular society.

This is what democracy is all about.

When we speak, likewise, of the right to work as many constitutions speak of that right, surely it can only be relevant when one can get a job.

Otherwise, it is a meaningless right.

REAL WORKERS RIGHTS

It can only be a relevant right if people, likewise, have the right to form and to join trade unions of their choice.

Then, in turn, that must raise the question of the speed at which trade unions can be recognised and must know the question of whether workers have the right in the first place to ensure legally that any trade union that they join, must be recognised by their employers.

We know in many countries in our region and beyond that right does not exist.

A right to work, likewise, must surely deal with the question of the right not to be arbitrarily dismissed otherwise what is taken in the right hand can be taken away with the left, and certainly in Grenada we view this question of the right to work as also to mean the right to know what is happening  in your enterprise, in your workplaces, the right to not only be involved but the right to help make decisions, the right to be able to examine books, the right to be able to know what are the production targets, what are the possibilities for profits, what role can I have in that and at the end of the year when profits are made, the right also to share in those profits.

All of that, it seem to us, is part of that right to work.

And comrades, the right to life, that too is a right, that becomes meaningless if secret police, and mongoose gangs are able to kill, are able to maim, and brutalise and torture people without any remedy, without any resort to the courts, without any justice being given to those who are being killed or those being brutalised.

What is the point of speaking of the right to life if the judicial system itself does not provide the remedies.

What is the point of speaking of this right to life if health facilities in the country are so costly that it becomes impossible for you to be able to receive proper health care if you are very poor, or if you are a working receiving very small wages, or if you are otherwise dispossed (sic).

THE RIGHT TO DIGNITY

The right to dignity and the right to live a life of dignity can only be a meaningful right to the extent to which the basic needs of the population is met, to the extent to which social equality is being worked towards, to the extent to which the population as a whole have the right to decide on the question of war and peace and have the right to decide whether they want to go to El Salvador to fight for the transnational corporations, had a right to know whether they want to go elsewhere and be bombed because a tiny minority see that to be in their interest.

These questions are questions which the people themselves must be involved in discussing and must be involved in taking decisions about.

Otherwise, that right too becomes another paper right.

So, comrades, I want to close by once again welcoming all of you to our country, by wishing you a very successful conference, by hoping that you will have the opportunity over the next two days or beyond to travel around our country, to meet with our people, to see something of what we are trying to achieve in Grenada and of course the opportunity too to participate in the March 13th rally itself and other events during this period.

We certainly look forward to seeing all of you next year and once again we are very happy in having you all and it is my great pleasure to declare your conference open.

Thank you very much.


     Back: Bishop Speech List

Home Page: FAQs      Site Map

          CONTACT