When numbers are so far apart (ranging from 40% to the single digits), there is usually little hope that the increasingly adversarial parties would compromise to find common ground, and binding arbitration is the only accepted route. This gets past the bitterness and acrimony; the challenge now is to find mutually satisfactory referees to analyze the situation and award accordingly. Meanwhile, the pay increase positions and the now aborted strike teaches some enduring lessons.
First, think thrice before getting between people and money (akin to warring spouses). Second, another longstanding truth is reinforced: after all the heated passions, sharp rhetoric, and feasible or infeasible postures, then and only then sanity prevails. Meaning that the hostile parties come down to earth, agree to gather around the table, and arrive at a reasoned and reasonable state. This is so in war and peace, domestic strife and individual conflict. It is the same with strike action and the ensuing impasse. This is not the first set of circumstances where I say the meeting table should be earlier rather than when matters have deteriorated to a dismal barren place.
Of course, there is always residual rancour behind the taut smiles and clipped words; satisfactory is tinged with unsatisfactory in some hardline corners, and that a tougher stance should have been taken by this side or the other. But at the end of the day, unthought of, unpalatable compromises have to be reached and then officially solidified. There is no other way forward.
As we all know, whether here in Guyana or elsewhere, it is customary that the demanding start on the high side; while those who have to shell out try to minimize to the thinnest of margins. This applies to both public and private sectors anywhere, and the distance between the two positions are normally at its widest at the inception. Depending on the history of the relationship and the principals, the atmosphere can be turbulent. There was some of this noted during the teachers’ strike, when matters, on occasion, did get stormy and the language a shade intemperate. Nevertheless, at the end of it all (rhetoric, so-called pressure, postures, percentages and personalities and pundits too) nothing gets settled from the pavement or from behind the barricades. One more time: nothing!
Indeed, some of the just mentioned tactics do help to raise the temperature and hasten the pace, especially when the spectre of untended classrooms with battalions of unsupervised students form part of a volatile forbidding reality. I don’t know (yet) which side will strut forward and embrace the mantle of total victory. But I do believe that there are sure to be some losses. The loss of students’ regard, perhaps; maybe the further loss of control in those troubled imperiled institutions where the fear of a burgeoning gang presence (not unjustified before) probably was presented with the opportunity to gain some ground in the absence of stewards. There is loss on the government side, too. Because having made a pre-election promise to address teachers’ needs, if not plight, at clear and finite levels, there is reneging. I am aware that election promises are cheap to the tune of a dime a dozen. Our word must be our bond; once given it must be retracted.
So where does this leave things? Quite frankly, after all the adrenaline and emotionally draining exercises, I think that this first semester of the new school year may be barely recoverable, and then only after a resettling and rebalancing interlude. It would vary from school to school; it could linger and come to remind one and all of what should not have been. I am inclined to believe that, however this arbitration turns out, it may be a Pyrrhic victory of sorts for all involved. Out of the ashes of a worrisome educational system, students and parents may be burdened even more. They may be compelled to set aside scarce time and scarcer cash to pay for waiting lessons vultures to make up for the lost time or to sell the need for more lessons. And therein lies an unspoken aspect of this wages confrontation that has been lost in the swirl of words tensions. Chalk it up to one more cost in a still unfinished symphony. It might best be titled, “A requiem for the children.”