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Ram Seegobin: Political Situation this fortnight

17.01.2011


For the first LALIT Central Committee meeting this year, Ram Seegobin took his turn to give a brief outline of the situation facing us. Each month a different member takes it in turn to do fortnightly introductions to the meeting, like this. Here is a rough translation into English from a member’s notes.

The economic situation
He said that the year begins with a number of fairly serious economic problems. For a start there is, as there was in 2007, a double fuel and food crisis looming ahead.

Oil has once again gone up to nearly 100 dollars a barrel, and as everyone knows this has knock-on effects on all prices. Now with the flooding of coal mines in Australia and political crisis in Nigeria, this could further increase prices.

The food crisis will be worsened by a series of weather catastrophes, all linked to climate change. As well as the heavy toll in terms of human suffering on the spot, food crops will have been ruined in Brazil and in Australia with the severe flooding we have all seen on television. The fires from the drought in Russia have ruined a great deal of the wheat crop there. And the extremely cold winter in Europe has affected the wheat crops badly there, too. Before that, Pakistan’s wheat had already been direly affected by flooding. All this to say, that food shortages will push prices up.

In general, climate catastrophes also push up other prices by disrupting production in general. Because of floods in Australia, drowning the mining and production of coking coal, used in the production of steel from iron ore, the price of steel will have an upward pressure.

At the same time, in Mauritius we are beginning to feel the effect of price rises as a direct result of Finance Minister, Pravind Jugnauth’s budget at the end of 2010. There has been a 2.5% price increase in just one month, the month of December. And workers were given a 3.2% wage increase for the whole year. Price rises are going to affect life for the whole of the working class in 2011, and particularly women who have to bear the brunt of housework.

And although the price of sugar has gone up drastically on the world market, and on the Mauritian consumers’ market, the income Mauritian capitalists get from their sugar is determined by contracts drawn up before the price increases.

And in Mauritius, as we all know, the water supplies are at 30-40%, and the rains have not yet come. We could face a very serious water problem. There are already long water cuts, and some areas see long cues of people waiting for a water lorry to pass to fill up their multi-coloured buckets and drums on the main road. The Government is even considering taking back from the private sector the water rights that had been conceded to the sugar bosses over a hundred years ago, so that they do not go on watering cane when people are not getting basic water supplies. They are also considering drilling deeper bore-holes, but this takes time, and they will be implementing more severe water cuts. The MMM is proposing desalination, but this takes time, is energy-expensive, and gets water at low-lying areas.

And Government has announced that it will not give the go-ahead for the CT Power Montagne Jakot project to make energy from coal. The MMM, which had long opposed this project on the grounds that it used coal, is now, itself, proposing a coal station to produce 100 megawatts as part of the desalination project they propose.

The economic crisis in Mauritius can be felt increasingly in more unemployment, especially for women, higher prices, and no job security whatsoever. In fact, perhaps the main crisis is the lack of a common idea of the future. The ruling block is unable to stabilize a reasonable future for Mauritius, and this is perhaps the greatest source of social problems. So, it is not just a cause of immense suffering, but also an opportunity to think creatively, and to push ahead with changes. The working class is reeling under the effect of the combined new Employment Relations Act and Employment Rights Act, which were voted in in 2008 and reflect a new balance of forces in which the working class is much weaker than it has been for decades. In the rural areas, the working class has been decimated by Volontary Retirement Schemes in sugar and cane, schemes that the trade unions negotiated without the creation of any new jobs. In fact, the unions have supported the continuation of the cane industry instead of mobilizing for agricultural diversification and a food industry.

On the Political Front
The “Labour Party State” is settling in again, after a change in the particular nature of the State with the MSM now sharing power somewhat precariously with Labour. Increasingly everyone mainstream in the country from bosses to unionists, politicians to businessmen, mouths support for the Prime Minister and his “vision” as an introduction to everything they say on any subject, as though he is the infallible emperor.

Against this background, the talk of a change in local government law and new Municipal Elections has now left the agenda, and the MMM is just waiting for the Government to come up with its plan. The MMM still has its old plan of closing down the Village Councils, and centralizing local government in the countryside, something they did when in power, and which we in LALIT opposed and got undone. We propose more decentralization, that is to say more power to the Village Councils.

On the Chagos issue, the Government has, as we know, finally put in a case against Great Britain to oppose its “Marine Protected Area” before the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Mauritius has nominated its legal man to sit on the Tribunal, and the UK is due to nominate its representative. We are not sure whether Britain will just quietly nominate someone or find ways of resisting even this. The MMM’s line is that this is not enough, which is a fair enough line. In fact, it is what LALIT says.
In Rodrigues there is a major political crisis, and the Chief Commissioner, Johnson Roussety and one of his party have resigned. Since two members from the OPR have also resigned, there is a rather unstable majority. With a new small bourgeoisie, there are obviously calls for independence, too, which opens up the old danger that Gaetan Duval used to represent of getting an imperialist country as an ally in this type of independence struggle.

Social Crisis
The economic crisis has already started to produce a social crisis that deepens week by week. Violent crime within the family and elsewhere in society have continued to become more and more alarming. The road accident causing eleven deaths, ten Bangladeshi workers amongst them, has pointed to the terrible dangers of minibuses rushing people to work, while the murder of a high-profile Irish woman on honeymoon in a hotel, has shocked everyone. These are all signs of the decline of capitalism, no longer able to sustain hope for the future.

The Press
And the crisis within the Press empires, and between press and political power, have continued, too, reflecting economic, political and social forces in action. This has made major news.

Radio One, which was controlled by the combined forces of La Sentinelle, FAIL, Rogers, and MCB people like Pippo Forget, both by a majority on the Board and by means of a management contract through which they controlled recruitment, promotion, editorial line, the lot, now has a new majority around Farouk Hossen of BAI, Fon Sing representing the Rose-Hill Transport (Media) and Jean Marie Richard. A reflection of the old bourgeoisie historic v/s bourgeoisie through State power conflict.

Jean Claude de L’Estrac, who was Chairman of the Board, has resigned calling the new majority a “coup d’etat”. In fact, just as L’Estrac seems not to accept a new majority, and seems only just to have found out how capitalist shareholding firms work, even though he is the main defender of capitalism in the country, so the BAI team seem to be totally unaware even of the rudimentary “democracy” capitalism uses, think you can add two new Board Members under the heading AOB. L’Estrac has threatened that La Sentinelle will pull out if the management contract with Radio One is substantially changed. In fact, the law states that a newspaper company can only own a maximum of 20% of a Radio company; the management contract was a way for La Sentinelle to get around the spirit of that law.

Navin Ramgoolam continues to attack La Sentinelle. And the unfair boycot of the L’Express and other titles continues to squeeze the finances of the empire. L’Estrac is bringing out a book about the Chagos that, it would seem, is designed to attack Ramgoolam father.

Meanwhile, this kind of instability reflects itself in the content of the newspapers. At the end of the year, L’Express, instead of its usual quite high quality end-of-the-year supplement, brought out a joke supplement. It was described by its editor as a light, farcical edition. It was called “L’Express Demange” (L’Express Lagratel). There were, inter alia, sarcastic, rather nasty articles against Ramgoolam (in the vein of how fantastic he is, and how some idiot newspapers stupidly criticize him) and Berenger. They then selected a l’Homme de l’Annee, someone in the same political block at the last General Elections as a L’Express shareholder and MCB manager and as a L’Express former editor. The L’Express Demange then proceeded to write an article part-farce, part-pseudo-serious, part-serious, to support this “selection” of their l’homme de l’annee. This was such a dubious thing to do, especially as some four or five people were interviewed and quoted, one can only think, without even being told that their words would be used in a joke supplement. So, L’Express brought out a bizarre newspaper. This is, on its own, a sign of its incoherence. Then, as a further reflection of the instability in the newspaper, over the next two days two senior reporters tried to cover up the terrible blunder by pretending that the l’homme de l’annee was a dead serious thing. But without mentioning why on earth it was in the middle of a joke supplement, and why it was half-farce, itself.

And the L’Express, the day after the murder of the young Irish woman on honeymoon at a 5 star hotel in Mauritius, ran a front page article directly incriminating the woman’s husband. What led them to do this? The L’Express just changed their story the next day. No apology given for misleading us. Or to the husband. It is a very risky thing to have done, for a newspaper to expose itself to such a defamation suit. This, too, is a sign of instability in L’Express. And instead of putting pressure on the Police to issue formal statements, as the international press has managed to do, they just add to the confusion that the Police usually spreads over criminal investigations.

And as the police prepare to re-open the unsolved murder case of Vanessa Lagesse, two of the best journalists of L’Express, instead of doing investigative journalism, instead of even studying the facts that came out during the preliminary enquiry, without even referring to the man who was induced to give an ally to the suspect who has since been killed in an accident, write a most confused article, full of non-sequiturs and innuendos. The Police have messed up this enquiry from Day One. And the Press, as a whole, has only made this mess worse.

So, there is increasing concentration of capital in the media, as the BAI group gets stronger, and the two older press business empires begin to weaken. MCB-Forget-L’Estrac and the Rivet empires have both shrunk in terms of their relative importance. Le Matinal is a pro-Government rag. The MBC is still, and now more than ever before, a pro-Government propaganda machine.

All this to say that parties like LALIT have to continue to be independent of the Press for our communication. Thus the importance of our Revi LALIT, our web-site, our work site bulletins, our branch meetings, our leaflets, our poster campaigns, our public meetings.

International
He spoke first of the mass rebellion in Tunisia and how the head of State, Ben Ali, has fled to Saudi Arabia, after having been in power since a putch some 23 years ago. The lack of jobs, price increases and political repression have prompted mass demonstrations for a few weeks, leading to the collapse of the Government. We will have to watch how things develop. It will depend on how much organization had already been done by workers’ and democratic organizations, and how much they can do quickly.

Cote d’Ivoire is still in crisis, with two Governments and a stand-off, while Belgium has not got a Government at all, as the conflict on language/regional lines hardens. Pakistan has been in crisis since the assassination of the Prime Minister, and the ongoing crisis in Pakistan has vast geo-political significance, because it is the US’s bulwark for controlling Afghanistan.

The situation in Palestine continues to become more tragic. (See our web article).

So, there is deepening political crisis in many parts of the world, and this is not counting the devastating effects of climate change in Brazil, Australia, Sri Lanka and Philippines.