[This report is based partly on Lindsey’s speech, partly on her notes for the speech – both translated from Kreol into English.]
Happy Labour Day! And my appreciation for the fine “dual-chairing” being done by Alain and Anne-Marie.
My talk will link a “Republic” with the concept of “Labour”. A tall order! So, to help everyone follow, after a brief introduction, the argumentation of my talk will be in five stages that I’ll number for you as I go along.
Today is “Fet Travay”, and while we all know what the “fet” part of the day is – workers often hold celebrations of all kinds – the “travay” or “labour” part is specific today. It is not, you will notice, Fet Travayer, or Workers’ Day. We can and do hold fet travayer whenever we want to. But today it’s different: it’s Fet Travay. Labour Day. We are celebrating the human capacity, through our labour, to create things and ideas, to make things, to transform things – things in nature, for example. And the “working class” in the title of my talk refers to all those families who survive by means of one or more members selling their “kuraz”, their labour power, in the producing of things, including services and other invisible things. And there is another, much smaller class that buys our kuraz from us – by the hundred of us, by the thousand of us, paying us by the fortnight, the month or the hour. This smaller class owns “capital”, a rather magic ever-changing substance that can mean “a lot of money”, or big machinery, thousands of arpents of land, or tons of sugar, or buildings, or shares. And all this, in whatever shape or form, came into existence, took on its usable form, because of the work done by those who came before us. And somehow, the workers who came before us lost control of what they produced. A tiny minority got hold of all the capital that all of us produced. Which is why we call them “capitalists”. And today we celebrate the confrontation of “labour” with “capital”, and we celebrate the will for labour to win against capital, and once again take control of all that our ancestors produced – so we can all control it democratically.
And Labour Day looks not just at this confrontation here and now.
We take an international view.
And we situate ourselves in history. In Mauritius we lived for 100 years under the labour law called “slavery”, and then next one hundred under a less draconian labour law called “indenture”, and the next hundred years until today under “wage slavery” – and what we are celebrating today as we oppose capital is the power of our capacity to work, meaning to create. In this past 100 years, we lived half of it under the yoke of colonialism, and next year will be 50 years of our Independence. And this year, 2017, we celebrate 25 years of being a Republic. A Republic still controlled by capital, by the capitalist class. And this brings us to the theme: Towards a Working Class Republic.
1. A Bourgeois Republic in Crisis
The Mauritian State is in crisis.
For a start the Government, the executive itself, is in crisis. The biggest ally of the Jugnauths’ MSM in Government was Xavier Duval’s PMSD, which left Government after two years, followed soon by the prominent Minister Bhadain who has formed his own party. So, Government is weakened. Not only that, but you will remember when Pravind Jugnauth was first elected, he was a Minister. Then, when found guilty on charges of conflict of interest, he stepped down during the Appeal. When found not-guilty he became Prime Minister. But it is not over. There is another appeal. So he is an insecure Prime Minister. And all the institutions named by Cabinet or the Prime Minister are in crisis, from the Financial Services Commission to every other Commission you can think of.
Then Parliament is in crisis, what with a motion of blame against the Speaker, and this, itself, turning into a circus of absurd behavior, now filmed live for spectators to watch. Inasmuch as the MSM, ML, PMSD, MMM, Labour, etc all have identical programs, inasmuch as they even have no programs at all, what is left for them to do in Parliament is to have macho fights.
The Opposition is also very weak. It is divided now into five different parties! Plus two independents. And all of them with the same politics or no politics at all. If that degree of fracture and lack of a program is not a crisis in itself!
Even the Presidency is in crisis. We have a President whose resignation is formally called for by all 5 parties in the National Assembly Opposition. She was duped into bringing in the discredited financier, Alvaro Sobrinho, introducing him to the financial institutions, while she was being offered status in the NGO the man controls. She has discredited the office.
2. Past Proposals for a New Republic
It is not new this series of crises. It has been ongoing in different forms for the past one or two decades, getting more and more putrefied.
So, by 2014, Ramgoolam and Bérenger got together in an ill-fated Labour-MMM alliance announcing that they stood for a New Republic, a Second Republic.
Their main aim in the elections was to propose sharing power between them, the two macho leaders – a President Ramgoolam with more powers than the existing constitution gives the President, and a Prime Minister Bérenger with less powers than the existing constitution gives the Prime Minister. The electorate in its wisdom suspected, rightly, that this would be worse than the existing Constitution and voted them right out! (They were on the face of it supposed to win all seats, being the two biggest parties!)
The way for the Ramgoolam-Bérenger proposals had been paved by the Bizlall-Subron supposedly “left” proposals for the 2010 general elections, when they had set up a Platform for a New Constitution.
But all these – Ramgoolam-Bérenger’s or Bizlall-Subron’s proposals put the ox before the cart. Very seriously.
3. Look at the Sketch of Mauritian Society on the Back of Today’s Program
What do you see in the sketch on the back of the program in your hand today? Does it look like what Mauritius is becoming? Or is already?
Yes, in the middle there is a thick high concrete wall, with razor wire wound over the top.
Yes on the two-thirds on the right we see three villas, each with a swimming pool and a huge garden. In all we see two people sitting legs up, relaxing.
In the other third on the left, we see how many people? Uncountable! Yes, packed in. That’s us. That’s the working people. Each with, instead of a swimming pool, a drum for collecting water, and a pail for carrying water, clothes drying on the line. Standing room only.
Yes, I can see that we all recognize what is wrong with society.
Now, when we say we will change one or two laws about the powers of different institutions is it possible that these changes could change this social reality? Or will it take much more organization, much more hard political work?
Did Ramgoolam and Bérenger take this reality into consideration when they made their proposals? Did Bizlall and Subron even do this in their Platform? Or do they see this as a minor detail, something that can be overlooked?
It is not one or two changes in the Constitution, or even an overhaul of the Constitution that will change this if we do not even face up to the existence of this reality.
That’s our theme today. Putting this social reality, this economic reality, this class reality, on the agenda when talking about a new Republic. And not just talking about little bureaucratic mechanisms like financement of political parties (has Trump not shown the absurdity of this – he doesn’t need finance because he and his cabinet have it already), or limit of mandates (the extreme-right, anti-democratic demand funded in the US by the likes of the Koch brothers) and other technical proposals in a supposedly new republic.
The country is going to ruin. This is what we have to address. Our society. Not just the capitalists’ institutions.
What after all is a “country”? A country which can be a “republic”? It is the land, the sea and the people. It’s simple. A program must be about these.
So now, when the Government, this one, and all Governments since 2000, if not since 1995, are just arranging for the sugar estate land owners, the oligarch capitalists, to sell off the arable land.
So, we have the ridiculous situation in our Republic where the Government takes more care of the sugar estates doing land speculation and more care about billionaires from abroad buying villas, the Government gives enormous subsidies to all this destruction of arable land, while at the same time not doing enough for the housing problem in Mauritius, and worse still, just masking unemployment instead of addressing it by putting the land of the country, or of the Republic, to the use that workers need it to be put to.
So, while we see exposed that a Minister’s advisor can earn Rs500,000 a month – so absurd that he earns more than the Minister – while others eke out an existence on Rs3,500 per month. Half of Mauritian workers earn less than Rs12,800. And this unequal wage system is just wage inequality. It does not reflect the worse inequality when you count up what people own – capital versus nothing much beyond an overcrowded family home and a clapped out motorcycle.
How can the rich impose such a system? Those few rich people? Impose it on us, the multitudes of people living on a wage? How can such inequality exist? How can this new slavery persist?
It is, of course, for many reasons, but mainly that we have seen the working class drastically weakened, instead of being liberated, by electronic machinery replacing human work, while finance capital escaped political control through its globalization and escape into tax havens for its capital, and investments where labour goes cheap because of war and/or famine. And so it will risk remaining, until we challenge it, until we organize ourselves to challenge it, until we see through the class dictatorship of the Republic we live in and attack it.
4. Is it possible?
Has it ever happened that the Working Class challenged the rule of Capital?
We know it is possible for the working class to take power, not just in theory, but because it has happened in the past. I’ll give the two best examples, plus a good challenge in Mauritius. The first is the Paris Commune of 1871. Capitalism had been in power less than 100 years when the workers of one city, Paris, seized power and kept it for 100 days. They set up a system of government that involved elected delegates that could be revoked, they abolished the police and army as no longer necessary – and indeed they were found not to be necessary – and they banned night work in factories, abolished the fines bosses were enforcing, separated government from religion, abolished the death penalty, wrote off all debts, and all rent owed to landlords. Now that was a program just to begin with.
The second example was for 4-5 years, not just 100 days. The workers and peasants and soldiers in Russia rose up and took power. They effected the following changes: An 8-hour day for all workers, abolished the death penalty, protection against sackings for all workers, abandoned all secret diplomacy (we are still stuck with it today over Diego Garcia!), nationalized all the banks and big factories, decreed the land belonged to those who worked it, and removed criminalization of women for having abortions and of homosexuality.
And in Mauritius, the August 1979 strike challenged the bourgeois state. LALIT will soon be launching a book on this brave and wonderful bit of Mauritian history.
5. Towards a Working Class Republic in Mauritius, and world-wide
So, today, we need to put on the agenda the need for a new state, not just a new republic, a working class state. And what is significant is that it needs to be coherent enough to be able to expropriate those who expropriated the production of past workers. Remember the sketch we looked at? So that is our homework, politically speaking. Yes, I’m acting like a teacher in this speech – just for once – and giving homework. Each of you, each of us, has to think constantly how we can make this come true.
For a start we need a program that addresses the real issues:
The land: How can be bring change so that the land, instead of being sold off for villas, is used in ways that people decide, so that it involves production, work, food security and housing for all?
The Sea: And how can we make sure that the sea is freed from military occupation by the UK-USA, Diego Garcia? And how can we get democratic control over all the land and sea of the Republic, so that it can be used for sustainable production that gives us all jobs, jobs of all kinds, that gives us food, and that gives us a wonderful life.
The people: How can we bring it about that there are no longer two categories of people – those who sell their labour power, what we celebrate today on Labour Day, and those who buy it, and then grab monopoly control over what we all produce together?
How can we win this program? How can we bring about a Republic that undoes this gross inequality? That’s the work before us.