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Elections XV: Against the Bureaucratization of Trade Unions


Labour Laws
Labour Laws in Mauritius encourage bureaucratization of the unions. Why does this interest us, in LALIT? This article takes on this question, in terms of LALIT’s overall program.

LALIT’s political program aims at the kind of socialist revolution that will radically change the way in which production is carried out, and at bringing democratic control into the economy. Of all the classes of people in society, it is only the working class which, as a class, has both the will and the objective interest in supporting such a program. In the course of moving towards this socialist revolution, we believe that there will probably come a period of time when there will be a situation of “dual power” on work-sites, where workers in each enterprise will develop the capacity to determine the conditions of work and also methods of production, the way production is organized. Under certain conditions, it can be the union movement that leads this “dual power” in the working class, at the level of the site. But, this will not be the case if the unions have become part of the bourgeois state. And not if they have become so centralized and bureaucratized that they, themselves, stifle democracy on the shop floor.

And it is for this reason that LALIT believes an ongoing dynamic analysis of the trade unions and the trade union movement is important.

The structureof the trade union movement determines the working class’s capacity to mobilize and to act, and it also determines the degree of democracy within the movement. In the absence of democratic structures, the union movement becomes hostage to a bureaucratic leadership that develops interests that are not at all the same as those of the working class. In the absence of democratic structures, it will be impossible for the working class to depend upon the unions in order to accomplish its historic role of ending capitalist exploitation altogether. Trade union bureaucracies have an interest in maintaining capitalism. They have a role within it, and they depend upon both the capitalists and the State for this role.

Today in Mauritius, there is so much bureaucracy in the unions that the entire movement has fragmented around these bureaucratic leaderships and it is locked into serious rivalry.

Common Platform
The fragmentation in the union movement makes it difficult to develop a common platform, an anti-capitalist common platform. In their short-term strategies, the different bureaucratic leaderships are forever pretending that the capitalist system is doing fine and making big profits and that the bosses can thus afford to pay wage increases and improve work conditions. In the sugar industry, we have a flagrant example of this. Instead of unionists calling into question the production of sugar cane, instead of bringing workers together to think about agricultural diversification and land reform, they go on talking about the bright future in cane, and how the bosses can therefore afford pay rises. This narrow program around wages alone means it is difficult to build class unity, which needs a program for job-creation, food security, unemployment benefit and ultimately for socialism.

In the trade unions, the way in which you work is vital. It is vital because it determines the level of class consciousness that develops amongst workers during struggles. There is no room for manipulation of workers, or any other means that deny workers conscious decisionsabout what to do. But what do we see? The industrial law of the land, the Employment Relations Act of 2009,imposes secret ballots before strikes: this is a bourgeois method, one that depends on each worker, as an individual, deciding if he will go on strike in isolation from his colleagues, when the very nature of working class actions like strikes is that they are collective actions, and they can only be decided properly by collective means. When trade union leaders come and use the secret ballot to mobilize for industrial action, they are strengthening bourgeois ideology, and contributing towards the ongoing bureaucratization that the EReA engenders. In the case of the recent transport workers’ ballot, the manipulation was worse: unionists made workers believe that the vote was making the strike “legal” when that was not the case.

LALIT’s Program
LALIT’s trade union program aims at unity in the trade union movement at the grass-roots level, across all unions, and this unity is built through the conscious will of the workers, themselves, to build it. In the 1990’s many LALIT members and leaders were involved in the All Workers’ Conference: this work allowed thousands of union delegates from Mauritius and Rodrigues to become active, but it depended upon the will of the bureaucracies in the leaderships of the different federations, and this was the reason it could not survive. The leaderships were not in favour of uniting their membership, so competitive are they.

LALIT’s trade union strategy aims at creating groups in the base of each union and each work sector. It is called the “Grassroots inter-union Strategy”. It depends upon permanent contact with workers in all sectors via “work-site leaflets” distributed to workers. In these leaflets, we have one side on problems in the particular sector or site, and the other side analyses more general economic and political issues.