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LALIT Key-Note Address for Labour Day by Lindsey Collen


I wish everyone a happy Labour Day.*

 Labour Day is the one day in the year when we look at “Labour” or “travay” as a whole i.e. the totality of all work done for pay in the whole world by the totality of all working people. No less. That’s why I’ve placed a globe here next to the podium. It’s a visual reminder that it is not just the day of “workers” [“travayer”], let alone just here, but something of much greater significance. It is the totality of workers and all the work done by us for wages or salaries, piece rates or the “lump” i.e. us working people and all our paid work world-wide. And we are up against Capital. That’s what we are getting our heads around today.

 More recently this conflict of the many against the few has been given the name of the 99% of people, who live from their work, and the 1%, who live from their capital. This expression used by Anne-Marie as Chair today was used in movements like the “Occupy Wall Street” movement – Wall Street being the area of New York where finance capital like banks, insurers, stock exchange players, real estate dealers have their headquarters. And the confrontation of Labour and Capital gets us to the heart of the subject we are dealing with today: What do we make of the Bosses-and-Government strategy of “Smart Cities”.

 Let’s not talk about the Ministers’ Frasques

So, we are not today going to talk about what the Government has been up to in its nearly 18 months in power, nor all the Ministers’ frasques. We will not go into the Prime Minister having removed his own money from Bramer Bank before getting its license revoked. Nor will we dwell on the very “spiritual” Minister of Finance losing his Ministry after investing part of a 1.1 million Euro loan into “gold”. Nor that he got the Foreign Affairs Ministry instead because there supposedly isn’t much to do there. Nor will we talk about our local Inspecteur Clouseau who has fortunately had the Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation removed from his control, after using it so flagrantly to agrandize himself. He is very busy opening enquiries on his fellow Ministers. He has a new law, “Integrity Reporting Law” for rewarding people who report corruption. So while in France they have Loi Macron, here we have Loi Macro. We will not talk about Minister Gayan, who the Government wants to get rid of, after his doing so much harm by ending the Methadone plan for stabilizing people addicted to hard drugs, by trying to get him elected to head the African union. Nor Minister Soodhun and Duval who like wearing fancy-dress costumes to show how Arabic and African they are respectively, thus projecting local communalism on to the rest of the world, and leaving the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with hardly any work to do, so that Lutchmeenaraidoo can be shunted there. And we won’t talk about Pravind Jugnauth, the dauphin, the Prince Heritier, having been sentenced to a year in prison and waiting for judgement in his Appeal against this conviction for using influence over matters in which he has a money interest. And this endless waiting is leaving the Government parties without any certainty about their flimsy political roadmap around Pravind Jugnauth as new Prime Minister.

 Anyway, we will not talk about all this.

 Let’s not talk about the Opposition’s uselessness

Nor will be talk about the pathetic Opposition in Parliament. The Labour and MMM alliance, which was masterminded and plotted by Alan Ganoo, was thoroughly, and rightly, punished in the elections. They are still reeling. And anyway, they are in general in favour of IRSs, Smart Cities and all these similar real estate scams. And when the MMM subsequently split in two, half of its MPs sided with the breakaway leader of the new Mouvement Patriotique that Alan Ganoo set up, leaving the MMM its weakest ever.

 Let’s not talk about Ganoo Uniting union Leaders around his Bourgeois Party

And that same Alan Ganoo, just to make the political situation even more disastrous for working people, has used some kind of magic to bring on to his political platform for a Labour Day Debate none other than four of the main trade union caudillos in the country: Subron, Reeaz Chuttoo, Bizlall and Rashid Imrith.  Two of these trade union leaders are also leaders of political parties, Rezistans ek Alternativ and Muvman Premye Me. And they do not mind being on the political platform of none other than Alan Ganoo, the mastermind of the Labour-MMM alliance designed to set up some kind of dictatorship.

 So, we will not speak about all this pro-capital politics today. Except perhaps to say that at long last many, many working people are coming to the realization that just voting for one lot in order to oust the other lot, and then voting for the other lot in order to oust the new lot, is a way of being that is fast reaching its expiry date. What the French call “alternance” has worn thin. And this is why today it is so important to look at the deeper level of change needed in the system, in the system that makes 99% of people “labour” and 1% of people “capital”, and keeps Labour running around in circles (politically speaking) instead of making progress on proper issues, like who controls the land and the capital, the jobs, the food and the housing.

 The Smart Cities Strategy as a Key to Understanding Today’s Society

So, the Government has come up with a strategy or plan for so-called development based on creating some 10-20 “Smart Cities”. And when we look at this plan, it will help us understand just how urgent it is to go beyond “alternance” and towards overturning the capitalist system itself. Maybe this is the only use of Smart Cities – that it helps us develop an understanding of just how deep the rot is in our society today. And we will see just how cruel and ridiculous the strategy of Smart Cities is.

 Demands of Working People

The demands of working people today, the 99%, are both simple and vast:

 Work: There are not enough jobs, and those that there are, are neither permanent nor appropriate to people’s skills. Many are for small entrepreneurs, of whom 3/4 go bust in the first four years of their existence.

Housing: The housing problem, in particular overcrowding, is very serious. There is no proper housing program for working people. People are left living in what they call “lakaz zeritye”, houses that belong to some vast number of descendants of some person now dead.

Food: More precisely working people demand food security. Any crisis in shipping will leave Mauritians very fragile in terms of food supplies. Controlling food means controlling land use. This is the demand.

 What Capital Wants

The capitalist class wants right now to increase its profit by increasing the value of its real estate. In particular it wants to make a quick buck out of the agricultural land that used to be under sugar cane, and still is in general, until now. They want to make this quick profit by just selling off villas they will build on Mauritian land to billionaires from abroad, big-time capitalists.

 Capital has clung on to its cane-and-sugar economy through hell and high water for 300 years, the time of the existence of society in Mauritius:

 The first 100 years we were made to work in cane fields and mills and related industries under a labour law called slavery. We must always remember that that is what slavery is: draconian labour legislation.

 The second 100 years we were made to work in cane fields and mills and related industries under a more supple labour law called “indenture” and “ex-slaves labour law”.

 The third 100 years until now, we were and are made to work in cane fields and sugar mills and also some other sectors under a more supple legal framework called “wage slavery”.

And now, when Capital finally decides to pull up its sugar cane, what does it do:

 - Capital is putting concrete on agricultural land.

- Capital is not creating jobs, but destroying them.

- Capital is wriggling out of paying all and any taxes.

- Capital just brushes aside the need for food security.

- Capital refuses to give land for proper housing for working people.

 What is Capital’s plan? They will put up a concrete jungle on Mauritian agricultural land. They will destroy it for good. Integrated Resource Schemes build concrete holiday villas for the rich from abroad and now Smart Cities will extend the idea to include not just holiday homes, but permanent villas, even work for top technicians from abroad and entertainment for tourists and people from abroad.

 So local Capital intends to rip some money off millionaires from abroad. The effect of their desperate strategy is to make the entire working population of Mauritius redundant. At best, we will be reduced to being a servile servant class for rich settlers, or to circular migration, or panic emigration.

 So what exactly are Smart Cities?

It’s a very slimy term, “smart cities” is. [Lindsey holds up the inside pages of Thursday last’s (28 April’s) Express Junior, a children’s supplement.] Look at this explanation for 8-year-olds as to what Smart Cities are. They say it is all about electronic gadgets. Nothing else. So, we can say that this is the veneer they put on Smart Cities in order to trick us. There is nothing inherently right or wrong about electronic gadgets. But, they are being used in order to blind us to what Smart Cities in Mauritius really are.

 In brief, Smart Cities in Mauritius, are:

1. Most Smart Cities are essentially a way for the sugar bosses to increase the value of sugar cane land. It is pure real estate speculation. As sugar quotas have been removed and prices, following the WTO rules, liberalized, so the sugar bosses have sought a way to make a quick buck out of their land.

2. Most the Smart Cities represent a new kind of colonization, a bit like Israel’s colonization of the West Bank. There will be little islands within the main island of Mauritius that will be a place where billionaires from abroad can get a bit of lebensraum with 24-hour armed guards at the gates.

3. One of the Smart Cities planned is an existing town, Port Louis, the capital. It will have Parliament removed (out into a cane field). It will have the Prime Minister’s Office removed (moved to the same cane field near Ebene). And all of eight other Ministries will be similarly removed. Street vendors have last week been removed, as a prelude to the stripping of Port Louis of its past. Then, supposedly huge companies like Airbus and Microsoft will use this ghost town of Port Louis to build a model for a brand new Third World “Gadget” City, for other countries’ leaders to come and learn from. At the cost of 52 billion rupees. All this with no debate. All this is just announced as though we, the people of the country, are some bunch of colonized idiots.

4. And the removed Government buildings will all become part of a new Government “Smart City”, which is, for some reason, called “Heritage City”. Perhaps the name is a guilty reference to its destruction of any hint of proper popular heritage. Anyway, half will be Government-run, half private sector run. Flats and houses will be sold on the international market. There will be a Bollywood theme park. And it is to be paid for by capital from sometimes Saudi Arabia, sometimes Dubai, sometimes India. And it is “risk free”, according to Minister Bhadain. The architects who conceptualized it have nothing to do with Mauritius.

 The effects on Mauritian society of all the Smart Cities will be drastic, whether these plans work or not.

 - They will finish off agricultural land. This will be irreversible.

- They will reduce us all to working as gardeners, nannies and watchmen.

- They will bring in 30,000 to 40,000 rich settlers, many of whom will be given nationality and thus the right to vote. And this, while the 30,000 workers from Bangladesh, India and Madagascar are not given the right to vote, as they should be after being here for 3 months as workers. They contribute to the economy. They pay TVA. But no, Labour is just used, as it was during slavery and indenture.

-  They will create a new kind of colonization, as I said, not dissimilar to that of Israel in Palestine.

- Heritage City will move the “capital” or “seat of Government” out of Port Louis.

 The bourgeois state

This brings us to a key issue. What is the role of the State? And in particular, what is the role of the new Government?

 When the Lepep Alliance came to power in December 2014, it was not expecting to. It was an outsider. And it had no program at all. It had no strategy for creating jobs, building housing, nor producing food. It had no plan for production of any kind.

 So, what did the new Government do? It just took the path of least resistance. It adopted the strategy of the Capitalists, lock, stock and barrel. The Government just took over the sugar bosses’ strategy for Smart Cities. Smart Cities for millionaires from abroad to move into, high earners from abroad to settle in and work in, and various theme parks linked in. In particular, the Government:

 1. Encourages Smart Cities in every way. In words and in deeds.

2. It gives the capitalist grants in order to set up Smart Cities. Here is the shift in money the Government proposes, from its coffers to the sugar estates’ coffers:

   - tax free land conversion; from “agricultural” to residence/other, that everyone else pays.

   - tax free parcelling of land that everyone else pays.

   - no tax on land deeds of sale that everyone else pays.

   - no customs duty that everyone else pays.

   - no VAT that everyone else pays.

   - And 8 years of no-income-tax to all their millionaire clients who buy villas.

3. Government has just spent over Rs600 million for a big road from Omnicane Smart City to the Airport. Just like that. It is a road of no use to anyone else.

4. Government gives citizenship after two years’ residence.

 And what does the Government plan or strategize for the 99% of the people of the country who work for a living?

 Nothing at all.

 But, the Government has started to feel the criticism coming from the LALIT campaign against the strategy of Smart Cities, which has only just got off the ground.

 LALIT’s Campaign

After our first Colloquium on Smart Cities for Independence Day on 12 March, we have held five neighbourhood meetings, gathering together between 15 and 55 people. One in Petite Riviere, another in La Tour Koenig. One in Baie du Cap, another in St. Pierre. One in Camp Le Vieux. Next week two are coming up: one in Cite Richelieu and one in Malherbes B. To be followed by one in Albion. Please give your names to Alain if you’d like to organize one in your neighbourhood.

 A Crack in the Propaganda Edifice

Anyway, we had never expected to have a crack in the edifice of Government propaganda so soon, nor at so important a place. The Prime Minister, when addressing the bosses last week in his pre-budget consultations, said that it was not good enough for the bosses to think they can just make money out of land speculation and Smart Cities, that productive investment is necessary, and that jobs must be created. So, he himself, has called into question the Smart Cities as the central strategy for development. We must continue to mobilize against this destructive phase of capitalism, and force the Government to stop it, and for Government to force the bosses to develop proper agriculture, fishing and food preservation and transformation for use here and for export.

 All this to say that we, Labour, we the 99% that live from our work, must mobilize further:

 - To control how land is used.

- To control how jobs are created.

- To settle for no less than food security.

- To get housing for every family and every person in the country, and not go around building luxury second homes for rich people from abroad.

 So, looking again at the globe, symbolizing the international nature of our struggle, we say it is simple things we want:

- Land

- Work

- Food

- Homes

And when people say, “Oh you in LALIT, you want too much for the workers,” we say, “No. We, working people don’t want too much. We only want the earth!” As the ballad goes. “Nu pa’le plis ki bul later!”

 Let’s continue this great celebration of Labour Day!

 * Translated from the original Kreol  notes to which Lindsey spoke, at the gathering of members and supporters and their families at Grand River North West, Port Louis on Labour Day.