Friday 12 May saw the launch of the bilingual booklet by Ram Seegobin August 79 Strike: The Principles that Govern Strikes as they Unfurl. The launch at 5:30 pm was the first part of a double-event to put on record workers’ power when organised, as part of the celebration of the 100 years since the Russian Revolution. It was held in the beautiful space of the big second hand bookshop, with its Kreol language new books section. Just afterwards the film “Strike” was projected in the upstairs hall (See report next to this article on the web page). As Lenin is quoted in the Eisenstein film, “The strength of the working class is organization. Without organization of the masses, the working class is nothing. Organized it is everything.” This quote somehow summarised the whole of the double event. And it is stunning to read this quote in today’s context, when the taboo of taboos in the mainstream, is political organization of the working class. And it is this taboo that needs to be broken. It is this taboo that has left the door wide open for a Trump. It is this taboo that leaves the way clear for a man-without-a-party like Macron. It is this taboo that is aiding and abetting the destruction of the little democracy that working people have fought for and gained over the past one or two hundred years. This diversion into the Lenin quote is relevant because it shows the political force of the double-event in these times.
Ram Seegobin, in his speech, put emphasis on the importance of transmitting experience. He contrasted how vital it is that we learn from past experience, meaning not just from information or ideas. The feeling during the August 79 strike was part of this experience. And that is what he hopes to share in this booklet. He also told of the respect and the profound admiration that the strike nurtured in him for the capacity of working people to be strong in their association together as a class, in their dignity in opposing huge forces, and in the creativity they showed, collectively, during the strike as it unfurled. All this was the experience he wants to transmit. He mentioned how he had spoken at no less than 82 public meetings in the last 6-months of the build-up to the strike, which was to become a strike movement. Some were humble meetings, he said, remembering in a humorous anecdote, one public meeting where he and Jean Claude Bibi, who had just given his launch speech, together with Paul Bérenger, Kader Bayat and Bidianand Jhurry, were due to speak in the small village of Canot, where a few dozen labourers lived. There was no village hall, so the unions got permission from the village council to hold the meeting on the football field. They hooked up electricity from a nearby shop, and set up the sound system under one of the goal posts. The audience gradually gathered under the opposite goal post, so you can imagine the five or six speakers under one goal post and 15-20 labourers under the far goal post. All went well (laughter) but as the sun began to set, Paul Bérenger stopped in the middle of his speech – as an old man with a stick herded his flock of goats back home across the space between the speakers and the audience. So that, he said, was one example of the variety of kinds of gathering there were amongst the 82 public outdoor meetings that he was speaker at.
Jean-Claude Bibi, who participated in the August 79 strike, outlined the symbolic and the real importance of a strike – even the most tiny, apparently insignificant strike, let alone a nation-wide strike movement. He said any strike shows a hidden reality: workers, together, can say “no” to the boss. And the strike means they in fact do say no. Every other day they took orders, obeyed, submitted. But the day they go on a one-minute tools-down, they make the statement by their action, that they will not do anything and everything the boss instructs. This is the true value of a strike, he said. He then gave a summary of the principles that Ram Seegobin underlines in the book. The importance of clear demands, the importance of preparing not only in terms of demands, but of at what point the strike will have to be called off, and even preparing oneself emotionally. For every strike is a confrontation with any number of dangers: sacking, police action against you, and in many strikes, workers lose their lives – until today. He mentioned that Ram was not only in the organization of the strike and its movement, but was one of the handful of leaders who went on the no-food-no-water hunger strike, that meant within three days their lives were at risk.
Pascal Nadal, in his launch speech, said he was 3 years old at the time of the strike, and that he had known nothing about the strike before reading the book. He said he was marked by the amount of build-up from before the strike and, when he read the book, realizing the sheer number of organized meetings at the grass-roots amongst the workers before and during the strike. He mentioned by way of contrast a cartoon in the same day’s L’Express in which hunger strikes were today being lampooned as a mere “fashion”. One interesting aspect of his speech which struck me, was that his very loose use of political words (like “bourgeois” and even “strategy”), for an academic of fine precision that he is, points to the “generation gap” that he succinctly referred to in his introduction. This has political importance for us in Lalit in these times when “generations” (as in computers) go by in a matter of a year or two, speeding up the “generation gap” and causing memory and the transmission of experience, to falter or even risk failing.
Alain Ah-Vee presided the event, linking it to the double celebration/commemoration of the 40-years of LPT’s life, and the 100 years since the Russian Revolution, the greatest of all challenges so far to capitalist rule. Although workers overthrew the capitalists and the Tsar of Russia, as a class, they could not, even with peasant support, hope to maintain power under the circumstances of 1917 Russia. Within four or five years, the Stalinist State destroyed the revolution, dominated the working class, and kept power for some 65 years.
Everyone gathered around outside afterwards for snacks and informal talking in groups. More anecdotes of from the time of the strike were shared.
Some people present then visited the cute new Lalit puppy.
Many stayed on, as Film Club members arrived for the showing of Strike, which began at 7:00 pm.