At Unity House on the eve of Labour Day, three speakers addressed the theme of the day, “50 Years of Independence – Trade union Movement Evolution and Challenges” in a Forum organized by the Government Service Employees’ Association. The Forum was presided by President of the GSEA, Radakrishna Sadien. Professor V. P Torul spoke on the “Evolution of Labour Laws in Mauritius”, Dr. S. Reddy on the “History of the Labour Movement in Mauritius” and Lindsey Collen on “Challenges of the Labour Movement in the 80 years since Labour Day was first celebrated in Mauritius and after 50 years’ Independence”. Then questions from the delegates present, some 150 – 200, were responded to by the panel.
Lindsey Collen reports that Dr. Reddy’s theme was how relatively less inequality (from 1914-45) correlates with strength of the union movement in its struggle against capital and after the Russian Revolution, while greater inequality that we see today is the result of a weakened trade union movement, worsened in times of neo-liberalism. His analysis is set within class struggle as a paradigm.
Prof Torul, too, attributes progress, as he sees it, to working class action against capital – again using the paradigm of class struggle – but he measures progress in the bureaucratic measures that help union leaderships rather than the working class in the balance of class forces as a whole. To him, for example, the Industrial Relations Act of 1973 brought progress, following the 1971 strikes. But in Lalit we see the IRA as the legal codification that reflects the balance of class forces after the State of Emergency was imposed at the end of 1971 to quell the December strikes, with the concomitant imprisonment for the year 1972 of leaders of the unions and the MMM. After these defeats, the IRA could be imposed. Similarly, the ERiA and EReA could only be passed after the demise of the All Workers’ Conference.
She introduced her speech by saying how she knows about half the delegates present because from 1996-2000, she worked together with them in the unified movement All Workers’ Conference, which although at first a one-off “conference”, thus its name, under the impetus of delegates of all unions in all federations in the country, it went on to some 17 or 18 conferences over nearly 4 years. In between there were common demonstrations, petitions, statements, programs, and even White Papers on a number of subjects.
She said that delegates of the GSA, as it was called at the time, and the State Employees Federation present for the Forum, were at the heart of this unified movement against the IMF-World Bank’s attack.
This defensive struggle was important because it shows how, when Mauritian leaders and IMF-World Bank leaders, flatter the country as a supposed “success story” and as a would-be “model” for Africa as to how IMF and World Bank policies worked, they are misleading people.
Inasmuch as there is “success”, or Mauritius is a “model” (and we have maintained free education, free health services of a fairly high standard, universal pensions), it is not because of Mauritius respecting conditions imposed by the IMF and World Bank but precisely because Mauritius did not respect the conditions. The working class prevented the Mauritian State from respecting the conditions.
The first attempt was when Finance Minister Ringadoo imposed devaluation as part of an IMF remedy. He got the biggest working class movement in history rising up in August 79 and then September 80, and the Labour Party ended up getting every single member of its party kicked out in the 1982 elections, in which the MMM won all the seats.
The second attempt was after the fall of the Soviet Block, when in the 1990’s conditions were about to be imposed during the neo-liberal push, when the All Workers’ Conference blocked them for 4 years.
And today, with the threatened privatization of water, that Mr. Sadien mentioned in his opening speech and called for united opposition to it, we have Ivan Collendavelloo spear-heading the third attack. Let’s prevent this one, too.
Lindsey has re-constituted her speech from her notes, for our website. As her speech was 25 minutes, some of the points were only just touched upon. (See write-up in separate article in News Section of this site, entitled “History of the Working Class: 50 Years of Decolonization, 80 Years of Labour Day”)