Since October 2018 in LALIT we have been developing a new concept, method, practice -- in short an emerging structure – that we have ended up calling a series of “pivot” committees. They either reinforce an existing local LALIT branch, or set up a new local LALIT committee that may evolve into a branch. This new form only became possible during the local mobilisations over the year 2018 in some 50 “Joint LALIT local branch and local Asbestos Housing Inhabitants’ Committees”, and then during the local preparations for the two big, nation-wide demonstrations held in Port Louis, on 5 July then 6 October, 2018. The immediate demand was for Government to replace existing asbestos housing. But this demand was firmly in the context of LALIT calling on Government to re-take control over all agricultural land – for job creation, food security and also for new housing. The new “pivotal meetings” got born after the Government began to react to the demands after the 2nd demonstration. Government’s reaction was to call on everyone in asbestos housing to take out a Citizens Support Unit number, and then to organize for the Citizens Advice Bureau in each locality to conduct a survey. Now, on the basis of this survey, the Government seems to be making specific offers to different categories of people (those on the Social Register of Mauritius, others who the National Solidarity Fund will help, others who will pay monthly rent, others who, once Government has removed the asbestos house, will build their own new house with Government aid, and so on) and also calling people in for medical screening in the nearest hospital. This is what we are gleaning from the people living in asbestos housing.
LALIT is calling on Government to bring out a communiqué to make clear how it is proceeding.
Anyway, together with people in each area, LALIT decided to proceed as follows now, and this is where the new structure comes in. We decided to:
a) Continue follow-up on asbestos demands at a local level – through CSU, CAB, Social Security, and so on. Each family has a different situation in terms of owning the house, the house and land, or being one of many heirs to the house, and also in terms of their demand. Those who can prefer to build a new house, themselves. Others cannot.
b) LALIT will continue making demands at the national level e.g. we are still working at getting the Addison Report un-classified. And we are calling on Government to publish a Communiqué outlining their plan of action in detail.
c) Set up “Pivot” Meetings in as many of the 50 villages where there is not an existing branch, for anyone from the Joint Committees (plus anyone else interested in joining a group to get to know LALIT better). These meetings will convene regularly and will address the asbestos housing issue as one of the LALIT on-going campaigns, but will, importantly, follow a usual LALIT branch agenda, starting with the whole political and economic situation. In each “pivot”, when discussing asbestos housing, a couple of members will contact all the others in asbestos housing, as issues arise. LALIT will centralize information.
Asbestos Housing is part of a Vast Housing Problem
We found that the two demonstrations were so successful that they had brought in almost all families in the 50 or so areas where there are asbestos houses. The demonstrations could not have been bigger. And the mobilisation was a success: Government recognized that asbestos housing is a public health issue, and has begun to respond to the mobilization. Government has had to announce that it will take care of dismantling the houses and getting rid of the asbestos safely, and that they will assist people in constructing a new house. It is also inescapable that the State, in this neo-liberal era, has no intention of making this work its priority when it has rid itself of responsibility for social housing. In fact, 25 years ago, the Jugnauth-Bérenger Government dismantled the Central Housing Authority (CHA) which built houses for working people. They replaced it by the National Housing Development Company (NHDC), a company run on profit lines and the National Empowerment Fund (NEF) for people so poor that they are on the Social Register of Mauritius, a new Poor Law List, a hundred years after the end of the notorious Poor Law. Neither of these responds to the base-line lack of housing in the working class – where people are already protected by pensions that keep them off the SRM, but don’t get payslips that you need to qualify for a house because they don’t have fixed work or a regular income. The housing problem is part of the general political problem of the Government leaving to the capitalist class to do as it pleases with the country – never mind if it means people have no work, no roof over their heads, or living in a health hazard. And the Government then allows, worse still, actually subsidizes the sugar boss capitalists to sell off the very land that would permit job creation, housing, foreign exchange and food security, to millionaires from abroad and their golf-courses.
So, all the “Joint LALIT-Inhabitants Committees” came up against this wall of neo-liberalism, when doing no more than fighting for dangerous asbestos housing to be replaced by the State that sold the houses to them in full knowledge of the danger. In addition, we also came across another reality: each asbestos house has, over the years, with Government having closed down social housing through the CHA, become the place where a number of households live together in a legal limbo – what people call “heirs’ housing” (lakaz zeritye) because the State sold off thousands of Housing Estate houses as part of its new neo-liberal policy -- but in a country where there are the “compulsory heirs” laws of the Napoleonic Code still in operation. So the State followed Mrs Thatcher (ex-British colonizer) selling off Council Houses, not foreseeing the problems of the Napoleon Code (ex-French colonizer), while the French HLM housing is still being rented to working families because the French authorities know the impossibility of selling the houses, given the inheritance laws.
So, to make progress over asbestos problems (and all housing issues, for that matter) there is really no short-cut. We have to confront the general capitalist approach to housing – and to life in society i.e. we have to oppose the system itself.
So, we are now in the process of pivot-ting from the Joint LALIT-Asbestos Housing Inhabitants Committees to two other kinds of work:
1) First, given that we have succeeded through mobilization and two big demonstrations in making the Government recognise the problem and accept responsibility for it, and made the Government act as follows:
- Government called on all asbestos house dwellers to go to the local Citizens Advice Bureau and lodge a complaint on the Citizens’ Support Unit portal, and get given a complaint number.
- Government did a survey of all asbestos houses starting from the individual letters from demonstrators to the Prime Minister, organized by the Joint Committees.
- Government has begun dismantling houses, and removing the asbestos in cases where people are willing to rebuild at their own cost.
- Government has begun to dismantle and replace with National Empowerment Foundation - NEF - houses (in concrete now) for those who qualify, i.e. are on the Social Register of Mauritius, if they are in fact owners (as opposed to joint owners or sub-tenants) of the land the asbestos housing is on.
- Social Security has begun to call in all those not on the Social Register of Mauritius to find out who qualifies for National Solidarity Fund help, who wants materials to build with, and who needs a house built for them. (We do not yet know if there is a formal offer from Government or if they are still at the survey stage.)
So, we are calling on each family, with mutual support from all others where possible, to follow carefully what Government is offering, and to react accordingly. Naturally, the big problem will be “lakaz zeritye” that has gradually, over the generations, produced an explosive situation – not just in asbestos and other housing estate housing, but in all working class, and even middle class families. The family house is still in the name of a long dead grandfather, and now there are anything from two families to 10 families who technically “own” the house and sometimes the land, too.
The State has finally, however, embarked on trying to sort out the disorder – starting with the asbestos housing.
2) Secondly, we are inviting those two or three people in each village who agree with LALIT or who at least have a desire to understand the issues behind the housing crisis, to come to a neighbourhood regular LALIT meeting – where there is already a LALIT branch, it’s easy, but where there is not, we are setting up the embryo of a future party structure. This is what we call a “pivot” meeting. We will be discussing things of a broader nature that help us understand how on earth it can be that the Government has left thousands of families living in dangerous housing, like in asbestos housing, and it took two demonstrations in Port Louis for it to react, and even then, the Government is slow and bureaucratic in its response. So, we will discuss political and economic issues that underpin the housing reality, and the asbestos issue as one of LALIT’s on-going campaigns, alongside others like one on Diego and on the mother-tongue in Parliament, for example. And the asbestos campaign is part of a wider campaign for everyone in the country, not just in the 50 housing estates concerned with asbestos, to struggle to gain popular control over the totality of the huge tracts of good arable land controlled until now by a few sugar can estate companies. As sugar cane fails, we call for all the arable land to be used for production of food products, and that this go alongside factories for preserving, transforming, and distributing – also exporting – finished agricultural products. The land can also be used, instead of for selling off to millionaires for villas, for housing for those who need it, so that four families are not living in a tiny house on a tiny plot for one family. So, we call for democratic control of the land.
So, the 50-or so Joint Committees are now pivoting, all in different ways and at different stages, towards these two ways of dealing with the issue. Of course, there are, and will be, links between 1) and 2).
What do we mean by “pivot”?
So, when we refer to “pivot” meeting, we mean we are finding ways of literally pivoting from one form of organization “Joint LALIT Branch and Asbestos Housing Dwellers” into each one following up what our collective action has forced Government to offer, and also form a new structure that has the capacity to challenge the general political set-up that is the cause of problems like abandoning families in asbestos housing for decades.
So, we are continuing the process of party-building for LALIT, but with the extra-ordinary input from this creative grassroots struggle in 50 regions. And what is surprising is that we are, of course, finding that in each area there are already two or three LALIT supporters or LALIT electors who already defend LALIT’s politics all by themselves. Now, they are finally thrilled to be in a structure, or at least a potential structure. So, this enriches our party in terms of experience, philosophy, program and structures. And it is proceeding in a conscious way. People choose to be in the Pivot Meeting or not, as they wish. They will in any case be informed by those in the LALIT pivot meeting of every bit of progress we make on the asbestos dossier – what brought us together in the first place. For example, they will be told about the long saga of getting the 2002 Addison report finally declassified – it was supposed to already be in the public domain but is not.
Integrate a new idea into our past history as a party
As we conceptualise this new work around the pivot idea, we are at the same time looking at our ways of working on housing in the past, in a critical way. Not to say that what we did before was not good. But, we need to analyse past experience to build on it, as we pivot from one structure to another.
Let’s start with one of our previous types of political activist work. It was in a broad movement called: Muvman Lakaz.
The Muvman Lakaz Concept (1992 – 2017)
First Response after closing of Government housing CHA
This movement, which got its name of Muvman Lakaz in the heat of action, began when after a by-election, when one of our members was candidate in No. 3, people living on the mountainside behind and around Port Louis came to us after the MSM-MMM Government had closed down the CHA in 1992 and we had campaigned on this in the by-election. The CHA had a 30-year history, where government workers built housing for the working class, and people paid a minimal rent. But in 1992, the Government, as part of its neo-liberal turn, stopped building houses, and at the same time stopped leasing State Land to people while passing a repressive law to raise infractions of the State Land by squatters to 5 years in prison, if they did not leave when notified. Even if someone encouraged someone else to occupy a piece of State Land, you risked 5 years in jail. So, this led to State Land dwellers and LALIT members working together all over the country, in dozens of places. We had two aims: stop the Government bulldozing houses, and call for Government to give people without papers a proper lease. There were Muvman Lakaz groups in places like Terre Rouge, Vallee Pitot, Eid Gah, Larut Militaire, Camp Chapelon, Ste Croix, Pte au Sables, Camp Chapelon, Richelieu, Belle Mare, La Butte in Port Louis, Plaine Magnien, Souillac, Mahebourg, Anse Jonchee, Curepipe, Rose Hill. Cyclone refugees also organized in Muvman Lakaz. And people living in overcrowding in Camp Yoloff, Plaine Verte and Vallee Pitot in old “lakur” also organized in Muvman Lakaz.
There were a number of big demonstrations in Port Louis. And there were imaginative actions in other places. A book could be written on these.
So to summarise, Muvman Lakaz placed housing firmly on the Government’s agenda.
Muvman Lakaz removed the stigma, in action, of being a squatter.
Muvman Lakaz forced Government to regularise many of those already living on State Land, giving them leases.
In fact, Muvman Lakaz succeeded in putting on the national agenda the fact that Government had abolished social housing altogether – meagre as it had become. It also put on the agenda the way the NHDC housing being built was too expensive for working class people to afford. Government was then forced to build NHDC houses for the poor, then what they called the very poor, and then the very, very poor. At one point, Government actually abolished the deposits that people had to put down altogether.
Two or three examples of Muvman Lakaz actions
Amongst the politically more advanced actions Muvman Lakaz produced, there were:
1. Uniting those who actually build houses with those who haven’t got housing
Muvman Lakaz brought homeless people into an alliance with two organisations of construction workers, those in Central Housing Authority (CHA) and those sacked from the Development Works Corporation (DWC) that built housing and in particular working class amenities. This meant unifying workers who build housing and amenities with those who are homeless. This unity began around a demonstration organised jointly by three organisations CHA Employees union, and DWC workers in Construction and Allied Workers union and Muvman Lakaz on the eve of Labour Day in 1994 in the streets of Port Louis. The entire trade union movement leadership – a fractious group – supported this demonstration by their presence. And, in turn, it was actions like this demonstration that allowed the possibility of the unification of the entire trade union movement and Ledikasyon pu Travayer, from 1996 to 2000, in the All Workers Conference that LALIT members were all so active in.
2. Defy the Law and Give Ultimatums to the State
There was a wonderful “secular ceremony” held in 1994 in Plaine Magnien when Father Macca, Swami Krishnanath and Muvman Lakaz activists together with homeless people from the area defied the law, and laid the foundations (“poz premye poto”) for homeless peoples’ houses. Muvman Lakaz gave an ultimatum to the Authorities to give state land leases to the homeless families in the ceremony. This action took place after the police had broken down homeless peoples’ tin houses in that area. Four families were concerned. Not only that, but the police arrested one of them, Mrs Ramdin, a 73-year-old homeless person because she had infringed the law by staying on state land after a warning notice had been stuck on her shack. In another action, a group of homeless people in Souillac surveyed and staked out tiny bits of land (“met pike”) near the cliffs at Surinam. This was organized jointly by Father Macca and Muvman Lakaz. It was a strong symbolic action. The Minister of Housing’s press attaché was present. Everyone remembers her brave participation, with her high heels getting stuck in the mud. This action also defied the law against encouraging people to take up state land. The suffering and bravery of the homeless families concerned was greater than the repressive laws of the state.
3. Fighting the bulldozers
There were days of action in 1998, when Muvman Lakaz (residents and LALIT people), women and children in the forefront, did a sit-in in front of bulldozers destroying houses on state land at Camp Chapelon. Then, one morning at dawn, the bulldozers came and demolished the houses. Then people broke into a social centre, made it a refuge. These were some of the people who would end up in the dormitory-style lonzer in Richelieu.
4. Action defying the Cabinet of Ministers
About 100 families who had been living in temporary dormitory-style shacks (lonzer) built by Government in Richelieu, watched as houses were built near them, and which were to have been for them. But they turned out too expensive, and the Government said so. So, taking a cyclone warning as a signal, they all moved in and occupied the houses. The Cabinet sent 5 ministers on to TV to tell them to “deguerpir”, the French word for “bez fes ale” or “clear off”. Together with Muvman Lakaz – because many of them already knew Muvman Lakaz from before they even ended up in the temporary dormitories – they defied the Government until they eventually left only after the Government had given each one a contract for a house to be ready within 6 months at a price they could afford.
Putting into Question this form of organisation of Muvman Lakaz
We in LALIT relied upon, and it worked very well, this form of organization around the loosely organized, decentralized “Muvman Lakaz” until as late as 2017 in Richelieu, where people were living in houses sold to them by Government but which did not have columns, and were collapsing.
In general, the Muvman Lakaz strategy or form of organisation served us well over a 25-year time-spell. LALIT members, from the time of the by-election referred to at the beginning of the article, until a year or two ago, got to know the class realities for those at the poorest end of the working class and in the under-classes through this work. And we got to know this reality profoundly. We were “zanfan lakaz” to all those families – sometimes over a generation. A babe-in-arms we had cradled, became a head of household, while still being homeless. so, we all learnt enormously. We gained profound respect for the courage and resourcefulness, the brilliance even, of working people. We saw the reality that the rest of society refused, and still refuses, to see.
And it was perhaps this experience that gave us the confidence, the nous, to set up the 50 or so “Joint LALIT Branch – asbestos house Dwellers Committees in 2018. These two experiences, taken together – Muvman Lakaz and The Joint Committees – have a momentum that allowed us today to be able to embark on the “pivot” strategy: this strategy allows us to ensure that each asbestos house is replaced, and at the same time accentuate the political struggle for housing for all, including those living in asbestos dwellings. It also allows us to have the vision to link the housing problem to the land question. Who owns and controls the land? Why? And can they continue to control whole sugar estates of land, even as sugar collapses, even while employing hardly anyone, even when not only do the bosses not pay taxes but the Government subsidises their lame duck industry? The land must be used for creating work for everyone, housing for everyone, for foreign exchange, and for food security. It’s simple as that. Instead, Government after Government changes the laws to allow the sugar cane bosses to break up the land into parcels, to convert it to villas and golf courses, and sell it off to the highest bidding millionaire on the world market for real estate. We challenge this. How is it that families live in asbestos houses, when bosses make a packet from disposing of the land for good? It is only years of experience that give us the knowledge, the locus standi and the cheek to link these eminently linked issues. Only bourgeois ideology prevents us.
But the Muvman Lakaz structure has its limitations, too:
Muvman Lakaz, though working fine for “defensive” work never allowed us to come on to the counter-offensive described in the last paragraph. We were trying to preserve social housing in the framework of a “Welfare State” that neo-liberalism had as aim to demolish. In being only defensive, we were essentially setting our sites within the logic of capitalism. And this is not good enough when it is capitalism that is the problem. We must be able to go on to the counter-offensive.
In the Muvman Lakaz strategy, there were other weaknesses. There was not really a mechanism to allow homeless people who wanted to join a LALIT branch, to join. So, people who could help build the party, were left part of the movement without a dynamic pathway to political action for those who desire it. LALIT as a party was not part of Muvman Lakaz. Its members were. The bourgeois press invented the following formula: they said Muvman Lakaz was “animé par les militants de LALIT”.
When each flare-up of mobilisation cooled down, there were ideological gains, sometimes housing gains, but no political gains really, no proportional strengthening of LALIT. However, Muvman Lakaz did leave lots of people in neighbourhoods all over the place knowing of the existence of LALIT; we gained in credibility as a party, and the memory of the collective struggles is alive until today. And all this strengthens the “pivot” strategy.
Birth of the concept of Joint Committees
It is also interesting to note that we organized within Muvman Lakaz groups during a first phase of the mobilization to replace asbestos houses, and this was from 2002. Almost all LALIT branches were involved in this work. But not all. One branch – the one in Surinam – preferred to set up a “Komite Konzwin LALIT - Abitan lakaz lamyant Riambel”, and then two others, one for Bel Ombre and another for Riviere des Galets, rather than work as Muvman Lakaz. LALIT, it must perhaps be said, is an organization that allows this kind of independence of branches. At the time, many of us did not understand the perspicacity of this divergent strategy. We did not understand why this branch chose the joint committee approach. But this was to be the precursor of all our 50 or so Joint Committees 15 years later. So, now we have the homework to do of understanding the importance of this difference. It is not just the appellation that’s different. It is a totally different concept, and it has led to us being in a very different political place. Let’s look at this:
LALIT’s Aim as a Party
LALIT aims, as a party, to unify the working class and other oppressed groups to bring about a socialist revolution – no less. We aim to overturn the capitalist system and create a socialist system that is democratic, egalitarian and where freedom is everyone’s. This, we know, will not occur all by itself. And we also know that, during a downturn especially, when the working class is relatively demobilised and weakened, that this kind of struggle is not easy.
A Transitional Program
This is why LALIT thinks it so important to have a program that is transitional, i.e. that describes a transition from where we are today right now and towards the possibility of a revolutionary change to socialism. This program contains:
1. A critical analysis of today’s class reality in detail, as it is;
2. Demands – that are argued – and that unify the working class and other oppressed groups who are prepared to fight for them right now. And these demands are also dynamic, in the sense that they will not be responded to fully under capitalism. (Naturally capitalism survives by making concessions when it has to, and then grabbing them back again when the working class is disorganized.) And then it is the realisation that broad masses of the people gain during the struggle that creates the will to both overthrow the rulers of today (Trump and Macron and Ramaphosa and the whole mainstream bag of pro-capitalist leaders) and expropriate those who have expropriated all of us in the past – from the land, and from the capital produced by our forefathers and foremothers.
An Example of a Transitional Demand as we “pivot” from asbestos housing to broader issues
Here is an example to highlight the nature of “transitional demands” in the here and now. Our recent banners read:
“Government must stop subsidizing sugar cane! Stop subsidizing the destruction of agricultural land to sell off with luxury villas!” Today, everyone in the country agrees with this. But, at the same time, within this demand is the assumption that the masses of the people have the power to decide what should be done with the land. Thus, we are challenging private property over collective means of survival. Should “we” go on planting and milling cane? Build luxury real estates? And we can pose the question of the ownership of land even when today the bosses own it all.
The demand also includes the fact that the masses, if they control the land, can use it to create jobs, to assure food security, to increase foreign exchange, and to build houses for those in overcrowded conditions. But, the conscious realisation of this possibility does not come automatically to the broad masses. Why would it? But it is the work of a party like LALIT to see this, and to make it clear during actions. So, a party, by being involved in day-to-day struggles gets to know what precise demands people are willing to mobilise behind, given the level of their consciousness. So, it is the role of a party to learn, in action and through study, what demands will also pose the question of ownership and control over the means of survival. This, in turn, highlights the two kinds of private property – what is genuinely private (like your toothbrush, your clothing, your house) and what is in fact collective property (land, sea, air, water) that has been stolen (or more accurately appropriated) in the past by a tiny class. They are not the same thing.
So, in LALIT, we persist in criticising Government again and again for its strategy of tail-ending the sugar bosses in their strategy of setting up Integrated Resort Schemes and other gated communities, building villas on agricultural land, and then selling it off as real estate. And we are correct in opposing this outrageous selling off of the country’s land. Today, so evident is it that LALIT is right, that almost every bourgeois economist in the country is developing the same analysis – if not the same strategy. They are all suddenly crying out that there is not enough production, that selling off land is nor really FDI, that you cannot rely on gambling on land values, and that this is just not viable. Even the MCB is attacking this strategy.
This means the moment is ripe to popularise our program for collective control over land by the working people.
As if echoing economic reality, questions of bourgeois democracy are also on the table. When there is talk of “electoral reform” and what to do faced with corruption, there too we find opportunities to popularise our program, and to reinforce it. At long last, the response to the idea of the right of recall is making its way amongst working people – rather than the bureaucratic panacea of limiting terms of office. Our aim at a stronger legislative arm relative to the executive arm is also, for the first time, catching on.
Need to Build our Party
Our party is what consciously keeps and shares the collective memory of the past and present struggles of the working class. Our party popularises knowledge of struggles all over the planet, in the past and until today. We draw lessons for the future from the past and present. So, the role of a party, especially in a downturn, is to keep alive this memory until the next mobilisation at a whole-class level. (The last one was exactly 40 years ago: the August 79 Strike and the September 80 follow-up mass movement). So a party like LALIT has a role in allowing the working people, through it, to transcend time and space and consciousness of the moment. Next time there is an up-turn in the struggle, it may not end up being like a cane-fire and burn itself out, but could develop towards a socialist revolution.
Our party brings together party activists and the working class vanguard, around this memory of past working class struggles and our on-going program that led the struggles and then, in turn, emerged more developed from them. This is experiential nexus in which a revolutionary socialist program is born.
This is the place where we not only develop our transitional demands and challenge capitalism and its State, but it is also the place where we practice and develop different methods of struggle to advance our program in the working class struggle. This work is done in close connection with grass-roots working class leaders in each area and on each work site. As they understand, adopt and contribute to our program, so they convince others around them who have already developed confidence in them over the years.
Clear Relationship between LALIT and Asbestos Housing Dwellers
So, to return to the concept of the Joint Committees (LALIT branch and neighbourhood asbestos house dwellers) in some 50 areas, they helped us as follows:
To recognize LALIT as a party, and to recognize that many of the asbestos house dwellers are not in LALIT. This is the truthful way LALIT works. It prevents neighbourhood people having to pretend they are “LALIT” when they are not in order to be in the movement. It prevents LALIT claiming more than its share of contribution to the action, which is mainly by neighbourhood people. We do not have to pretend we are doing some kind of lame social work, or some NGO-type charity work as a favour to poor and helpless people – something very much in vogue, after having been disgraced about 100 years ago. In the framework of the Joint Committees, it is possible and it is necessary for LALIT to explain constantly how allying with people living in asbestos housing is part of our analysis of the land-and-housing issue.
The Joint Committees, as a way of organizing, also allowed us to prepare for what would become the pivot meetings – as more advanced people become convinced there is some big issue which prevents Government from addressing their grave problems of asbestos housing, and often overcrowding within this housing, and unemployment or work that is not regular enough to pay for housing. This realisation that it took two big street demonstrations in Port Louis for the Government to begin to act is what makes people interested in LALIT’s program. So, the pivot is to see if we can strengthen our party by including all this neighbourhood experience, while also attacking the worst excesses of capitalism – like leaving people to live in toxic housing.
In the days of Muvman Lakaz, we helped mobilise those living in an under class, including the lumpen-proletariat – people without work, people in illegal jobs, or poverty-stricken people. Today, in the Asbestos Housing, it is people who are the children of working class mill workers and labourers, working people, the proletariat itself, that find themselves abandoned in toxic housing. As employment gets more precarious under neo-liberal conditions, so the proportion of working people in difficulty increases. But when people fall from being proper working class families, they are often eager to participate in political action.
Expansion of the Structures
The kind of LALIT meetings we call part of the “pivot” opens the possibility of including, as we are doing, those in the area who do not live in asbestos housing, and those who have always been pro-LALIT since they can remember. It also allows us to set up structures in areas where we have been weaker, like the North.
In most areas, the new LALIT structures are built in opposition, very often, to a bourgeois state threesome:
- NGOs often financed by the bosses through CSR; NGOs close to the Church or other communalo-religious bodies;
- Bourgeois political parties (MSM, Labour, PMSD, MMM, and in No. 14, the MP)
- NIU, or secret services.
Surprisingly often, these three work in concert.
Our Demands Reach the National Political Agenda
Before the recent joint committees, there was another precursor in the West of Mauritius in 2016, when there was a “Joint LALIT-West Region and Baie du Cap residents Committee” when an IRS project was cutting the village in two and getting inhabitants moved out. The real estate project is now called Anbalaba. This way Baie du Cap was the nation-wide centre of opposition to the destruction of employment and arable land in the interests of real estate speculation. A national press conference was organized there, and LALIT published a “mapping” we had done of the literal infestation of the country with real estate projects. We also published the from-the-grass-roots-up plan of what Baie du Cap could be like that inhabitants had imagined – from research into what had been done in the area before, and imagining what people need.
We can Expect Political Counter-Attacks
The Baie du Cap experience also introduced us to the kind of counter-attack from other groups and parties: For a start George Ah-Yan, for example, had a completely different strategy. He gate-crashed a Forum that the Joint Committee organized, sat on the podium, proposed himself as a kind of “contractor” for a campaign of meetings (he announced they would cost Rs8,000 a piece!), and he offered himself up as negotiator for “compensation”. He even said: “What is it you want? Speak up! What do you want? I’ll get the boss to put a million on the table”. Later, Alan Ganoo and his MP came and offered him up as barrister, and succeeded in torpedo-ing the movement. He even ended up filing an appeal so late that he spent a great deal of time arguing as to whether the legal deadline had been met or not. Just what LALIT members had said would happen. LALIT members have experience of Ganoo’s shameful role in the Anna case, a very similar case.
New methods that flow from the new conceptualization of our work
So, there are new methods and ways of struggling that we are already learning, and that we will need to continue learning, try and test, share – that follow from the idea of the “pivot”. And we spend time, and need to spend time, in all meetings to make this learning process a conscious one. This article, too, is part of that process.
At the same time, we must bear in mind that elections are looming large. As usual, just at the most propitious moments, there are elections and the counter-attacks against LALIT will become stronger. They take all forms – directly by political agents of adversaries, or through the work of secret service agents, or indirectly (through your uncle, your neighbour, priest, an important person in the neighbourhood, an NGO, all manner of do-gooders will appear to give advice to our new recruits on how not to “waste time” on LALIT. We need to find ways of warning people at Pivot meetings about how they might operate. And to find ways of arming ourselves with the arguments and analyses that can respond.
It is a very interesting time in history to be in LALIT.
Original talk in Kreol 2 February.2019