On the 1 May public holiday, LALIT held a celebration of “Labour” in a packed Mother Earth Hall at Grand River North West in Port Louis. The theme chosen for this year was “40 Years Since the Biggest Working Class Action, the General Strike Movement of August 1979: Changes in the Nature of Work Since Then”. Around this theme, there were speeches, poems, songs, instrumentals, international messages, extracts from a film, all culminating in the singing all together of the Internationale. And this was followed by a delicious shared lunch: members had brought either home-made farathas or bought bread, and these were married to dishes others brought, ranging from humus to chicken liver, from a kind of karri-barri to kari andan, from tuna salad to chicken with potato and peas, from vegetable curry to zasar legim. To drink there was bergamot juice by the pail.
People came under their own steam from towns, villages and coastal areas. They came from Pamplemousses, Plaine Magnien, Black River, Caroline, Quartier Militaire, as well as Rose-Hill, Port Louis, Curepipe, Vacoas and Beau Bassin. Others came from Terre Rouge and Bambous, Richelieu and Pte aux Sables, Beau Songes and Solferino, Rose-Belle and Highlands, Tamarin and St Pierre. In short, North, South, East, West and the middle. There were labourers, planters, rubbish collectors, IT workers, skilled craftsmen, fishermen, bricklayers, nurses, electricians, internet workers, a cobbler, teachers, garderners, high school and university students.
The contrast between LALIT’s celebration and the more traditional haranguing of workers by bourgeois party leaders (who all claim to be pro-worker, anti-capitalist, socialist, anti-imperialist!) or trade union bureaucrats (who offer control over workers’ votes in exchange for minimalist changes in labour law or promises thereof) could not have been greater.
The scene was set at the LALIT gathering, while people gathered, by a projection of extracts from the Charlie Chaplin classic, Modern Times. Extracts chosen were: bosses making workers speed up work (still the bosses’ constant aim); bosses introducing roller-skates for more efficient work (an over-the-top exaggeration, now in action in the big textile mills in Mauritius); the multi-tasking of kitchen staff at a restaurant having to change clothes after the meal, and then sing for the guests (another over-the-top exaggeration commonly imposed by Mauritian and Rodriguan bosses). These excerpts also gave the historical depth to Labour Day, which dates from Chicago in 1886, and the international perspective that what bosses were doing over 80 years ago in the USA is still relevant today in Mauritius.
Lindsey Collen, presiding, put May Day in its historic context – international and Mauritian – and in the more immediate context of looming general elections, and of LALIT’s national campaign on getting back control by “labour” of the land, the sea, and all capital.
Key-note Address: How was Work 40 years ago?
Alain Ah-Vee gave the key-note address on the general strike movement 40 years ago, and on the nature of work conditions then, which allowed for this kind of mass working class movement that challenged the capitalist class and the bourgeois state. After that there were the following 3-minute speeches on the nature of present-day work:
Changes in the Nature of Work
- Working free (as virtual slaves) for data-mining profit-making companies like Facebook, WhatsApp, Google and the rest: Kisna Kistnasamy. This is a sign and cause of weakness in the working class.
- Working on contract in construction, and under conditions worse than contract, that is to say day labour, often left unpaid with no recourse: Laval Yves. Another sign and cause of weakness in the working class.
- Migrant work; 40,000 workers, many from Bangladesh, who have no political rights here, while there massive emigration from Mauritius means an estimated 250,000 people with few or no political rights abroad. Half are “without papers”; other workers ever on-the-move – on luxury liners, oil tankers, fishing vessels, container ships; the off-shore elites with brief-cases wander over the globe for the IMF-WB, UN, etc: Lindsey Collen. Cause of structural weakness in working class consciousness.
- Closing down of big enterprises, and the encouragement by the State of work for small and micro-enterprises, even NGO’s who get CSR money, and domestic work: Rada Kistnasamy. Makes organizing more difficult.
- Training, work placements and youth employment schemes that make young people work cheaply for the bosses and reduce the already absurdly under-counted unemployment figures: Rajni Lallah. Another sign of the ridiculous oppression foisted upon us.
- Part-time, flexi-time and so called “banks” of workers: Sadna Jumnoodoo. Again, instead of taking on more workers, the bosses and the State make the work-force become malleable.
Lindsey Collen, presiding, said that just seeing and understanding these profound changes in the nature of work makes it easier for us to confront reality, and develop a crack program that can unify the working class. The big LALIT campaign on workers’ control over all the land and sea becomes essential, as a unifying program, once the structural fragmentation of the working class is noted.
International messages from 7 political organizations – in Japan, Namibia, France, Australia and the USA – plus a letter from a political organization in Nigeria that arrived a few hours late – and letters of greetings from four individual supporters abroad – in France, Cambodia, the USA and Hong Kong – were translated and read out in abridged form, by Ram Seegobin.
Music and poetry
Musicians who treated us to a variety of creativity included: Rajni (synthesizer), Denis (darbouka), Jason (vocal), Alain S (classical guitar), Yoel and Ryan (guitar and slam combination). Poems by revolutionaries in Kreol were read out by Chloe, Sudha, Rylie, Adele, Begum, Anne-Marie, Jahmelia and Shelly-Anne.
So serene and calm was the atmosphere that all the children – from a baby, through toddlers to primary school children – were also serene and calm. Perhaps this calm was nurtured, who knows, by the participation of older children in the program. They reading poems with so much precision and were so in touch with their own emotions, and they read in Kreol – children from 12 years old, through 14, 15 and up to 17 years old – that somehow this gave the younger children a peak into the future that then linked them to the present moment and made them feel part of the celebration? Other adult events perhaps exclude children, and this feeling of being ignored may make children turbulent, who knows? Perhaps children imbibed the quiet energy around LALIT at the celebration? Maybe the music, including an instrument none of us had ever heard, the Darbouka, helped being a light relief within the program? Or that there were 7 speeches of only 3 minutes each?
Envelopes were shared out with past numbers of all the magazines and newspapers from abroad that LALIT exchanges with other organizations. The most recent ones stay in the party headquarters, but those from a few months ago are routinely shared out. This ensures deep-level internationalism a chance to grow within our party branches.
Over lunch as well as sharing food, adults shared conversation, mobile phone numbers, and swapped favourite books. Everyone gave a hand to stack chairs, wash dishes, share out any food left over, and put away banners.