The Hall at Grand River North West was the scene of a celebration of the power of a working class united behind a program of class struggle, as people present – LALIT and guests – remembered the massive August 1979 nation-wide strike movement. Next to speakers was a blown-up photograph of the mass meeting at the September 1980 continuation of this mass movement. However much historians have tried, and still try, to cover up all trace of this huge uprising against the capitalist class and its State, the memory remains. It remains in the stories of those who participated, stories shared at the gathering at GRNW. And it remains, as speakers reminded everyone, in the fear that the capitalist class still feels relative to an organized working class, and the gains that the State has not actually been able to roll back – from free education and health care to universal pensions – however much the World Bank and IMF insisted.
Presided over by Rada Kistnasamy, and with Ram Seegobin on the panel to comment on each paper and to add his first-hand experience, there were five speakers: Ragini Kistnasamy on the unfurling of the strike movement from 7th August as it happened, Rajni Lallah on the long-term gains of the strike, Jean-Claude Bibi guest speaker addressed the issue of the political aspect of the class confrontation and the extent to which the working class was winning over the classes in-between as the strike developed, Alain Ah-Vee spoke on the constant efforts of the mainstream politicians, press and historians, to hide the fact that the strike ever existed from when it was taking place, and Lindsey Collen spoke on the massive solidarity and countless marches and demonstrated that converged to support the hunger strike (without even drinking water) in August 1979, until the victory of the August 1979 “Lakor 23 Ut” or 23 August Agreement. And the action continued a year later when the Agreement was not respected by the State and the bosses. A group of the strike leaders – started afresh – drinking water this time, in September 1980. Ram Seegobin had made copies of the actual Accord, which people present could take a copy of.
Ragini Kistnasamy, who participated in the strike, encouraged everyone to read the booklet (available in Kreol and English) on the principles that govern strikes, by Ram Seegobin. She also called on people to look at the other book, published in 1983, and which included copies of the actual leaflets.
A high point of Rajni Lallah’s speech was the way in which the August 79 strike left enough effect on the working class to be able to enable the setting up of All Workers’ Conference, which was designed to be just one “Conference” against the IMF and World Bank and privatization and neo-liberalism, in 1996. And how, in the end, the AWC unified the totality of unions in the country for nearly five years over the course of some 18 conferences attended by delegates from all the unions. And that this combination had left gains that would never otherwise have been possible for the working class.
Ram Seegobin also said that what was key to him was the build-up to the strike, the literally 80-odd outdoor public meetings (miting) he spoke at, not mention thousands of indoor meetings (reynion) he took part in, making the strike democratic from before it took place. And this democracy continued as the new structure like komite lagrev or strike committees grew up in each village, as the strike unfurled, taking stock and deciding whether the strike could be continued the next day, and clubbing in for delegates to travel to the daily meetings to decide nation-wide. This way, some areas said they did not think they could, without support from others, maintain the strike the next day, and the nation-wide meeting would delegate one or two of the leaders to go and galvanize that area. Lindsey Collen spoke of how, when Britannia was wavering, she and Ram had been called in by delegates to give a hand. When they arrived, workers there – because it was a dankan or tied housing thus trespassing on the sugar boss’s land – workers took the borrowed old car the two had arrived in and went and hid it in a cane field, keeping the keys with them, while they stood guard. Their prediction was accurate. The sugar estate administrator, a Mr. J, called in the Special Mobile Force (the army part of the police) to arrest them. But, in time, the workers escorted them via tiny back lanes to their car, and gave them back their keys, and saw them off, explaining a way back to the main road, quite far away. The meeting had already successfully re-united the three different unions that were co-operating in the strike committee, so all was well.
Jean-Claude Bibi put emphasis on the “movement” part of the MMM-GWF at the time, and how it had been built up by class mobilization in the working class and amongst students over ten years. So, although the MMM as “party” was ambivalent, or suspicious of the strike, its base organization and the unions it was so close to, were a massive driving force, alongside the Lalit de Klas (that he was also part of at the time) and that become LALIT, which was a tendency within the MMM as a party. And it was this that enabled the working class to challenge the entire capitalist class and its state. Starting from the demand, for example, for trade union recognition, when the State has a law that allows the bosses to not recognize the union the workers are in, what does this mean? It means that the Labour Government at the time was only pretending to be democratic. Otherwise how was it saying the bosses could choose the union to represent workers in the sugar industry?
Jean-Claude Bibi also referred to it as a “reservoir” of experience that could in future be tapped because for-sure there will be future confrontations.
Present in the audience, Alain Laridon, who was a participant in the strike as part of the FTU, reminded up that after the strike, Yousouf Mohamed, as the right-wing hard-liner alongside Satcam Boolell, resigned from Government.
At the end of the formal part of the gathering, stories continued to be told over tea, coffee and juice. People present were literally thirsting for this kind of distilled “experience” that was being shared.
Lindsey said the crises of the future will dwarf the crises – bad as they were – of the past, referring to new climate and other environmental crises as well as nuclear bomb threats in at least three conflicts. She said she was thankful to the working class in 1979 and 1980 for showing us that in crises, working people, within days and weeks, can take over and run everything – and do it democratically. We do not have to dread the inevitability, in the case of social collapse under capitalism, of the barbary of rule by bands of ethno-religiously organized men – like ISIS in Iraq and Syria, or the RSS or ISIS in India-Pakistan, or by the kind of right-wing gangs Trump is building up in the USA. This is the importance of class organization by the working class – even in response to race-religious discrimination by the State and capitalist interests.