The night before last, for the first time ever, I had a nightmare. A proper nightmare. In my sleep I screamed again and again and so loudly that Ram had to wake me up. I remember the relief as he said, “Lindsey to pe fer enn kosmar” and I surfaced.
Not so strangely, the nightmare, which I remember clear as a bell, was set in the time of an epidemic. But the illness was a much worse one than Covid-19 – it was more like the plague. And a band of reckless adolescent boys, almost for fun, were going around in masks, terrorizing people by rubbing their hands on them to give them the virus and, in the nightmare, I had fallen prey to one of these little bands. How bizarre.
Then I remembered that a couple of days before, I had been very angry with “the reckless adolescent boy” that is president of a powerful country in decline i.e. Donald Trump, when he had said on the TV, “We’ll get over this nightmare”, having switched from having denied the epidemic for two months, saying it would all go away and that it was, like everything else he puts in that box, a mere “hoax”. The 15 cases in the US, he said, would go down to zero. And he just changed from this outright denial to calling the reality “a nightmare” without the least mea culpa.
Such is the degree of irrationality of this present moment. Such is the nightmare the main capitalist leader is making us live. He aggravates the epidemic (in the USA certainly, but his influence is world-wide because of the role he fills), and then throws his hands up in the air and calls it a “nightmare”. The rest of the world, starting with Fox News which had, quickly, to do a turn-around from the “hoax” line, to the “this is serious” line, is infantilized very seriously by having to cover up such behavior, or even, like the rest of us to end up seeing such an abomination as normal. And being infantilized is the last thing we need right now.
And I recall something else that is so dramatic a turn-around, it is also well nigh mad. After a law in France to ban women from covering their faces, even though this puts the police in a position of power over individual women, now, without anyone in the mainstream seeing the absurdity of the change, we are not allowed to go to a supermarket – man or woman – without covering our faces. To make the irony worse, you used to be banned from going into a bank with an integrated crash helmet on, and it is as though we are all now bank-robbers, not people out for supplies. It is mad what we have had to see turn-around, without comment.
And these are all the external manifestations of the social crisis that the coronavirus epidemic is provoking. They are, in themselves, enough to cause nightmares – just trying to process all the new data.
There are layers of crises underneath, though, that our minds have to get around during the day:
The immediate – how to get food and masks and ongoing medicines for the family, and how to keep children and people with Alzheimer’s occupied, or how to survive domestic violence while in lockdown? How to help all essential workers – in hospitals, refuse collection, food chains, police service workers – to do their jobs in the interests of the people? How to get them all the work conditions and protective gear they need?
The middle-distance future – we have to think about whether the number of new cases in Mauritius, in the world too, will begin to go down soon? Will the deaths begin to go down soon? Will there be food security in the country in the medium term, in say three months? Are the seed-preparations going ahead? We note that Thierry Sauzier, who was coordinating the move of big land owners to prepare for food production, has been ousted from Medine, and thus from his role as coordinator? (see L’Express article). What does this mean?
In the post-coronavirus time – will the State have succeeded in tearing away many gains in terms of human rights fought for so hard, or will essential workers have gained a better place in society, with more respect for the working class? The CTSP in its Open Letter is concerned about this. The CTSP and other union Federations, i.e. MLC /AWF, the Government Services Employees Association (GSEA), the FPBOU, ACSEF as well as the Muvman Liberasyon Fam, joined LALIT in calling for a New Social Contract for after the epidemic. This concerns the long term, as well as the short term.
When we call for this “new social contract”, we mean that society as a whole, and in particular the ruling class and those with power and control, have to offer a future to everyone in society, even possible bands of reckless adolescent boys. Why, otherwise, do we expect them to co-operate?
Many people are so on the edges of society that they do not even put on the radio or TV to listen to the grim news and generally good advice given by Dr. Gujadhur.
Yesterday for example he told of the death from coronavirus of a 20-year-old girl, whose entire family were admitted to hospital with the disease and there was no-one to arrange the funeral. Dr. Gujadhur had to contact a nephew, a very young man, and give him the guidance and confidence to go ahead with the funeral, and involve the stricken branch of the family via WhatsApp. But this nugget of truth may not circulate as quickly as some rumour about the disease. This is because a large part of the working class, rightly feels that it does not get a fair share. For everyone to be part of saving us all from the epidemic, we need this kind of new social contract to be offered. And we need it fast.
But, the representatives of the State and the bosses have not come forward with any form of new social contract going forward.
Do they mean to refuse to learn any of the following kinds of lessons:
- People working in hospitals and clinics all need good working conditions, and to be part of the same unified health system, one that concentrates on preventive health, not profit.
- Workers like NEF workers must be government employees, not just taken on by a private company, which is what they are – even if wholly owned by Government.
- The DWC and CHA, had they not been criminally disbanded in the 1990s, could have constructed new hospitals or adapted hotels into hospitals, had they still existed as institutions, i.e. had they not been closed down under pressure from the private sector that did not agree that Government labourers were paid more than private sector labourers.
Perhaps people reading this, if they are not LALIT members, will not realize how almost everyone we contact or who contacts us in LALIT during lockdown, begins the conversation with: “LALIT, depi lontan, pe dir bizin asir sekirite alimanter”, “LALIT, depi kan pe dir guvernman ti bizin obliz gran tablisman plant manze lor enn parti so later, e met dibut lizinn pu prezerv e transform li!” or even “LALIT, depi lontan pe dir kapav sanze depi sistem kapitalist. Alala! Zot guvernman pro-kapitalist finn aret tu prodiksyon, dir tu dimunn pa al travay! E pa sa ki LALIT pe dir. LALIT pe zis dir li posib sanz manyer kontrol prodiksyon. Demokratiz desizyon lor lekonomi.” And so on.
Now, what we are saying is: We need a New Social Contract. We see that even one of those self-appointed spokeswoman of the intellectual elite, Roukaya Kasenally, is calling for a new social contract, too. It is the only way forward. It is the only way forward out of the nightmare we are in. There are many ways backward out of it. And these are the raw materials of nightmares.
So, in LALIT we agree with the lockdown. We totally agree. Such a lockdown is essential to control the epidemic. And social distancing will be necessary, it seems, until a vaccine is developed, which when fast-tracked will be in over one year’s time.
But, for the lockdown to work, we need not only good conditions for those in essential services now, but a new social contract as we come out of the epidemic. We need to be able to think dialectically like that, in order to make progress.
Lindsey Collen, a personal view,