“Day 30” makes a lot of days that we have lived under lockdown and then under curfew and then under lockdown again, and we are still in it. It’s a Sunday. You have to tell yourself this, and make a joke like, “We can sleep in, today!”
Anyway, I got up and collected the daily harvest of Indian guavas – the small ones with fine pips and a perfume of gooseberries rather than guavas – which I wash and put in the freezer with the others already, like marbles and goons, frozen. Soon I’ll have the 8 pounds that Ram will make me jam with. In exchange, I buy him sugar-free jam. And while he’s making the jam for me, I’ll make marmalade with the bergamot and their skins (with their pips tied into a bit of cloth for the pectin) for us all.
Talking about those guavas, they are so special that, when he was a brilliant young journalist, Jimmy Jean-Louis, when settling on where to do an interview with Ram – all the way over to Bambous or right there in town in Grand Riviere at the LALIT offices, would ask shyly, “Ram, are the guavas in season?” And that would settle it.
And at the same time of year, talking of fruit pilgrimages, I remember Liliane Tigresse born Simonet, founder LALIT member and Secretary of the Domestic Employees union for all those years. She would catch two buses – from Tranquebar where she lived to Venus, and then from Venus to Bambous, to pick a few atemoya with her own hands. To her, that was paradise. I still miss her. She was my mentor in LALIT, as in life, in general. She had judgement. People who have worked both in factories and as domestic workers for the rich, know all social classes in ways that people who do either factory work or domestic service, do not know. She saw the bourgeoisie. So, it was in her purview of the world.
Right now, when an epidemic has forced the bourgeoisie to hide even further, we have to be exposing it. We have to see it, like Liliane did.
See how the system that the capitalists run is fragile. It cannot even organize preventive health care. Not even contact-tracing. “It would take too many people – maybe 100,000”, experts say in the USA, as 22 million Americans are unemployed. What kind of a system could announce that on TV? And not have the journalist doubling over in laughter? In Mauritius, so far, there has been contact-tracing. So far the preventive health has been ahead of the epidemic – not running after millions of viruses once they’ve bolted, like horses, not just out of the stalls but right out of the yard into the wilderness. In Italy, Spain, France and the UK, it’s the same as the USA. The epidemic got out in front of the capitalist system and its organizations, and it hasn’t yet got a grip. It is stuck. It cannot give work to 100,000 people even when 22 million are unemployed.
The capitalist system cannot even organize testing. In New York City, the Governor has explained why. There are some 30-50 private companies that do testing. To keep their clients (hospitals and clinics) prisoner, they each have tests that go only with their own testing machines, and with no-one else’s testing machines. The tests each company provides go only with their swabs – those sticks they put up peoples noses and down their throats – and only with their reagents, and only with their vials. And they each keep running out of one of these, thus incapacitating the whole operation. And when the Governor tells them to get up to speed, for godsake, they find that what is missing comes from abroad, and there is not much free trade going on, especially as it mainly comes from China. So, the USA has “a fantastic testing capacity” according to the President, which is, being capitalist, totally incapacitated. It has not been able to recover even with three months’ notice. It is stuck. It cannot produce tests.
And so, what is needed is contact-tracing and testing. Neither can be done under the ordinary rules of capitalism. Indeed in Mauritius, contact-tracing is possible only because of a history of the successful control of malaria, while testing is possible only because the African union, with the help of benevolent millionaires like Jack Ma, has given out free testing equipment to all member States. These are both “despite” capitalism.
Preventing illness is not usually a priority under capitalism. Why not? It is not usually profit-making for the owners of private companies. Preventing the collapse of species is not profit-making either. Preventing air pollution and rapid climate disorder is not profit-making either.
This all calls for another way of looking at life. A more democratic way. Where we all organize to get what we all need, and what we each need. And we could do it, while organizing everyone to do just a short week of productive work, and spend the rest of our time in art and sport, in conversation and listening to other people’s stories in parks. We are told by hordes of journalists and academics, commentators and pundits, that you cannot give a guaranteed income to all. Now we know this is just a con-trick. We have seen nation states just pay out money to workers and small business people over the past two months. they pulled it out of their ears and paid it. Their megaphones had said they could not, but they can. It used to be taken as the gods’ own will that more and more people become servants to the rich – doing their housework, their personal training, their hair, their massage, their yoga, their music lessons and shows, you name it – employed in the most unequal of all relationships. Now, the rich are doing their own housework, and their servants have been freed for a few months to think about the situation. Those who actually need domestic help, who may be rich but are more likely poor, could just get the specific “help” prescribed through a decentralized Health Ministry, so the workers, as Liliane and her friend Mimose now living in France planned it in the Domestic Workers’ union in its heyday, would be employed by the local authorities. This way, as they put it, slavery would end, and private domestic work where you are paid by the recipient of your services, would end, too. Just as, we could add, any enterprising things people do, can be organized for the collective good, not for private profit. Note that the Mauritian Government could, when push came to shove, hand out food packages to all the poor, delivered to their doorstep.
It seems so little to ask. But, it means starting by the State getting hold of the banks and insurance companies while workers get hold of the land and the production lines. Have you noticed how afraid, in Mauritius, the trade union leaders are of challenging the sugar bosses’ control over the agricultural land? Even as the spectre of famine rises, with air freight and marine shipping so uncertain, with other countries needing to keep the food their workers produce for themselves, the trade unions in Mauritius cannot bring themselves to say the simple words: “the sugar estate bosses must be forced, if necessary by law, to produce food crops on one-third of their land (or the totality of interlines) and to have food factories set up in all estates or ex-estates while the first harvest is being prepared.” They cannot even see that they can claim proper work in these fields and factories for the working class they represent. They cannot even see that excess crops, once preserved and transformed, can earn foreign exchange to buy other things with.
It’s not such a tall order, when we see the incapacity and fragility of capitalism, and when we see the con-tricks upon which it is predicated, exposed before our eyes.
for LALIT, a personal view.