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Day 61 – Of Essential Production and Essential Services

20.05.2020

Today is the day for homage to students and young people. It is 20 May. And during the last 10 days (maybe) of lockdown, let’s remember that that was the day that students in 1975, 45 years ago exactly, brought together their months-long local protests into a nation-wide march on Port Louis that the Riot Police stopped by force at the GRNW bridge. This was a huge dent in the State of Emergency that was still in place from 1967 and that had been tightened by the imprisonment without trial of 100 trade union and MMM leaders in1972 after the 1971 working class uprising. It is time for students and young people to link up their ideas with real world actions as the students of 1975 did, remembering to start humbly, as the students then did.


And also, in lockdown, let us again come to the central point about the economy, as the budget approaches. 


Yesterday, at long last the trade union leadership is talking about food security. But they still unfortunately miss the mark, and often talk of small planters and market gardens, which are definitely good things, but not the main point. The main point, as LALIT has been arguing so long, is for the state to ensure employment in stable agricultural and factory jobs by forcing the sugar estate companies and other big land-owners to convert one-third, say, of their land to the production of food staples. So we are not just talking just about “vegetables”. We are not only talking about small bits of neglected, marginal land. We are talking about the mass agricultural production, preservation, transformation and marketing (domestic, regional and international) of food from the land and from Mauritius’ huge territorial waters. That is a stable foundation for any national economy. It assures proper food security – with maize, rice, potatoes, beans, and vegetables for canning, together with fish – as well as job creation and security, plus much-needed foreign exchange. This is proper trade union work: for job creation, for food for all, and for the foreign currency necessary for imports. It is not enough to talk of incentives for small planters of vegetables. Nor for allotments. Though, as we in LALIT say, these are a fine addition.  In fact, we ask the trade union leadership why is it that they do not address the central issue of  getting the state to force the big land owners to plant food crops and set up factories for their processing. Are they afraid of the big bosses? Are they used to using just rhetoric, sometimes of a racist nature, against the bosses, while fearing them? Do they fall for the propaganda that “nobody wants to work the land anymore”? When they should know that they themselves had to negotiate handsome compensation that included bits of land for housing, to hound workers off the agricultural jobs? I refer to so-called Voluntary Retirement Schemes. And when the union leaders should know that, if there is any truth in the reluctance of some people to work the land, that the sugar bosses do not even supply drinking water or toilets for agricultural workers.


So, what we need is production – beginning with using vast tracts of sugar estate land as well as Mauritian seas – and then into other production. During World War II, the Government passed legislation to force the sugar estates to free up land from cane and plant food crops. This is what is needed now; after all we are supposed to be at “war” against the virus. As we say in Kreol, Marke garde!  


The economic effects of the coronavirus epidemic are now going to be really felt as almost all Mauritian sectors falter because of their intrinsic uselessness. The sugar industry is already being subsidized by the working class, via public funds. Sugar is no longer so popular in tea, so to speak.


Now Air Mauritius, already in receivership, is getting ready to suffer its fate – as either going bust or suffer privatization and sacking of half the staff. Even without the Covid-19 Act outlawing strikes in the airport, strike action would have been difficult for two reasons: the aeroplanes are all grounded for commercial flights for at least the next 6 weeks and the company risks collapsing with blame put on the striking workers. And the rest of the working class is also weakened by the lockdown. So, unless there is a whole revolution, which will not rise out of nothing, this sector is wobbling.


Unlike many other airlines that carry working people and supply domestic travel of all kinds, it is an airline that goes hand-in-glove with international tourists. And there are none left. International tourism is not just a sector on its knees but is likely to have difficulty in getting up again at all for a long time. Playgrounds for the world’s rich parasites are not an essential service in this new world. Sofitel Hotel is today, in the press, threatening closure. This is just the beginning.


So, the sugar industry is being subsidized. The hotel industry is going to buckle, and with it all the tourism services, including the national carrier. The offshore (a non-industry, that’s for sure) is buckling, as it is on the EU blacklist. Textile factories struggle. And the vague “sector” of “PME to produce je ne sais quoi” is decimated.


Unless there is a big plan (not a Marshall Plan, which is one of those capitalist, even imperialist, plans and which is the exact opposite of what is needed because it aims at profit), a proper massive state investment in job-creating production – as the basis for rebuilding a proper economy, we are in trouble.  Againwe say Marke, garde! We have learnt during the lockdown what the essential services are. Let’s get going on building around them. We know now which class is essential and which is non-essential. Let’s get going towards a classless society.


As we come out of the lockdown and look at the budget, this should be our aim. Students, young people and trade union members need to begin the hard work of thinking about how to get from where we are today to a new economy and a new society. A tall order. But there you go.


 


Lindsey Collen


for LALIT, a personal view.