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Day 63 – Back to Pass Law


Everyone used to talk about the terrible “pass laws” in Mauritius during Indenture, and in South Africa under Apartheid. We thought that was over. But the introduction of Work Access Permits, WAPs, if we don’t mobilize to end them soon, will be a new “pass law” system. Nearly 400,000 such permits have been delivered. They allow you to be out and about at certain places (near the establishment you work at, just like in indenture) and at certain times (thus maintaining a curfew). Already, after having fought so hard to prevent the obligation to present ID cards to any policeman, we now have to present ID cards all over the place. We have to present them not only to policemen, but also to any security guard or other employee or sub-contractor of a supermarket, a hardware store, CEB or CWA, CIM, a Bank, you name it. And a police officer can ask our ID card if we are just mooching around – to check that we can be out by alphabet. 

While this is a good way, by consensus, to keep the numbers of people out and about to one-third at any one time, it must never become fixed law. This is once again a sign of the Pravind Jugnauth Government’s instinct for repression. Even while he praised the Mauritian people for the massive contribution everyone made to keep the virus under control, he displayed his own hypocrisy by introducing two laws that are so draconian, and so unclear about their expiry date, that they signal a permanent police dictatorship. And, also, a class dictatorship.

I do not exaggerate. If today I question the price of a load of building materials at a hardware store, implying profiteering, the owner can check if I’m out on the right day or not. If not, he can just call the police. How’s that for a class dictatorship. A friend in LALIT, Georges, has described his own experience of this new ID card problem and how it changes the balance of class forces, and the balance of forces between an individual and the State, represented by the Police.

So, slavery and indenture come to mind. Remember, slavery first, for 100 years, and then after that indenture for another 100 years, were the legal frameworks for work in Mauritius. They were the Labour Laws before the pure wage-slavery of the past 100 years. And the working class still suffers this history now, as we come out of lockdown. 

Eli Zaretsky in a London Review of Books blog article on 14 May says: 

“Anyone who has studied the history of plantation slavery understands that the management of the modern labouring classes was modelled on the management of animals. One obvious example is racial classification. Another is the micro-techniques of the labour process: forms of discipline, cleanliness and deference, which, as Foucault showed, were based on dressage and other forms of animal training. With the legal abolition of slavery, the problems of managing herds shifted. Under slavery, the masters had an interest in maintaining the health and even longevity of the slaves, who were their main form of property. [I add that slave-owners in Mauritius were known at times to say that the cost of maintaining slaves was higher than the cost of purchasing new ones.] After abolition, however, maintaining the health of free workers turned into a burden, especially as the cost of medicine rose. Understanding these simple facts of modern political economy may help explain how the United States, the self-proclaimed ‘greatest country in the world’, ended up with one-third of all Covid-19 cases” [and a third of all deaths, I add]. A bit later in the blog, Zaretsky says, “Also important in managing a herd is to destroy all forms of critical thinking, in particular anything that challenges the supremacy of private property. The multitude was taught to react with instinctive, even ferocious, negativity to any idea that could be described as ‘socialist’ or ‘communist’.”

The article ends by saying that the logic for the capitalist class is to “cull the herd” rather than let their profits fall. So, it links an exposition on the nature of the reign of the modern-day slave drivers, the capitalist class, with the cold-bloodedness with which some of them are prepared to “let people die”. 

Three days after this article, on 17 May, as if confirming its tenor, the new American Health Minister Alex Azar said to Jack Tapper on CNN that the USA “unfortunately has a very diverse population” and minorities like Afro-Americans and Hispanics who “have significant underlying disease” (Truthout 18 May) which explains the high death rate from Coronavirus illness.

We sure need a world-wide revolution against the ruling capitalist class now, as it tries to come out of Coronavirus by imposing a new more draconian set of ideas and laws than the more flexible ideas and laws left over from the 1960s rebellions in the USA and Europe and 1970s rebellions in Mauritius. And this reminds us that the gains we have made were made in the space created 100 years ago by the Russian revolution when the working class so terrified the bosses in Europe and the US, and then in the space made by successive national liberation struggles however flawed, and then the big movements in the 1960s and 1970s. In Mauritius, the May ’75 uprising that we are celebrating this month is one of those, together with the 1971 general strike, and the immense working class movement in 1979 and 1980. We must mobilize not just to prevent this but to overthrow capitalist rule and, without fear of the word “socialist”, to go on towards building a proper socialist society. 


Lindsey Collen 

for LALIT, a personal viewpoint.