Open letter to union delegates, workers representatives in unions, on work sites and in neighbourhoods
The COVID 19 crisis is a real challenge for all organisations. For you, in the workers or trade union movement perhaps even more so, as different parts of the working class get impacted in turn by the lockdown, then curfew, then lockdown again, then repressive COVID Acts in so many different ways:
Some of you have to cope with announced “sackings-to-come” after the lockdown. Finance Minister Padayachy has announced that some 100,000 workers will be retrenched.
Some have been having to deal with calls from their “frontline” members in sectors already understaffed working to stretching point, worried about the lack of health and safety equipment, and possible second wave of the crisis. Others have had to worry about how aquired rights are being affected as the “end” of the COVID 19 crisis seems further and further away.
Some are pre-occupied with how the newly imposed “work-from-home”, being lauded by the government and bosses in some sectors and proposed as permanent regimes, will affect work conditions in the future.
In some sectors, companies have already announced that workers will be made “technically unemployed” until “things pick up”. Some are being proposed work on a “rotation” basis without being told what that would mean in terms of salary and work conditions.
Some worrying about what will happen to the now officially-recognised 160,000 - 200,000 “self-employed” workers, living hand-to-mouth, when the Government scheme expires.
unions, associations, workers organisations are having to cope with all this while still under lockdown and curfew when no site-meetings, union committee meetings, delegate assemblies, union assemblies can be held.
Bosses and Government plan
While union representatives are called upon to advise and consult members about so many serious sectoral problems, the trade-union movement has no real voice in deciding what economic measures are necessary to face the economic crisis triggered by COVID 19.
In contrast, the government and the bosses meet regularly during the lockdown. For instance Industrial Development Minister Bholah announced that his Ministry had set up a “Standing Committee” comprising of MEXA, MCCI, Business Mauritius, SME Mauritius and EDB and the Ministry (Le Mauricien video 28 April, 2020). Tourism Minister Joe Lesjongard announced that he was meeting the “acteurs” of the tourism industry to discuss how best to deal with the COVID 19 crisis (MBC press conference 22 May 2020). So while all this joint work with the private sector goes on during the lockdown and curfew, the only role the government allots the trade union movement is a one-session perfunctory mediatised budget consultation with union federations.
This is how we have ended up with a Rs 9 billion package of subsidies for bosses and an anti-worker COVID Act.
Towards a Workers Program
After all its joint work with the private sector, as the government prepares for the 4 June budget, working class organisations need to unify the whole working class in an interlinked program:
* Stop attacks on workers rights – revoke anti-worker measures in the COVID Act and Quarantine Acts.
* Tax profits and wealth, and institute progressive scales into income tax;
* Invest and create new jobs in the public health and healthcare sectors, in which workers have heroically “flatenned the COVID 19 curve”;
* No to Bank of Mauritius or other public funds investment going to private companies. No to unconditional support for bosses.
* Invest massively and create thousands of stable jobs in a huge new food production sector. Workers will be recruited in the fields producing staples, and in new preservation and transformation factories, in distribution, storage, marketing, research and in milk production; as well as investment in setting up a fishing fleet for a sustainable fishing industry. This will in addition reinforce food security and food sovereignty in this time of crisis for international trade .
And for such a program to work,
* All “plan de soutien” or aid to the private sector must be made conditional to employment and workers right being preserved;
* No subsidies to sectors with no future such as the sugar industry or real estate;
* Laws must be passed so that all sugar estates allot 1/3 of their land for food production: either they voluntarily allot the 1/3rd, or if they refuse, the land must be requisitioned. Small planters neither have the land nor the capacity to create a food production sector that provides stable employment by the thousand, but they can be an important auxiliary to this large scale production, as can a new system of small allotment gardens for working class families.
* All support to cane must be stopped and channelled towards food production and transformation, both agricultural and fishing (canned, transformed further into meals, soups and sauces, freeze-dried production, etc). This will require new factories on all sugar estates using existing infrastructure;
* Extension and development of Agricultural Marketing Board, Food and Agricultural Research and Extension Institute (FAREI), Rose Belle S.E. and other public infrastructure and services to support the new land and sea food production sector providing employment by the thousand in the public sector.
* All privatisation plans must be stopped, privatised entities re-nationalised so that there is democratic accountability and control over them. This must begin with housing; the NHDC, a private company, for instance, must be replaced by a CHA-type entity so that social housing is ensured.
Democratic control over the economy
In the coming budget, the workers’ movement must ensure that, this time round, we do not fall into the trap of the government and bosses to limit trade-union demands to “social” measures while bosses keep a monopoly over “economic” measures. It is the working class that produces and that constitutes “the economy”, it is the working class that has fought off COVID 19 and yet it is the working class that is bearing the brunt of the crisis.
We must not stay on the defensive. We must avoid just aiming for work to be “like it was before”. We must counter-attack, as a whole class. It is time we work towards democratic control over the economic plan to face the crisis. It is time for us to work towards democratic control over the economy. And this starts with a program that unifies the working class for such control.
Alain Ah-Vee and Rajni Lallah