Let us look for a minute at the different reality confronting different classes right now during the Novel Coronavirus crisis. Although there have been no new local cases of Covid for five months, this does not mean there is no crisis. Mauritius is isolated, jobs are down, the tourist industry stagnates and it is not easy to find a way to open the borders to tourists while the pandemic rages in countries they hail from. It is thus impossible to have a demand just to “relans lekonomi” and “uver frontyer” as demanded by a leader at the Port Louis demonstration of 29 August.
Understanding the different reality that faces different classes may help us to understand huge street demonstrations forming around unknown, unclear or shifting demands, and around an unknown caudillo, Bruneau Laurette. There has been near-universal agreement that the demonstrations were attended by, and led by, the middle classes and even big bosses, and that people coalesced around the empty or worse demand to simply “B... li deor!” whoever or whatever “li” is. Understanding what reality different classes face can, in turn, help us work towards something positive coming out of peoples’ desire to act. But, for this outcome, we need to understand what class interests are at stake. (1) We are presenting the following analysis developed during a series of Lalit party meetings, including branch meetings all over the country.
The capitalist class, led vocally by the hotel bosses, wants borders opened. (Definition we are using of the capitalist class is investors who control large amounts of capital.) In addition, it feels ignored by Government. As Gilbert Espitalier Noel, Beachcomber boss put it: “Je pense, effectivement, qu’il y a un manque de réunions structurées et régulières gouvernement-secteur privé.” (3)
Even with seven whole months for them to consider diversifying their investments out of tourism, the hotel bosses as a class, have done nothing whatsoever, to our knowledge, to plant food crops, to move to invest in a proper fishing industry over the 2.4 million square kilometres’ Exclusive Economic Zone, or to set up food processing factories for both agriculture and fishing. They stick to their fragilized hotels industry like bags of salt.
The hotel bosses have even endured the humiliation of being dependent on the Government to pay their workers, and to foot the hotel bill for quarantined returning Mauritians staying at their hotels. And then they are picking up literal bail-outs from the Government’s Mauritius Investment Corporation, “Il faut donc qu’une institution de l’État, donc la MIC, intervienne...” as Espitalier Noel put it. And this class supports the demonstrations.
Meanwhile, almost all the finance capitalists, the banks in particular, are struggling with internal scandals. The whole offshore industry is on “hold”, suspended from the EU’s list of acceptable offshores, if there is such a thing. After a number of Ponzi schemes collapsed and the Super Cash Back Gold scheme did, too, and now after three banks have been under investigation (SCB, MCB and AfrAsia) over the NMC Health collapse which involves another three (ABC, BANK One and BCP), (4) finance capital’s reputation is in tatters. Some banks have lent too much to failing sectors.
The sugar cane bosses continue to hog the totality of the land for a lame-duck industry, relying on mobilization of small planters as a social base to maintain government subsidies. Again, the capitalists show no bold moves towards producing essential crops, nor towards employing people. They just sit on the land, and, if Pierre Noel is anything to go by, encourage their l’état major employees to mock others with colonial disdain, while preparing for the demonstration of 29th, announced at the end of the video clip that a fan of his presumably circulated. Of course, the Voice of Hindu leader went to the police. Mr. Noel, to his credit, apologized.
Because of orders from abroad drying up with Covid, the textile factories are closing one by one, even big, old factories like “Textile” is laying off workers.
Capitalists who have de-localized, becoming small-size imperialists by investing abroad in sugar cane and textiles, are now faced with closed borders. This also causes some champing at the bit from non-hotel bosses.
Capitalists accustomed to shopping in Dubai with their families of a week-end, are reduced to having an expensive fling in a local hotel open for Friday-Saturday-Sunday sprees. Instead of spending a week in London, they book a whole hotel for their extended family. No lie. But, for them, this local fling is not as good as going abroad. So, they, too champ at the bit.
With all this, the capitalist class is having difficulty getting consensus around a single, clear political line, other than “open the borders”. Each ideologue has a different approach, as does each association of bosses, from Business Mauritius to AHRIM. One thing is in common: they are furious with the Government. The epidemic has given the State powers over them, the actual ruling class. This is rare. It only happens in times of sudden changes in the balance of class forces: like the end of slavery, the introduction of universal suffrage, getting independence, now when the powers of the state change because of the country being struck by a pandemic.
But, for all that, as we all know, the capitalist class does have a “projet de société”.
Its “projet de sociéte” is clear for all to see: a few people in society, i.e. they, themselves in the capitalist class, acting “in the best interests of all”, control and decide on what to do with the near totality of land cleared and capital produced by past generations. So, they invest this capital. They take risks with it. They give jobs. They cream off the profit and interest. And this they pass on to their heirs. And, because it all “works” and they already run it, they say “Let us stick with capitalism”, and hopefully more and more scraps may fall from their tables for the rest of us, they reassure us. It has been a very creative and destructive rule, capitalism has, for the past 200-250 years. And it persists world-wide, if in crisis mode.
It is such a crisis that we saw individuals from various sectors of the bourgeoisie actually participating in the demonstration of 29 August. Pere Labour says so. He even speaks in their name. (2) But more importantly, the bourgeoisie got a spokesman amongst organizers: this is how Patrick Belcourt had the big crowd roar in agreement when he shouted from the microphone, “Bizin uver frontyer!” “Open up the borders!” after “Relans lekonomi!” as if you could just go back to how it was before. He called for conditions for reopening to be published at once. This was the exact demand of the hotel bosses.
And Prime Minister Jugnauth responded at once, in his address to the nation after the march. So, for the bourgeoisie, the demonstration of 29th was a success.
It is important to note that the broad masses of the people present at the demonstration had no conscious knowledge that they were in the demonstration on the basis of such a demand. They were present mostly because they were genuinely upset about the oil spill, pained at the suffering of dolphins, worried about the future, fed up with uncertainty, scared of looming unemployment, separated from family members abroad, and with other sources of anguish. And it was mainly the petty bourgeoisie present, as a class. Rezistans on 18 September, or three weeks after the march, dissociated from the demand to open the borders.
After the second demonstration, Bruneau Laurette publicly thanked “the private sector” for its support.
So, the capitalist class is struggling now to maintain its old entitlement, and it is not satisfied with the present bourgeois state helping it.
And in crises like this one, cracks appear in unlikely places. For example, between the bourgeoisie and its own top rank employees in the tourist industry. These managers consider themselves to be “bosses”, and most of us refer to them as “patron” – and then all of a sudden, they learn the hard way that they are not bosses. The real boss can impose a cut of 33% or even 50% on their big monthly wages. Or, if they argue, sack them. So, the capitalists get isolated from their closest allies, those managers not in the possessing class. This is very destabilizing for the bourgeoisie, especially at a time when they are taking on the State. They have to resort to things like supporting demonstrations, and encouraging their managerial class to be active in them.
The bourgeoisie feels it does not have any party to stand up for it loud and clear. So, while it is against the MSM in power now, it is also loath to support the Labour Party, the PMSD or the MMM. They are in danger of getting into a “scorched earth” mode, supporting someone like Bruneau Laurette who they don’t even know.
The Working Class
The working class in Mauritius, the hugely majority class, has had to face massive shifts in the past 10 or more years. (Definition of working class we are using: people who live off income from present jobs or, for pensions, past work.)
The main problem is there is not secure, long-term work. And this is due to there not being enough production in the country to produce jobs. Because of the Government having closed down the CHA, while the price of land has rocketed, there is a massive housing problem.
Job creation in the civil service and parastatals, where there are the best-paid jobs for low-income workers, has been dammed down, under constant political pressure from the bourgeoisie and economic pressure from IMF-World Bank.
The sugar cane bosses have got rid of the quasi totality of their permanent workers by giving them a bit of land for a house and a lump sum. Agricultural work is mechanized, mills centralized to three. It lives off either over-exploiting workers abroad in poorer countries or from Government subsidies. It invests in the worst of all enterprises: real estate. It now pays its debts by selling the people of Mauritius’ land, which it treats, with Government permission, as its own completely private property, to millionaires and billionaires world-wide for villas and golf courses – both of no use to anyone else.
Workers in trades in small workshops (electricians, carpenters, shoemakers, print workers, tailors, dress makers) were already mostly wiped out by globalization, and those few left became medium sized enterprises that are now in dire straits. Many have debts for machinery they invested in, or for an essential little lorry.
Factory jobs have shrunk from over 100,000 to less than 50,000. And during confinement, lay-offs continued, and are still continuing now.
Hotel workers are all being paid by Government during the epidemic, and they live in trepidation of no job in the future. Those on the periphery of the tourist industry are also without income. Those in the South East where the sea has been affected by the Wakashio oil spill are in further stress. Thousands of workers from cruise ships and working class jobs abroad have been repatriated.
Fisherfolk have seen their catches shrinking, while the Government has done nothing to develop the kind of fishing industry the 2.4 million square kilometre Exclusive Economic Zone demands. Land and jobs near the sea have become scarce, working families squashed out by encroaching IRS-type gated communities behind them, and fish farms in front of them.
Small planters of food crops have little state support, and face the vagaries of the weather and climate change, pests, pestilences and plant illnesses, robbers and water shortages, without the dozens of parastatal bodies that supported and still support cane. Planters have to abandon tomatoes in their fields because of gluts.
Half the working class is now working for a small enterprise of some sort, with no real work conditions. Other workers have, themselves, become fragilely self-employed with their BRN, Business Registration Number, if nothing else.
Organization within the working class is difficult. There is constant repression against union delegates. So, the working class is relatively weak right now. And robots threaten to take over more and more jobs, up into the higher echelons of the working class.
The working class was nevertheless strong enough to get the Jugnauth regime to adopt a safety-net approach to the welfare state, on which it was elected 10 months ago. This safety net has continued to act like a shock absorber for the working class against the worst shocks. To summarize: There is now a minimum wage. Workers say how this has transformed their lives. We quote from one woman branch member, but this is current parlance, “Mo ti pe tus Rs 6,500, ti bizin fer overtaym ziska tar pu gayn ase larzan pu manze mo zanfan. Asterla, mo gayn Rs10,200 san overtaym. Mo tuzur sey gard mo bidze lor Rs Rs6,500 par mwa.” There are still universal old-age, widows’, and disabled peoples’ pensions, doubled by the MSM, and acting as a shock absorber for families right through the working class. And the Social Register of Mauritius, a kind of “poor law” arrangement of a paternalistic nature, has also shielded the “very poor” to some extent. And of course, universal free education and health care is of vital importance to the working class, as is free transport for all those on universal pensions. Working people, from villages to cité, from coastal towns to urban areas, are quite conscious of all this. It is only the elites that seem blithely ignorant of it, or if they acknowledge it, it is to oppose it.
Indeed, the capitalists and the middle class do not agree with this safety net Jugnauth has instituted. They are furious about it, and oppose it vigorously, saying it is them that is paying for it, not Jugnauth. We quote from the moaning of a LALIT member’s direct superiors at work in the private sector, but it is current parlance, “We do not use the free education system. We pay for private education. We do not use the free hospital system. We pay for clinics, etc. and pay for insurance. We do not use free bus transport or Metro. We pay for our own cars. And now, you are going to tax those of us earning over Rs50,000 a month for the Contribution Sociale Generalisée?” Capitalists are also furious about this tax designed to pay for the increase in universal pensions promised at the November elections.
The working class is certainly not in the leadership of the mass demonstrations – most unions have stayed right out, and all class-conscious workers have been extremely cautious of, even abstemious of, the demonstrations – and this is not by chance. “U konn li?” they ask others, referring to the Bruneau Laurette demonstration of 29 August, “U konn li?”
The working class, as we know, can have, and indeed has, in the past, had a clear vision of what kind of society it wants. And these demonstrations have not yet given any proper body to this vision. Working class organizations and workers with experience recognize this, and they see the dangers of this kind of movement without a proper, consciously adopted, program.
We know that the working class has always kept its “projet de société’ alive, even in these dark times. The vision that everyone could be equal and that the capital produced essentially by past working classes under various types of draconian legal frameworks for extracting labour (slavery, indenture, wage slavery) can be, and must be, collectively controlled one day. This needs democracy to develop to a high degree in the political sphere.
Here is a list of the kind of working class demands that need voice:
- The Land Question: Use the land and use the sea to produce food, for people to eat, and for export, in particular in the region. This will create jobs for thousands. It can be planned, in part, around proper integrated villages with self-sustaining agriculture. It can produce much-needed foreign exchange. Some land must also be used for housing for all. Forests must be protected. Agriculture must be varied and gradually made free from all pesticides and herbicides. The cane mono-crop must be phased out, by legislation if the bosses refuse to diversify.
- Jobs: Everyone must have a job, or a regular monthly income.
- Housing for all! There must be the choice to rent for life! This avoids the conflicts of “lakaz zeritye” that is so harmful to working class family harmony. We must get asbestos housing replaced now! This is a housing and an environmental problem. Government must open up a Register for Housing Applications!
- Develop the bureaux sanitaires for vast contact-tracing capacity and for other prevention, and the hospitals and dispensaries must be expanded, as we move towards universal health care for all, including the elite.
- End the military occupation of part of the Republic, the US base on Diego Garcia must be closed down and cleaned up – this is the biggest and worst pollution problem in the country. Environmentalists need to get on board.
- The mother tongue as medium in education, for high level cognitive development and respect for Mauritian culture, including working class culture; Mauritian Kreol must be allowed in Parliament.
- Tertiary education for all!
- Over-haul the laws on sexual assault along the lines proposed by MLF in the program “Sexual Assault is Assault: Consent is All! Excessive Punishment is Bad Strategy!”
- End the police interference in women’s reproduction!
- Modernize laws on matrimony; marriage between any two adults over 18; assumption of separation de biens, unless another contract; divorce on formal request without needing to pay lawyers.
- Electoral reform to decrease the power of the executive relative to the elected Parliament, and to give the right to recall at all levels; an MP each for Agalega and Chagos; to be able to dispense with communal classification by enlarging each constituency to four MPs plus some 20 on PR.
- No to repression as an answer to social problems.
- No to police and prison officer violence. Introduce protocols to end the masking of police and prison violence.
- Freedom of information for all people in the country, including for the press and media.
- Government should at once legislate to separate banks into two kinds: peoples’ banks and investment banks, with no link between the two allowed. (5)
The only political party that clearly puts forward a program in favour of the working class, and in favour of a classless society that will, evidently, be in everyone’s favour in the long run, is Lalit.
All the other parties, the Labour Party, MMM, PMSD, Bhadain, Rezistans, 100% Citoyens, were happy to go along with a demonstration without a program at all, let alone one clearly in the interests of working people.
But, the fact remains, the working class, as a class, does have its own “projet de société” just as the capitalist class has its own.
The Middle Classes
But, the middle classes, pov diab, or more precisely, in Marxist terms, the “petit-bourgeoisie” – all the in-between classes – have, as a class, no “projet de société” at all. They cannot have because their interests vacillate and change, conflict and converge constantly. Individuals can join a party and share a projet de société, but their class cannot imagine a projet de société in its image.
When capital is strong, they hang on to its coat-tails. When it falters, as it does now with the Covid epidemic, they fall into despair.
Their predicament is indeed often dire. They are in pain. As Cardinal Piat puts it, “pe sufer”. Hotel managers, at the top end of the middle classes, may seem to other mortals to be very secure on a pay of Rs300,000 per month, or 30 times more than the minimum wage, even once their boss reduces their wage to “just” Rs200,000 or 20 times the minimum wage. This can and does provoke real problems for them. Their monthly outlay (on house and car repayments, insurance, domestic workers and private schooling for two or three children) might be Rs200,000 per month, leaving them, after the wage cut, “penniless”. How can this predicament, however much “sufrans” it genuinely causes, produce a “projet de société” with generalized popular support?
Indeed after the Ponzi schemes of recent years collapsed, many in this bracket had already lost their reserve money. They sought higher interest rates, and fell into traps. Others lost their savings in big deposits in the Super Cash Back Gold scheme. Others, faced with near zero interest rates, can no longer depend on bank interest. Land prices have risen so high that they can’t pay for the kind of house they expect. And now, while the SCB has a Rs800 million debt over the NMC Health collapse, the MCB has lost the same amount of what appears to be private investors’ money.
Young people in the middle class, thinking they would just go study and live abroad, can no longer bank on this. The borders are closed. Suddenly, they have to think what to do. Suddenly they find there’s been no investment in job-creation. They had never thought of that.
They all, as the petit-bourgeois class, feel let down, abandoned, betrayed by the Government. They are desperate. But their suffering cannot easily be exposed on a loud-speaker. What sympathy would the broad masses of the people have for people compaining about now only earning 20 times more than they do? They would have to reply as to why exactly it is that government schools are good enough for everyone else, but not for them. What would they say? What is so special about them? They would have to reply as to why government hospitals are good enough for everyone else but not for them. Their class position, as such, is painful, but their suffering can’t be spelt out. Usually, as a class, they do not look far ahead. They can only see as far as “B... li deor!” – never mind the sexual violence implied.
So, it was not surprising that the main slogan of both demonstrations, the 29 August and 12 September, led, as they were, by the capitalist and middle classes, was just that, “B ... li deor!” That empty. That confused. That sexually violent.
They feel that the MSM does not care about them. The MSM looks after the poor, they think, and the capitalists look after themselves. While they suffer. They are also left with no other criticism of the MSM than its corruption galopante i.e. they, individually, did not get a nomination, a contract, a small tender, a big promotion, because someone else pulled strings. The Labour Party, MMM, PMSD have not, so far, been able to capitalize on these grievances – because these parties are, it is correct to say, the same, the very same, in programmatic terms as the MSM and, for that matter, in terms of nepotism.
So, those are the main class forces at work.
As the crisis worsens, and it will, the need for food security (in agriculture and a fishing industry and food preservation and transformation) will become evident. Working class demands to create jobs, increase production, export to the region for foreign exchange will all become clear. The need for social housing will become clear to all, as indeed it is becoming clear. And, as suffering increases, the demand for equality will also become clearer and more pressing. Again this is a working class demand.
We call on everyone who wants a future in more equality, in class equality, to join us in LALIT in doing the painstaking work we are already doing, of organizing people in all the villages and all the cité. So that they have a voice and can act behind this kind of program. It is not enough to just be in a union or association. We need to build a political will behind a political program that can move society out of the severe pending crisis ahead.
(1) We have, in an earlier article, looked at some of the imperialists’ vested interests, in particular the fury of the UK-USA alliance with the Mauritian state, after Navin Ramgoolam’s government won the UNCLOS judgment against them, even with the Wikileaks cables exposing the ruse of a Marine Protected Area; and then even more so after the ICJ case and the UN General Assembly humiliation, as well as being accused of “a crime against humanity” by Pravind Jugnauth. We forget this at our peril as a people.)
(2) Le Mauricien 7 Sep 2020
(3) Weekly 17 Sep 2020
(4) This was exposed at the end of last year by Carson Block of Muddy Waters.
(5) After the collapse of finance capital in 1929, such laws were introduced everywhere, most famously in the USA where FD Roosevelt signed in the Glass Steagall Act passed.