(This article appeared in L'Express, on 4 April, 2006.)
While Labour MP's like Cader Sayed Hossen and Neeta Deerpalsing still make their left-wing speeches against grand capital, on Friday Minister for Agro-Industry Arvind Boolell announces without "pudeur" that the European "accompagnement" money will be used to destroy jobs instead of creating them. He says it just like that. This is the worst scenario for the people of the country.
Not only that: but in the meantime, the Government will give the sugar industry "companies" (grand capital) a bridging loan so they can destroy the jobs through more Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS) and Blueprint layoffs, and then when the European money comes in, it will go straight into repaying this very same debt of the sugar companies.
LABOUR CONSOLIDATES GRAND CAPITAL
Could anything conceivably be more in favour of grand capital than using Rs 23 billion to consolidate the sugar companies? And the corollary is even worse: could anything conceivably be more against the interests of working people than using Rs 23 billion for the outright destruction of jobs?
So the Labour Party now has people who continue even after the electoral campaign to speak "left", like a dog's tail wagging blissfully one way, while the whole Labour creature moves firmly "right", i.e. in the opposite direction. Taking its tail with it (1). And on economic questions, it is not easy for Labour to move further to the right than it has been since the mid-1960's, by which time the Advance Group led by Ramgoolam Snr. and representing big planters, traders and rising professionals, had taken it over thoroughly from its more working class 1936 program.
LABOUR GIVES ENERGY PRODUCTION OVER TO GRAND CAPITAL
Labour is not only floating the sugar industry companies, but is also subsidizing them to become major energy producers. Grand capital will be even more grand. In all this Labour is following very closely in the footsteps of the Berenger regime that got so thoroughly beaten in the last elections precisely because of these pro-capitalist policies.
LABOUR GIVES TOURISM OVER TO GRAND CAPITAL
In another way Labour follows the MMM closely. Through the Integrated Resorts Scheme deals which allow the destruction of agricultural land and all sorts of concessions for chopping it up and selling it off, the Government will now continue to make the same companies even more "major players" in tourism than they already are. Grand capital, which should be feeling threatened by the loss of protected markets, hasn't had such a good deal from the State since French rule.
JOB INSECURITY FOR THE PEOPLE OF MAURITIUS
And the people of the country haven't ever faced the insane level of livelihood insecurity they face now. It is perhaps not surprising that there has been a shocking implosion of intra-familial violence. Families are in a massive crisis already. Their futures seem without hope. Heavily in debt, no longer having access to land for planting or animal rearing, with the extended family and "la cour" solidarity much weakened, working people now watch jobs - their only source of sustenance - become insecure and then be destroyed. It is happening in all sectors. Most commentators just mask the crisis. In Sunday's L'Express, Jean Claude de L'Estrac, however, draws attention to the extreme gravity of the economic crisis ahead.
What, in France, is causing mass demonstrations is precisely this job insecurity threat. In Mauritius, job insecurity is hitting all the main sectors, while prices rise.
SUGAR INDUSTRY DESTROYS JOBS
First, the sugar industry, which has monopoly control over most of the land and much of the capital, and which was never more than a colonial supplier for metropolitan demand in a protected market, is now being allowed to destroy jobs. The sugar bosses have said it aloud: they want the few labourers they intend keeping to become purely seasonal. They will give work for the cane-cutting season, then, as it was until the 1964 victories, announce: "Poze, Bonom!"
FREE ZONE REACHES EXPIRY DATE
Second, the Export Processing Zone has come to the bankruptcy Lalit predicted it was headed for from its inception. All it ever was was an investment with an expiry date, instead of any number of alternative investments with long-term futures.
TOURISM'S FRAGILITY EXPOSED BY CHIKUNGUNYA
Third, the tourism industry is showing up its inherent fragility as it reels from the beginning of a Chikungunya epidemic. People on hotel contracts are already finding their jobs gone.
CIVIL SERVICE NOT EVEN FILLING VACANCIES
And fourth, Minister of Finance Sithanen has announced that civil service vacancies will be left unfilled.
PRICES RISE WHILE THE PRIVATE SECTOR CONTROLS FOREIGN EXCHANGE
The rupee is no longer under democratic control. Foreign exchange is controlled by the private sector now. This means the rupee is depreciating rapidly, causing prices to rise.
OIL PRICES RISE
World-wide oil prices are very high, and may get higher. While developed countries invest massively in wave energy, solar energy, wind energy, Mauritius remains stuck mainly in fossil fuels.
And it is wrong to think there are no alternatives. There are all kinds of alternatives.
1 Use the European "accompagnement" money to create jobs not destroy jobs. Jobs need especially to be created in agriculture and new agro-industries.
2 Legislate so as to force the sugar companies to stop acting like "rentiers" and to develop interline cropping throughout their hectares and hectares of cane land. The MSIRI (Le Mauricien 10 March) has shown that by coupling two cane rows together sugar extraction rates, themselves, can be higher than with the usual equidistant rows. All that's needed is to ensure that the bigger space allows a row for interline cropping. In the past only once every seven years, when the cane does not just regrow from its old root, but is re-planted anew, was interline cropping used. The Estates can either employ people to work in diversification, or, if not, cede the land to metayers who can work it. Crops like potatoes, tomatoes, beans, peanuts, peas, soya, sunflower, maize have all been tried and do work. When there is no longer much market for sugar, markets can be created for other produce. The Government should change the Sugar Authority into an Optimal Land Utilization Authority, which can then provide the research and planning for this massive diversification.
3 Government should stop glibly giving permits to the Sugar Estates to close down a sugar mill. Instead, they should be granted a permit to use their existing infra-structure (building, roads, electricity connections, water, telecom lines) and invest in some other form of agro-industry, processing, preserving, transforming, or creation of new products. If the sugar estates themselves do not want to do this, the infrastructure should be given over to workers to run co-operative agricultural processing plants.
4 The legislation on Blueprint and VRS should be amended so as to ensure that each worker gets an arpent of land on lease for agricultural diversification, to be worked collectively.
5 Government must go ahead and seek out markets (as it does for hotel owners), organize storage (as it does for VRAC), plan agricultural credit for other agricultural and agro-industrial production (as is done all over the world), and put in place the same kind of insurance for cyclones and drought that cane planters have had for years.
6 Government should legislate at once for Mauritius to become a niche market for GMO-free products. This will have positive spin-offs for tourism. After the tragic failure of the trials using GMO medicines in which 6 healthy British men unexpectedly fell critically ill, GMO-free products will be even more demanded. They already fetch higher prices.
7 Government should stop giving permits that entail destroying agricultural land, especially prime land, to make way for buildings or unproductive and risky IRS projects.
8 Government must invest in and encourage massive investment in fish farming, and industrial, ecologically planned fishing.
9 Government must invest in and encourage massive investment in wave and tide energy, solar energy and wind energy. This will involve setting up some kind of Renewable Energy Development Authority, not just relying on the Sugar Estates to produce expensive energy from cane (bagasse or ethanol).
10 Government should use existing infrastructure (like school buildings) for mass courses in scientific farming, fish farming and industrial fishing for school leavers as well as workers laid off in sugar and textiles.
11 Government must take control of foreign exchange back from the private sector to stop provoked rupee devaluation.
INTERIM NEED FOR UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFIT
But there will need to be an interim measure so that people can stay alive, and be hopeful for the future. This is the twelfth measure:
12 We need an "unemployment benefit" for everyone without a job. This will also put constant pressure on the Government and on the bosses to in fact create jobs.
Putting people first means creating jobs, preferably secure jobs, failing which, granting unemployment benefit to provide the security all human beings need.
Ram Seegobin & Lindsey Collen
for LALIT, 2 April 2006.
(1) Simile borrowed from Jean Claude Bibi's analysis of the MMM's Lel Gos in the 70's.