May Day has over the past three or four years seen a new LALIT tradition. Members, supporters and their families gather, to evaluate where we are in the struggle for socialism, to put forward demands, to celebrate labour and to enjoy being together. Four other organizations join us in organizing this gathering, the Muvman Liberasyon Fam, Ledikasyon pu Travayer, Labaz Intersindikal, and Federasyon Playgroup.
Labour Day had become increasingly problematic for LALIT, before we developed this tradition. It is well nigh impossible to get public transport on Labour Day because the bourgeois parties hire the quasi totality of the buses in the country, and buses are the only form of public transport in the country, and these parties then "bus" people from every village and working class city area to their respective outdoor meetings, where they harangue them with a mix of workerist demagogy and pure trash, prior to sending them off on a free beach picnic with deks of biriani, Kentucky fried chicken and drink provided in the bus. The numbers present (or the numbers the media indicate were present) at different meetings then "proves", macho fashion, who is strongest, and who will thus be in a better position to get allies so as to win the next general election, in two or three years' time. The three main bourgoeis parties, the Labour Party, the Mouvement Militant Mauricien, the Mouvement Socialiste Mauricien, spend over a million rupees on the exercise, on the buses, the food and drink, the sound systems, and paying their local agents. This money comes directly from the private sector bosses and sugar oligarchs. The MSM has additional income from rental of space in the office block that it built in Port Louis centre, with Rs 56 million "left over" from an electoral campaign funded by the private sector.
The trade unions met in three different places. There were modest demonstrations by one section from St. Jean to Belle Rose and by another in Quatre Bornes, and there was a gathering in Beau Bassin organized by some unions with two political groups.
This year's Labour Day had the additional feature with the presence of an ethno-religious caudillo called Father Gregoire gathering thousands of people, many working class, on an ethno-religious platform. He, too, is funded by the private sector. The biggest daily newspaper, L'Express announced last week that an industrialist has been given him two floors of a building right in the centre of Port Louis, and that they have been made fully functional.
The MSN (ex-Hizbullah) gathered people at Khadafi Square on another communalist platform.
Other fairly mainstream parties like the PMSD (ex-sugar oligarch main party), Fraternel/Verts, which is workerist, and the PAL, which is eclectic, met at Curepipe, Choisy and Rosebelle respectively. One interesting comment made by the Fraternel/Verts party which is part of the Government alliance, is that Father Gregoire is supported by the Catholic Church and the private sector because the Social Alliance Government headed by the Labour Party is setting up the Truth and Justice Commission to dig upand expose the truth about slavery and indenture, and perhaps equally importantly to look into the land question, which the Church and private sector, he says, want at all costs to avoid.
THE LALIT GATHERING
So, it was against this background that LALIT branch members all over the main Island of Mauritius pooled their resources and hired a local mini-bus to get from their neighbourhood to LALIT's headquarters in Grand River North West for our gathering. Everyone arrives with some food already prepared and/or soft drinks and this all goes into a central pool for lunch time. And this is now becoming a new, flexible tradition.
This year the main speaker for LALIT was Alain Ah-Vee who gave a strong analysis of LALIT's theme for May Day, "Job Creation, Food Security and Price Control". He situated his inspiring speech in the context of both LALIT's campaign for an alternative political economy and the world food crisis, which will hit Mauritius very hard. Alain Ah-Vee showed the clairvoyance of LALIT in quoting from the 1983 LABREZ program, in which we were already working towards the critique of the sugar oligarchy and its State apparatus that we now have and that is so spot-on.
Cultural events between the speeches were of a very high level this year, reaching a peak with the unaccompanied singing of Marlene, Rajni and Kisna of Georges Moustaki's "Revolution Permanente". Kiki performed a beautiful rendition of a Mary Ann Both-John song in Kreol accopanied by Rajni. There could not have been a better homage on May Day to the singer who died recently. Marlene also sang a Sandra Mayotte song. A group of children from Plaisance who come to the annual May Day event performed a street hip-hop number, full of creative acrobatics. As their CD didn't want to play on the player we had, they performed to the rhythmic clapping of the audience. And Alain M, accompanied by his guitar, while Rajni played the piano sang an old cane labourers' song with great beauty in its humour. Two Brecht poem adaptations into Kreol were read by Yann and Jean Yves. You could have heard a pin drop. Another cultural event was the distribution of the new Alain Ah-Vee designed poster with the slogan "Akoz peniri alimanter BIZIN PLANT MANZE lor later tablisman" (because of the food crisis, FOOD CROPS MUST BE PLANTED on sugar estate land). As well as the poster-campaign following the usual pattern, each person present took 5 to paste up "on his or her doorstep", meaning very near where they live.
International messages were received from working class and socialist organizations in South Africa, the United States, Australia, Germany and the UK. These were translated, explained and commented on (in two batches) by Cindy Clelie and Ram Seegobin. There were also messages from organizations in Mauritius read out by Ragini Kistnasamy.
Reeaz Chuttoo gave his message from the Fron Travayer Sekter Prive in person. He said that he felt the working class, and the unions he is involved in, are in an "impasse" and find themselves in "confusion". For example, he said, many union leaderships say they are against targetting of social benefits, but give in and support them. Others refuse to take on the issue of income tax being more in favour of workers than indirect taxes like VAT. He said that he and the unions he works with would like to share ideas with LALIT. Jane Ragoo, representing the Wood, Metal and Construction Workers Union said that workers and women, as workers and as housekeepers, were anxious about the impending food shortages but have no access to land on which to plant. This question, she said, needs to be addressed.
Lindsey Collen, who was co-presiding with Ally Hosenbokus, accepted Reeaz Chuttoo's invitation to share ideas, and said LALIT agrees that the land question, like the question of control of capital, are questions that must be addressed, and addressed now.
Rada Kistnasamy, speaking for LPT, said that since 1980 LPT had been concerned about the future dangers of sticking to monoculture of cane. He showed the comic booklet produced by LPT "Manze pu Lepep", and other booklets used in LPT literacy courses, and which address the food question.
Sadna Jumnoodoo for MLF and Saresh Veeramalay for Federasyon Playgroup both said how their associations had taken up the LALIT campaign for an alternative economy, which meant producing different crops from cane, i.e. food crops, transforming and preserving them, and also posing the question of ownership and control of land.
Present were Martine Mavisa with her 13-day old baby and Ms. Paulo Ninan who is 87. This gives an idea of the age spread. When people took their posters for pasting up, and their leaflets to distribute (amongst family members, work colleagues, neighbours, in addition to main artery distribution), they called out which area they come from, and Ally Hosenbokus filled in their neighbourhood on a map of Mauritius, Rodrigues and Agalega.
Before the shared lunch, everyone sang the Linternasyonal.