At a big delegates meeting of the trade union movement held at the Octave Wiehe Auditorium at the University of Mauritius on Thursday 29 April, Union leaders one by one put forward their demands in the context of the coming General Elections, before giving the floor to the two main political Alliances and LALIT. Joy Beeharry spoke for the Labour Party Alliance and Veda Balamoody for the MMM Alliance, while Rajni Lallah spoke for LALIT. The auditorium was full of delegates from all the Confederations and Federations forming part of the newly formed Conseil des Syndicats. The atmosphere was quite tense as it is now only one clear day until the Labour Day mass political rallies that will have a decisive role in indicating how the General Election will go next Wednesday.
Jane Ragoo of the Confederation des Travailleurs du Secteur Privé presided the first part ably. The theme had been chosen with a lot of thought: "Action Program of Political Parties to improve the Working and Living Conditions of Workers and Citizens in general." The leaders of confederations gave level-headed speeches with a high degree of class consciousness, speeches mainly on clear working class demands. Cassam Kureeman spoke for the MLC, Deepak Benydin and Vinod Seegum spoke for the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions, Radakrishna Sadien and Ramesh Maudoo for the Confederation of Free Trade Unions, Gianduth Peeharry for the Federation of Progressive Unions, Reeaz Chuttoo for the CTSP, Toolsiraj Benydin for the National Trade Union Congress. Mala Taukoorchand spoke for women in the union movement.
The speeches by both Joy Beeharry and Veda Balamoody were bland and conciliatory, and there was some minor heckling from the floor. The new Labour Party tactic is to send someone who is neither a candidate now, nor an outgoing MP. Veda Balamoody put on record the MMM's objection to Labour sending a representative who was neither responsible in the past nor likely to be in the future.
After their speeches, Rajni Lallah gave a rousing and crystal-clear speech on the need for unity that is not just "unity", but unity based on a program. She outlined the way in which a program for an extra-parliamentary opposition is what LALIT is working towards and what the trade union movement needs to be part of. The aim, she said, is to look reality in the face, analyse it together so that we understand it, then link individual demands with our long term aims, and work out the forms of mobilization that will advance them. She said that "unity" was not just a question of the leaders working together, or even of delegates meeting together, important as this is, but of all the workers in all the organized sectors coming to share a common understanding of the tasks before us and to contribute to developing them. She explained the LALIT mo-dord for elections is to use your vote (not to abstain), to go and vote, but to put one big cross on the ballot paper as a sign that you reject the two major alliances politically.
A candidate from a minor party had requested the right to speak. The decision, taken just before the event, to let him speak, was perhaps erroneous, on principle, and this was compounded when he proceeded to talk about yoga and spiritualism. Toolsiraj Benydin, in the Chair, was perhaps not firm enough on him. The atmosphere of the event was thus spoilt, when the audience had to make a noise to get this self-appointed speaker to stop speaking off the subject.
When it came to question time, the first question from the floor was rather long, but this was remedied by three or four very pertinent questions by Rashid Imrith of the GGSU, carefully chosen to be on issues that would help workers to be able to change the balance of class forces in their favour. But after this, and before anyone could reply, there were further questions allowed, some of which also turned out quite long-winded, and one final one which criticized the two main Alliances, causing the two guests to get an excuse to get up and walk out. As the atmosphere in the Hall had deteriorated and time was, in any case up, the Chair had to close the meeting down on the spot.
Delegates rushed to get copies of the LALIT program from any LALIT member they could find as people slowly moved out into the foyer. And over lunch, the usual atmosphere of a calm workers' gathering was restored, and people discussed the coming elections and workers' struggles ahead.