As has been the case so many times in the past, people are biding their time for the day of reckoning. Broken pledges are never condoned by the people
All the political razzmatazz and hullaballoo dutifully aired on prime time MBC TV about the 1st May are thankfully behind us. It has yet again exposed the futility and senselessness of such costly political jamborees. What on earth is the purpose of transporting busloads of partisans at great costs from across the country for a pointless and inept show of contrived political strength on Workers’ Day? It also raises questions about the sources and identity of the donors of funds to finance such a costly extravaganza. What happens to any surplus funds? Would all these funds not have been more judiciously used to finance a worthy cause such as for example providing professional support, shelter, foster caring and an appropriate environment to say children suffering from domestic violence or ill treatment?
The 1st of May is the International Workers’ Day. It is above all a special day of celebration, solidarity and remembrance of the game changing milestones and achievements which have marked the workers’ arduous struggle for their rights and unwavering uphill battle for better conditions of work. In Mauritius, it is also a solemn day of commemoration of the seminal battle of workers, the anonymous foot soldiers, the workers’ leaders and the stalwarts who unswervingly fought to improve the conditions of work and livelihood of the workers of the sugar industry during the daunting period between 1936 and 1948. It is also a day of remembrance of the men and women workers who despite the tenuousness, vicissitudes and hardships of their livelihoods arduously fought and won past battles for their legitimate rights and improved conditions of work. The 1st of May is therefore a special day for workers and not a day for politicking, politicians or narrow party politics. It is also a day to value and honour the contribution of workers to the development of the country and renew the pledge of the nation for a fair sharing of the fruits of prosperity with the workers.
“Despite the pro worker rhetoric, some 74% of the employees of the private sector i.e. more than 233,000 persons earned up to Rs 15,000 in 2016 in a context of constantly eroding purchasing power. Similarly, while small sugar planters have been forced to abandon cane cultivation in large numbers owing to the non implementation of the MSPA-Government 2007 deal of agreed shareholding in the sugar cane cluster, falling sugar revenue and the continued production of loss making white refined sugar, some 82% of every costly bailout blithely tom-tommed by government as a small planter support measure benefit large producers owning more than 247 acres and millers…”
Politicians very often want to usurp and take credit for everything. Fortunately, the objective scrutiny of history unequivocally sifts the wheat from the chaff. Obsequious court scribes, fawning sycophancy or counterproductive daily government propaganda on national TV cannot change the impartial verdict of history. The wreath laying ceremony this year to in principle honour those who have resolutely championed the cause of the workers during their most trying moments in the past raises so many questions. Why was there such startling variance in the choice of the persons honoured by the different parties? A senior Minister when asked about the person he had just honoured by laying a wreath was unable to show light on his singular contribution to advance the cause of workers in the country. A tell-tale sign of the times?
The choice of those who have to be remembered and honoured on International Workers’ Day by the nation cannot be selective or chosen haphazardly. The choice has to be unanimous and rigorously based on historical research and documented evidence to arrive at a core list of the workers leaders and the stalwarts who steadfastly fought with the downtrodden workers during in particular the labour unrests in 1937 and 1943 and the 1947 strikes in the sugar industry for their rights and helped improve the dire conditions of work and livelihood prevailing before independence. This key exercise of research must also include those who fought for the workers thereafter and Aldolfe de Plevitz who resolutely fought for the trampled rights of the indentured labourers of the sugar industry as from 1870.
The young of the country must realize the importance of these game changing events which not only mobilized the oppressed workers to fight for their fundamental rights but also forced the colonial government to enact the key 1938 labour law which severed the yoke of the decried system of indenture and assured the protection of the payment of wages and working hours of workers through a newly set up Labour Department. A new Constitution which extended franchise to every literate adult was voted in response to the rising clamour for constitutional change. It led to the first general elections held in 1948 which was emphatically won by the Labour Party.
Imperative of teaching history
It is thus high time for the young of the country to know through the teaching of history in schools based on textbooks which meet the test of scholarly oversight and do not pander to selective amnesia, about the actions and narrative of the tribunes and trade union leaders who steadfastly fought with the downtrodden workers of the country for their rights and better conditions of work during those difficult moments of our history. These champions of workers’ rights who helped improve their conditions of work are role models and should inspire the young. There cannot therefore be any ambiguity about those whom the workers of the country and the nation celebrate and honour every year on Workers’ Day.
Workers’ Day should therefore not be hijacked by political parties. The MSM political rally on the 1st of May was thus like a wart, an incongruous razzmatazz. Despite the present disarray of the main opposition parties, it basically exposed its own fears and fragility in the absence of a formal mandate given by the people to the prime minister at the polls through a plebiscite. The popularity of a political party or a leader is established at the ballot box and not by costly busloads of citizens carted from across the country with the lure of the very wanton beat and revelry at party’s expense being decried in the political speeches. The stark hypocrisy of the holier than thou rhetoric against the backdrop of the array of scandals which have rocked the government from the outset is blatantly evident.
The independence of the country was won with the active and unstinted support of the workers of the country. They are de facto partners of government. Their interests and those of the multitude must be upheld fairly by government at all times. Independence was expected to bring about the required systemic reforms to establish a better socio-economic order, a level playing field for all and a fairer sharing of the fruits of prosperity with the workers and employees. Government was to act as a fair arbiter of very often conflicting interests, reduce inequalities, assure inclusive growth and continuously improve standards of living for all. The scale of the widening and structural inequalities in the country highlighted in the World Bank report ‘Mauritius Addressing Inequality through More Equitable Labor Markets’ released in March 2018 is an indictment of the incapacity and lack of clout of successive governments to act as a fair arbiter of in particular the interests of mainstream Mauritius, 50 years after independence.
Smell of revolt
There is patent evidence of double standards. Thus, despite the pro worker rhetoric, some 74% of the employees of the private sector i.e. more than 233,000 persons earned up to Rs 15,000 in 2016 in a context of constantly eroding purchasing power. Similarly, while small sugar planters have been forced to abandon cane cultivation in large numbers owing to the non implementation of the MSPA-Government 2007 deal of agreed shareholding in the sugar cane cluster, falling sugar revenue and the continued production of loss making white refined sugar, some 82% of every costly bailout blithely tom-tommed by government as a small planter support measure benefit large producers owning more than 100 hectares (247 acres) and millers.
Such policies and the crippling weight of widening inequalities are already sparking a pungent smell of revolt across the country. No amount of razzmatazz will allay the building ire. As has been the case so many times in the past, people are biding their time for the day of reckoning. Broken pledges are never condoned by the people.
* Published in print edition on 11 May 2018