Labour Day

May 1st has become a tamasha for political parties for gauging their strength. But come the ballot day, the people do what they think they have to do…

It is well known that Labour Day is an annual holiday to celebrate the achievements of workers. It has its origins in the labour union movement, specifically the eight-hour day movement, which advocated eight hours for work, eight hours for recreation, and eight hours for rest.

For most countries, Labour Day is synonymous with, or linked with, International Workers’ Day, which occurs on 1st May. For other countries, Labour Day is celebrated on a different date, often one with special significance for the labour movement in that country. For example, in Canada and the United States, Labour Day is celebrated on the first Monday of September.

Labour Day is a public holiday in many countries, as it is here. It was celebrated for the first time in Mauritius on 1st May 1938, and for the first time as an official public holiday on 1st May 1950. This was thanks largely to the efforts of Guy Rozemont, Dr Maurice Curé, Pandit Sahadeo and Emmanuel Anquetil, as a day of special significance for Mauritian workers who for many years had struggled for their social, political and economic rights. And, as we all can see for ourselves, that struggle is a never-ending one.

Workers, whether they were slaves, indentured labourers or serfs (during feudal times) were always considered to be beasts of burden by those whom they toiled for. The maximum of physical effort was expected, and extracted, out of them – and that too even without sufficient or proper food to keep themselves fit because they were not provided adequate means for this purpose.

They had to be up at the crack of dawn – and often the crack of a whip too – to begin their day before sunrise and go well past sunset. Rations were limited, living conditions were bare, and not much time was allowed for rest not to speak of leisure. Punishment was severe in case of absence for, say, illness – and not much by way of treatment was available to them – and their already meager wages were cut. There was little time for a proper family life.

When the industrial revolution came, this same mindset towards them continued, in the name of productivity and profit. Workers were exploited and kept downtrodden, and this is one of the major themes of the novels of Maxim Gorky, the great Russian novelist who wrote about their plight at the turn of the 19th century. Such inspired accounts, as also the published observations of Engels in England – land of the ‘satanic mills’ of Manchester – were what awakened progressives, contributed to the stirrings that led to the uprising of the worker class and the Bolshevik revolution as well as worker movements that spread around the world.

In Mauritius, May 1st has become a tamasha for the political parties for gauging their credibility and strength in view of future elections, although they and the electorate know that the sizes of crowds on that day do not necessarily predict future outcomes. And the irony is that meetings held by those who truly fight for the workers, namely the unions, have a poor assistance. It’s a paradox but probably the explanation is that most of the people just want a day out for fun, what with biryani and drinks provided for enjoyment on the beaches to where they free-ride on the buses provided. But come the ballot day, they do what they think they have to do…

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 The Chagos issue in Parliament

This paper has consistently canvassed for the right of return of Mauritians of Chagossian origin to their island, and took note of the PQ addressed by Mr Alan Ganoo, Honourable First Member for Savanne and Black River addressed to the Right Honourable Minister Mentor, Minister of Defence, Minister for Rodrigues, ‘Whether, in regard to the claim of sovereignty of Mauritius over the Chagos Archipelago, he will state where matters stand, including the written submissions on the question on which the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice has been requested thereon?’

In his reply, the Minister Mentor Sir Anerood Jugnauth reiterated the stand that ‘The Chagos Archipelago, including Diego Garcia, has always formed and continues to form an integral part of the territory of the Republic of Mauritius’.

Further, he said, ‘Mauritius does not recognise the so-called “British Indian Ocean Territory” which the United Kingdom purported to create by illegally excising the Chagos Archipelago from the territory of Mauritius prior to its accession to independence. The excision of the Chagos Archipelago was carried out in breach of international law and of United Nations General Assembly Resolution 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960 which prohibits the dismemberment of any colonial territory prior to independence’.

He alluded to ‘The wrongfulness of the dismemberment of the territory of Mauritius’ which ‘was recognised and confirmed in UN General Assembly Resolutions’(December 1965 and December 1967).

It follows therefore that, ‘In view of the illegal excision of the Chagos Archipelago, the decolonisation process of Mauritius remains incomplete. Government is sparing no effort to complete the decolonisation process of Mauritius so that Mauritius can effectively and fully exercise its sovereignty over the entirety of its territory, including the Chagos Archipelago’.

He went on to elaborate on the adoption by the UN General Assembly on 22 June 2017 ‘by an overwhelming majority Resolution 71/292, requesting an Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice on the legal consequences of the separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965’.

Giving further details, he added that ‘The International Court of Justice to which the request for an Advisory Opinion was transmitted adopted on 14 July 2017 an Order fixing time-limits for the filing of written submissions on the two questions put to the Court. The Court subsequently adopted on 17 January 2018 another Order to extend the time-limits’.

He stated that ‘Mauritius and 30 other States as well as the African Union have presented written statements to the International Court of Justice’ and that ‘Mauritius will submit, by 15 May 2018, written comments on the other written statements which have been presented to the International Court of Justice’. These written comments are ‘currently being prepared with the assistance of our external lawyers’.

The International Court of Justice is due to hold public hearings beginning 3 September 2018 in The Hague. Significantly, ‘All Member States of the United Nations have been invited to take part in the hearings, regardless of whether or not they have submitted written statements, and to indicate their intention to do so by 15 June 2018 to the Registry of the International Court of Justice’, and ‘Mauritius has already informed the Registry of the Court that it will take part in the hearings’.

This is definitely an encouraging development and we can only hope that the day is not far when the Chagossians will finally obtain justice.


* Published in print edition on 27 April 2018

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