MT 60 Years – 2nd Year No 56 – Friday 2 September 1955
When the Parti Mauricien held its meeting on June 19, M. Gabriel Marie spoke of trade unions and class warfare. He said : “La constitution des syndicats parfaitement saines est nécessaire… Ces syndicats ne doivent pas être sous aucune influence politique.” Later he invited workers to join the Parti Mauricien “pour faire cesser la lutte des classes”.
Two English Labour MPs, Mr Ellis Smith and Mr Frank Allaun, have just written a pamphlet ‘Your Union and You’ which effectively answers those who, like M. Marie, say a trade union should not go in for politics. They say that the “no politics” argument “is often peddled by someone who is pushing a strong conservative line himself”. They instance Sir Winston Churchill’s appeal at the Conservative line himself”. They instance Sir Winston Churchill’s appeal at the Conservative Party Conference 1953 to trade unions to keep clear of politics. Yet at the same Conference, the Conservative Party reported on its own activities within the trade unions. In other words — keep out of politics except Conservative politics. That is just what M. Marie is saying. He doesn’t like the Mauritius trade unions supporting the Mauritius Labour Party, but he would have no objection to those unions supporting the Parti Mauricien, and so dabbling in right-wing political activity. Or is M. Marie so naive as to suppose that it’s only politics when the Labour Party does it?
In any case, it’s no use saying that trade unions should have nothing to do with politics. Politics have very much to do with the unions! War and unemployment are political matters; surely it is the right, indeed the duty, of the unions, on behalf of their members who may be affected to take an interest in the government’s foreign policy — which may lead to war — and its economic policy — which may lead to unemployment. (Tory economic policies notoriously lead to industrial unrest).
And where do political matters end and industrial matters begin? The division is not clear-cut. Problems of unemployment are industrial matters, but if a government pursues policies which lead to unemployment (as the National Government in Britain in 1931-35), does that raise the problem from the industrial sphere to the political? What of food subsidies? Are they political or industrial? And the cost of living? Suppose the cost of living is a political issue — then how can a union, if it is not to interfere in political matters, put in a wage claim based on the cost of living going up?
M. Marie’s appeal for the unions to steer clear of politics is naive and not clever. In any case, he only means steer clear of politics which he doesn’t like. Political parties, he forgets, are broadly speaking representative of classes. The Labour Party stands for those who earn their living by themselves, by hand or brain. The Conservative Party or in Mauritius the Parti Mauricien, stands for those who get their living out of the work of someone else. The Parti Mauricien is the party of the well-to-do and its policy (time will prove) are based on the demands of the vested interests of the employers, the capitalists and the sugar barons. The Conservative Parties of the world are everywhere the Parties of the industrialists, the landowners and the landlords.
Say Messrs Smith and Allaun: “The whole history of the working-class for the last 150 years shows that, if they are to win full emancipation, they need both political and industrial action.” In other words, the workers need a strong Labour Party and a strong trade union movement. The two are not separate but complementary.
M. Marie differs from many reactionaries in recognizing that there is a class struggle. Many reactionaries in fact try to deny its existence; but it exists as surely as the seasons, as surely as sowing and cropping, as seedtime and harvest. The unions are the workers’ weapon in the class struggle; they join together to protect themselves against the employers, for “unity is strength”. To argue that the unions should not be political as well as industrial is to argue in favour of continuing capitalist exploitation of man by man.
You won’t end the class struggle by joining an organisation of workers and employers. The interests of worker and employer don’t coincide; so workers organisations must work separately from employers’. The workers’ organisations are the unions and Labour Party and the stronger one is, the stronger also will be the other.
Both unions and Labour Party should be imbued with the same spirit — the desire for working-class emancipation for the PEOPLE to exercise through their democratic organisations a greater degree of control over their government’s economic and industrial policies.
It was the Webbs who said in their monumental ‘History of Trade Unionism’ that “the object and purpose of the workers organised in trade unions and politically in the Labour Party is… nothing less than the reconstruction of society.”
The reconstruction of society, of course, means working for socialism for the betterment of mankind; for the dignity of each and every human being irrespective of race, colour and creed. It means an end to exploitation; and an end to capitalism which denies the fulfillment of their just desires to many men and women. The aim of the union and of the Labour Party is the creation of a social system known as SOCIALISM where each is for all, and all is for each.
And those who appeal to the unions to keep out of politics are seeking to postpone the advent of a full life for everyone and to maintain the denigratory system of capitalism. Instead of giving ear to such people, Mauritian workers should rather join their appropriate union, strengthen the Mauritian T.U.C., and throw the full weight of organised Mauritian labour behind the Mauritius Labour Party.
(Mauritius Times – 2 September 1955)