Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago
Two important documents have been published in England this month: the Labour Party’s pamphlet ‘Towards Equality’ (a policy for social justice) and a report on ‘Employment of Coloured Workers in the Birmingham Area’. This latter is the result of an enquiry by students of Fircroft College, Birmingham, undertaken at the instigation of the Birmingham Christian Social Council.
The Birmingham report asks the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and leading trade unions to prepare a code of fair employment for coloured and other immigrant workers. Immigrant workers who were interviewed, about 2150 in all, criticized the fact that in the main, they were recruited for the unskilled and dirtier jobs for which it had been difficult to get British white workers. “Man for man,” says the report, “it is almost certainly more difficult for a coloured worker to get a skilled job than it is for his British counterpart.” (Part of the difficulty no doubt lies in the reasons given in the Manley enquiry published by the Fabian Society about which I wrote in the Mauritius Times earlier this year.) However, it is suggested that coloured workers can do more to help themselves, for example, by wearing more conventional clothes, and by improving their English. The friendliness and decency of the ordinary British working-man is quoted with approval, and one West African is quoted in the report as paying tribute, as “foremost” among his impressions, to the “courtesy” shown to him by his fellow workers.
The decency of the working-man contrasts sharply with other reports such as that of the middle-class City man who, having a black girl sit next to him in a London bus, told her to “go back to the jungle” where she belonged. The girl promptly, and naturally, burst into tears — it was the bus conductress who dried the tears and comforted her while the other passengers — mainly working class — let the man know what they thought of him and his cruel words.
The report from Birmingham, referring to the decency of the British worker, finds support, naturally, in the Labour Party’s document. Says the Party, “Immense differences in living standards are as intolerable between nations as they are between classes inside one nation. Nor do we accept that discrimination based on colour, race, sex or creed, whether at home or abroad, can ever be justified or that one people have an inherent right to rule over another.”
The baron of Mallefille Street won’t, of course, agree with the last bit of the Labour Party’s statement. He believes, as do all imperialists, that some races are born to rule and others are born to be ruled.
Much of the Labour Party’s diagnosis of inequality in Britain applies to Mauritius also. “The division of the nation’s wealth is still arbitrary and unjust,” declares the Party; any labourers in the cane fields will echo that expression of opinion — no, not opinion, but fact. Inequality is an essential part of capitalism: “the truth is that there exists in a capitalist system a strong, persistent trend towards economic and social inequality which can only be contained by deliberate and continuous State intervention.” That explains, of course, the 1953 electoral demands of the Mauritius Labour Party in its manifesto for the nationalisation of the island’s industry.
The causes of inequality are several, but the first to be referred to in the pamphlet is educational inequality. And of course, workers in Mauritius know only too well what educational inequality there is in Mauritius. The primary schools scholarship examination favours children from town schools; it favours children from French-speaking homes. It acts against the chances of success of children from villages, and against children whose parents are not French-speaking. Hindus contribute to Government revenue, but as Nestor pointed out in the Mauritius Times of July 13th, Hindu children have difficulty in getting admitted to the Government and Government-aided secondary schools. There is gross inequality of educational facilities and opportunity in Mauritius — and the C.D. & W. allocation for schools is pitifully inadequate.
The distribution of income is manifestly unjust. “The capitalist income structure stretches from well below the poverty line at the bottom to high and excessive rewards at the top. The hardest and most arduous work is often the worst-paid. So we find, from the Annual Report of the Income Tax Department for 1954-55, that in 1954-55 there was one Mauritian paying tax on an income of over 250,000 rupees; with 36 paying tax on Rs 100,001-250,000. Yet only 4,394 persons paid any tax which means that while 37 persons were waxing fat off their Rs 100,001 or more, tens of thousands were eking out a miserable existence on the pittances allotted to them by their employers: Rs 64.16 for agricultural labourers, class I men; Rs 42.55 for class I, women; Rs 48.43 for class III men and inferior men labourers-plus end of season crop bonus amounting to a possible maximum of three months’ basic wage. Not even three months’ basic-plus-cost-of-living-bonus, be it noted; simply three months’ basic. Obviously there is unjust distribution of income throughout the sugar industry; as long as capitalism exists and controls the sugar industry, such unjust distribution will continue and workers will be denied the just fruits of their toil.
Nor is there any sign of progress towards equal pay between men and women workers doing the same work.
The unequal distribution of incomes leads to unjust and unequal housing facilities for workers in Mauritius. Whites live in luxurious flats; but thousands of workers, Hindus and Creoles, are condemned to exist in shanties and huts that are not fit for human habitation. The shanties are made of old petrol cans, corrugated iron, and such like; the huts are of straw. All are unsuitable and unfit, by reason of size, lack of ventilation, impossibility of having decent amenities, and so on. These blots on the picturesque Mauritian landscape should be swept away. The backyard of Mauritius should be cleaned up. Yet as long as capitalism rules, it will not be done.
Nor will Britain see everything done that ought to be done for the workers’ benefit, until the grip of capitalism is broken. The Labour Party plans to break such grip — by taking steps to ensure an even distribution of wealth. When economic equality is thus achieved, social equality will naturally and inescapably follow.
And the egalitarian society which will ensue will give everyone the chance of getting on the world by his own efforts and by his own talents alone, without any help from the fact that his father happens to have a lot of money.
* Published in print edition on 20 July 2018