Urgent Building Needed

Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago

Will Princess Margaret be made to visit Roche Bois?

The capitalist regards unemployment as something that is a natural part of the economic system. He relies on having a pool of unemployed workers to keep wages down and to act as a spur to those in work to produce as much as they possibly can — and then some more! The fear of unemployment is the stick which the old-style capitalist (and there are many such in Mauritius) uses to threaten the worker.

And the active trade unionist is, in a society dominated by fear of unemployment, often singled out by the capitalist for victimisation, for being the first to be sacked and the last to be taken on again. The history of British trade unionism is full of examples of active trade unionists suffering for their beliefs.

As well as believing in the value of unemployment as an incentive, the capitalist class considers that those who are unemployed should not have work provided for them by the government. On the other hand, the Socialist and the Humanitarian (the terms really mean the same) think that unemployment is a disease of capitalism that can be got rid of when capitalism is itself got rid of and is replaced by Socialism. Yet, as long as capitalism exists, and the blight of unemployment exists as well, there must be care taken to alleviate the distress and misery caused by unemployment. In Mauritius there is always much unemployment during the intercrop period; and there is at the moment widespread unemployment, amounting to an estimated 20,000 out of work a few weeks ago. The capitalist is content to see those men out of work; but the Socialist says “It is up to the state to do something to relieve the distress of those of its citizens who have no work. Let the state make some work.”

Suppose the Government of Mauritius does “make” work for the thousands of unemployed. What then? Obviously there would be more money about; people would buy more. Since the domestic resources of Mauritius are limited, there would have to be more imports. More imports would probably mean a bigger revenue from import duties — so that if the Government “made” work, it wouldn’t be all at a cost to the state. There is plenty of useful work that badly needs doing in Mauritius anyway, and the Government ought to be energetic in getting on with that urgent work.

What urgent work is there that could provide employment for many people? I would say at once: housing. The Report of the Population Commission showed that 10,000 houses a year are the number that it is necessary to build in Mauritius; yet over a number of years, the annual building rate was only 2,000 to 2,500. Thus there is leeway to make up here as well as the increased number of dwellings to build. Thousands of Mauritians are living — or rather, existing; for their way of life cannot properly be called living — in utter squalor, in conditions not fit for animals. Their dwellings should be reconstructed. Housing schemes for worker’s homes should be undertaken as a matter of extreme urgency. There is no reason why house-building in Mauritius should not be treated as a military operation in the degree of urgency that is given to it. The military authorities were quick enough to act after the “mutiny” in the Mauritius Regiment in 1943; now it is the turn of the civil authorities to be equally quick to do something about the workers’ houses.

Mauritius is a prosperous island. There is no excuse for allowing any longer the abominable housing conditions in which thousands of humans have to eke out their lives. What do we find for example at Roche Bois, Tranquebar, Vallee Pitot, (hardly 1½ miles from the Government House)? Shanties built of petrol cans, comprising two small rooms and occupied by nine people (two tenants). Another shanty is comparatively luxurious — only three people live in it, but they have only two rooms; this particular shanty is straw-covered. At Cassis, an old railway passenger car has been turned into two rooms; two tenants occupy it, with 12 people altogether. The rent is Rs 10.00 a month. This of course is luxury when contrasted with the three-room shanty at Cassis occupied by three tenants and their families (13 people in all) including MM. Barbeau and Cadou. Shanties made of corrugated sheets and petrol cans are common; will Princess Margaret see the conditions in which thousands of her sisters’ loyal subjects have to exist? Or will there be, as there was in Nigeria careful screening of the royal route so that the Princess shall not see the filth and squalor that disfigure the Mauritius countryside? No one wants Princess Margaret to see deplorable housing conditions unnecessarily, but at the same time no one wants her to leave Mauritius with a totally wrong impression of the colony — which is what she will do if officialdom plans her visit in its usual manner.

And schools. Mr Kynaston-Snell has criticized many intolerable conditions existing at schools: where the teacher cannot see to the back of the class without getting on the front desks; classes being taught on verandas; and so on. Mauritius is short of schools; we are promised hundreds of additional classrooms by 1958; but how much energy is being shown in getting on with the actual construction of these classrooms and the employment of additional men on that construction? The increased and still-increasing population needs extra hospital accommodation; the housing as well as hospital facilities on the sugar estates leave much to be desired. Additional building that is urgently needed should be undertaken in all these fields of operations.

Houses, hospitals, schools — all are urgently needed. Mauritius is surely prosperous enough to afford to have its workers decently housed and schooled and (when necessary) accommodated in hospital. Yet all these urgent reforms are unlikely to happen while there is a government dominated by the capitalists, whether elected capitalists or nominated capitalists. The solution to Mauritius’ problems lies in a Socialist Government; no unsocialist Government will implement the recommendations of the Population Commission that a Government Building Society be set up, for example. No unsocialist government will carry out housing programmes of the magnitude necessary to give all Mauritian workers a decent roof over their heads instead of the roof of a disused railway carriage or petrol cans beaten flat or straw that leaks in the wet months. The Sugar Industry Labour Welfare Fund is due to the progressive members of the Legislative Council; other schemes of social welfare will surely come, but only when the Mauritius Labour Party governs the island.

A start can of course be made at the municipal elections. Labour-controlled town councils can get on with schemes of municipal housing; and put the anti-Labour government of the colony to shame in so doing. But of course, it will hurt the capitalists’ pockets to have to help provide the money for these schemes of social welfare; so they will do all they can to keep the Labour Party from ever forming the government. This is, of course, why the capitalists are so keen on proportional representation.

 


* Published in print edition on 25 May 2018

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