What Next After The Luce Report?

Mauritius Times 60 Years

By Jay Narain Roy

There is nothing in the Luce Report that members of the Labour party have not said during the last ten years. Mr Luce has produced some figures which should be accepted as the basis of further action by Government. What action does the Government contemplate? How long will it all take? After how many years will the lot of the workers improve? What panacea does Socialism hold out to them?

Personally, I do not think that the report goes far enough to diagnose the real trouble. I think that the measures proposed are some more of those dilatory tactics that the Government has always adopted on questions concerning the poor man. If we, professing Labour principles, cannot bring quick results in labour matters, then we must honestly pack off and make room for others. It is the greatest problem of the country, and it concerns the largest number of people of Mauritius. Socialism will undoubtedly be superseded by communism in Mauritius if it cannot solve labour problems as its priority measure. If communism comes, three parties will be responsible: the employers because they have failed to be sufficiently human; the Government because it has been incompetent to appraise the gravity of the problem and our Party because we have been dilly-dallying with the fate of the workers.

The only thing which interests me in the report is the enquiry through the UNO. Because of this, I should like to set down a few facts that may be of interest to that organisation. These facts are against the fundamental human rights and should be taken cognizance by that body. They are also against the canons of religion and morality but there are people here who do not care two hoots for God, religion or morality.

The worker has no bargaining capacity. This capacity has been taken away from him. It is implicit in the fact of unemployment. But there are three more factors contributing to it. The organisation for the recruitment and distribution of workers is in the hands of the millers.

It is usual to see transported workers being paid more only to keep the local men and women in check so that they cannot bargain. The centralisation of factories makes dismissal so easy, and when a man is dismissed, he is given more than one punishment: he is thrown out of job, and out of his house. And sometimes out of his metayage lands. All these come together as a result of his dismissal for the only reason that his face does not suit the authorities. When a dayman is thrown out of job, he cannot get work on estates for ten or twelve miles, just because they are the annexes of the same estate. What will the man do when all crown and Pas Geometriques land producing fodder and firewood are in the hands of the same estate?

The worker has no freedom of association. Trade union leaders are blacklisted, and all manner of pretext is found to get rid of them. Hundreds of good trade union leaders have thus been lost to the movement and they have received no protection from the Government in any shape or form despite their too costly organisation. There is no effective method tor ventilating grievances, and the existing organisations are too cumbrous, too ineffective and too ostentatious. The estates have been allowed to maintain some puppet trade unions with leaders entirely at the beck and call of the estates, and the estates have even the power of choosing the puppet unions to open negotiations and to dictate terms, terms which the Government compel all the workers to accept.

Instead of paying proper wages, the money is diverted towards political purposes. I challenge our opposite party that if an impartial enquiry were made it will be found that the money which is being lavishly spent to fight the Labour Party comes from the estates, and on the estates, they have been saved on the back of the workers. Will our opponents accept the challenge that it is the workers’ money that is made to fight the Labour Party? That itself shows how strong the ogre of the sugar industry has become.

These are very serious state of affairs. The remedy? Abolish the Labour Department. Deduct trade union subscriptions from wages and encourage trade unions to be strong and even temporarily subsidise them to have their own inspectors, negotiators, prosecutors, factory inspector, welfare officers, etc. Establish a Minimum Wages Board to fix wages as long as bargaining is not on equal terms. Let the Ministry elaborate a Five-Year Labour Scheme of Welfare.

The worker has no freedom of political expression. People of the opposite party can go to the estate at any time, organise and enrol members. In fact membership card of that Party is a kind of Open Sesame for jobs and promotions and favours – just as Labour activities make people lose jobs, promotions, metayage and what not. The camps where thousands of people live are private to the estates and the men cannot see their own relatives if their faces do not go with the authorities. Council candidates of our Party are refused admittance if they want to go and see their electors. Is this law, humanity, freedom, and must not a mass disobedience movement break them to bits as they have done with unjust laws in other parts of the world?

The worker has no freedom of religions or cultural expression. It was one of the conditions of immigration that the religion and culture of the immigrants will be respected and preserved. That is why the estates-built temples and mosques and baitkas. On the estates these places of worship are in a regrettable state and the estates have failed to do the necessary repairs. In every village and estate people run private schools through voluntary subscriptions collected on the occasion of school anniversaries. It is the custom in these anniversaries to invite the leaders to take part and this attracts large number of partisans who contribute enough for the school to defray expenses for a whole year. But on the estates the workers are not allowed to invite their favourite leaders and so they cannot collect enough money. As a result the schools on the estates are in a lingering state and cultural growth is stunted. How can we expect the estates to defray expenses when they are not even prepared even after 200 years to have English schools for camp children?

Were the days of slavery worse than this? What is civilization and progress in a country where the workers have no bargaining capacity, no freedom of association, no freedom of expression either political or cultural? Does the British Labour Party know this harrowing state of affairs which has not been mentioned by Mr Luce? It is high time the UNO were made aware of this model state of affairs in what a Governor called a model colony. The harrowing fact in that the Government knows nothing, nothing of this situation.

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 3 February 2023

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