Preview of the General Election

Mauritius Times – 60 Years

By Peter Ibbotson

The late unlamented Adolf Hitler (born Schicklgruber) was an expert on propaganda. In ‘Mein Kampf’ he said about propaganda: “Propaganda must limit itself to a very small number of ideas and must repeat them unceasingly… The masses will only remember the very simplest ideas if they are repeated hundreds of times.” Or again, “All propaganda must find its own intellectual level according to the power of understanding it of the most stupid among its audience. Its level will thus become lower as the audience becomes larger.”

Certain political propagandists in Mauritius have most certainly learned some lessons that Hitler taught : make our propaganda easy, and keep on repeating it, but at the same time confine yourself to a few basic ideas. The recent by-election in Port Louis demonstrated the few basic ideas which may well be the base of the Parti Mauricien’s propaganda at the Legislative Council elections next year. Let us look for a moment at the propaganda points put forward by the anti-Labour candidate at the by-election. Little was forgotten — he included the working party, the boss’s move to convene a special meeting of Legco to consider the wages of the low-paid workers, increased cost of living, higher bus fares, the taxi 4-seat law. (Not, by the way, that any of this was relevant to the Municipality!) All he left out was dissatisfaction with the Italian rice, and the language controversy.

It is probable that although the Parti Mauricien did not put forward a candidate at the municipal by-election, the Parti nonetheless looked upon the by-election as a sounding-board for its general election propaganda-to-come. Next spring we can, therefore, look forward to a repetition of the false allegations against the Labour Party that it is a party not interested in the fate of the workers of Mauritius. Of course, the Labour Party is interested in the fate of the workers; it wants to see all workers enjoying a higher standard of living. It wants to see all workers enjoying the fruits of their labours. It wants to see decent wages being paid to all workers. It wants to see strong trade unions to protect the workers against unscrupulous employers.

The Labour Party certainly has no room for trade union leaders who are in the pockets of the employers, who openly support the employers’ political party. Nor has the Labour Party any room for arrivistes who profess Labour principles but who practise a policy of splitting the workers, of feathering their own nests by pretending to support trade union and socialist principles while in reality collaborating with the anti-socialist Parti Mauricien.

It is said that consideration is being given to a new ordinance which will give employers the right to sack their employees, even those who are employed on a monthly basis, at one day’s notice. This is a devilish law if the rumour be true. If rumour be true, and if the law should come into force before the general election, then a reactionary curb would be put upon the workers straightway. The employers’ hands would be strengthened; they would be able to tell their employees how to vote on pain of losing their jobs. And however strongly the Labour MLC’s feel on this matter, they would be powerless to prevent the law coming into force, since there is an anti-Labour majority in Legco, thanks to Sir Hilary Blood’s nominations in 1953 (against which the Labour Party rightly protested) and to the vacant seat caused by Hon Seeneevassen’s tragic death.

Is the Parti Mauricien against this proposed devilish law? It will be interesting to hear the views of its leaders, who are of course employers or hand-in-glove with employers.

The Labour Party, on the other hand, is all for the workers. Last June the 42nd session of the Conference of the International Labour Organisation (a specialised agency associated with the United Nations) adopted a convention, a recommendation, and a resolution on the condition of plantation workers: the convention has been described as “a plantation workers’ charter”. A plantation, by the way, is defined as “any agricultural undertaking regularly employing hired workers which is situated in the tropical or subtropical regions, and which is mainly concerned with the cultivation or the production for commercial purposes of…” and a list of products follows in which sugar cane is the third.

Part IV of the convention deals with wages; part IX with the right to organise and collective bargaining; part XI with labour inspection. Once the convention is ratified, these parts are compulsory. Ratifying countries must also apply at least two out of nine other parts, which include engagement and recruitment of workers, contracts of employment, annual paid holidays, weekly rest, workers’ compensation, and freedom of association.

The ILO recommendation is not subject to ratification. It has 11 parts dealing with wages, equal pay for equal work, hours of work, welfare facilities prevention of accidents, compensation, social security, occupational diseases, and labour Inspection. The resolution (submitted by the Workers’ delegate from Cuba) wants a worldwide survey of the conditions of employment of all plantation workers.

It is clear from the definition of plantation that Mauritius’ sugar estates and the labourers thereon are, respectively, plantations, and plantation workers. Such a worldwide survey would, therefore, have to include Mauritius. It would be most instructive to have the wages and other conditions of employment in Mauritius compared with those in other sugar-producing lands, especially with wages in the West Indian sugar-producing islands — for there, the growers get the same price (guaranteed under the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement) as in Mauritius. There should not, therefore, be any great disparity between wages in the two areas —similar receipts for the product postulate similar costs of production; or do they?

Against the insidious propaganda little of it backed up by reasons, of the Parti Mauricien and its stooges, the Labour Party must appeal to the good sense of the people. Emotional slogans such as are emitted by the Parti Mauricien, and such as have been emitted by its lame horses in Legco by-elections, have no part in serious politics and in serious discussion of the issues confronting Mauritius today. Reasoned discussion and argument are wanted; but the Parti Mauricien fears reasoned argument, simply because it knows that its irrational ill-tempered outbursts against the Labour Party and against the Labour Party’s policies cannot be supported by reasons and could not stand up to counter argument.

When we hear, then, the Parti Mauricien and its janissaries prating about the working party and the necessity for a special session of Legco to consider the wages of low paid workers, let us point out: if higher wages are to be paid, the employers who are P.M. members and supporters have it in their power immediately to pay such higher wages; and since Government-paid wages depend on the wages paid in the sugar industry, then it is still the private employers who can give the lead — which as employers they can do without any special session of Legco. Let us at the same time, however, remember that of course there is not the least chance of the employers giving higher wages; all they are interested in is, through their political mouthpiece, making political capital out of the wages issue. Therefore, we must do all we can to strengthen the trade union movement, so that the employers can be faced with wage demands from unions having in membership a substantial majority of the workers.

All workers benefit from the activities of the unions; it is therefore up to all workers to help the unions by joining and remaining in membership and taking an active part in the unions’ work. At the same time, the employers must not confine their recognition to one union per industry, especially if the union which is recognised for bargaining purposes represents not merely a minority of the workers in an industry but a minority, even, of those workers who are union members! In other words, the employers must deal with bona fide representative unions only; and unless they do so, there should be Wages Boards for all industries -particularly the sugar industry where the more militant labourers’ union is not recognised by the employers.

Rebuttal of the propaganda, put about with Hitlerian technique, of the anti-Labour factions will not be easy. But it must be rebutted, if only to show how empty and false are the foundations of the reactionaries’ parties. And it is important that illiterate voters do not have their emotions played upon by racist propagandist such as those who in the municipal by-election were going about saying to coloured voters. “Don’t vote for Peerbye, he’s a Moslem.” Such a racialist approach to an election is yet another witness to the emptiness and irrationality of the anti-Labour factions.

The truth is, of course, that only the Labour Party has a positive policy and the power to put that policy into operation. It is only the Labour Party that the People trust; the opponents of the Labour Party are not bothered about anything else as long as they can weaken that trust by fair means or foul. And since fair means will not be successful, we can expect nothing but foul ones from now on.

5th Year – No 213
Friday 5th September, 1958

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 16 December 2022

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