New Internationalist

Made In Mauritius

Issue 341

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Trade Unions / SOLIDARITY

Made in Mauritius
...where the unions got together, made allies, cut loose - and won. Lindsey Collen reports.

For years Mauritian governments have accepted loans from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank – and all the conditions that go with them. In reply, opposition political parties, 300-odd trade unions, 550 women’s organizations, clubs and grassroots political activists have said: ‘Take the money if you want to. But as for the strings attached, sorry, we don’t agree – and we’ll stop you implementing them!’

They argue, for example, that no-one is entitled to negotiate away the country’s water supply. Water belongs to all the people and cannot be sold to some of them. Any buyer would be in receipt of stolen goods. The Government decided not, after all, to sell it off to the French giant Lyonnaise des Eaux Vivendi.

Healthcare in Mauritius is still completely free. The Government once tried to privatize hospital catering, but did not succeed. Then it wanted to make people take their free hospital prescriptions to private pharmacies. But everyone saw the trick – and it was not implemented.

There are still universal old-age pensions from the age of 60. Earlier this year the Government held a conference on pensions with the World Bank and supposedly ‘independent individuals and organizations’. But Lalit, a left party, exposed them as being in cahoots with each other and the conference lost all credibility. The Government back-pedalled.

This kind of spectacular result was achieved largely because of the existence of the All Workers’ Conference (AWC), which succeeded in uniting every union at shop-steward level for five whole years, between 1995 and 2000.

When the Government first announced a White Paper on pensions the AWC immediately began to do its homework. It held weekly meetings of delegates from all unions. In all, the AWC produced four ‘alternative working-class White Papers’ – on pensions, privatization, public transport and taxation – either before the Government or in the absence of any official policy at all.

Recently there have been conflicts within the AWC, which have frozen it in its tracks. Even so, Mauritian society has not imploded – as have many others – because of structural adjustment. How long we can hold out depends on what happens elsewhere in the world – on the pressure against capitalism that is growing worldwide. What we lack is a mass movement to express people’s anger more effectively.

Lindsey Collen lives in Mauritius and is active in Left politics,
women’s and homeless people’s movements. She is a novelist.
Her fifth and most recent novel, Mutiny (Bloomsbury) is set in a
women’s prison in Mauritius during the rise of a prison rebellion.


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