The changing economy and politics of Mauritius

Submitted by SJW on 21 September, 2017 - 11:21 Author: Lalit

Twenty years ago, the economy of Mauritius was still based on the sugar industry, mainly exporting to Britain under the terms of the Lomé convention.

There was also a significant textile industry, with exports to the EU and the USA, and a tourism industry.

Then the sugar oligarchy shifted its focus to finance. From 21 sugar factories, Mauritius is down to four (more mechanised) factories. The sugar cane is still there, but the sugar capitalists have shifted to Africa.

The financial sector has boomed. Some textile industry remains, but it is declining. The tourism industry has boomed.
We have more and more gated communities housing foreign millionaires. The government of Mauritius is offering tax breaks to build "smart cities" to attract wealthy foreigners.
There was full employment in the late 1980s, but unemployment is now officially 8%. From 1964, sugar plantation workers were employed all year round, and there were 100,000 of them. Now there are fewer than 5,000.

Construction jobs have increased. There is a growing IT sector, but it is still a small proportion of the economy. Financial services, serving capitalists doing business in and with Africa, have expanded. A lot of jobs are now short-term or contracted-out.

The economic transformation has led to a weakening of the trade-union movement. The strong sectors were the docks, sugar, and public transport.
The docks were moved into the public sector, and then privatised. Since 1992 there is a freeport (free trade zone, outside the usual taxes and regulations) in St Louis, now employing over 3,000 people.

Mauritius is now importing raw sugar from Brazil, and importing 70 or 80% of its food.
The trade unions' main base now is in the public sector. The union movement is fragmented. Historically, in Mauritius, trade unions have been set up as offshoots of political parties.

The Mauritius Militant Movement (MMM) initiated many unions. Then it won the general election in 1982. Unions’ rank and file structures decayed, check-off systems were introduced, more union jobs were funded by the state, Lalit was pushed out.

Lalit tried to build a rank and file movement in the unions — inter-union base groups. But where those were successful, they mainly just led to new union leaders getting in.
Then we did work with some union leaders to campaign against privatisation. That was not very productive. In fact, Lalit lost some activists to the union bureaucracy through the experience.
Industrial relations in Mauritius has been structured through a publicly-administered award system and regulation orders, aiming to make strikes illegal. Now awards are being replaced by collective agreements.

The strongest union federation now has about 17,000 members. The total workforce is about 600,000.

Lalit started from a national student strike in 1976, about issues including opposition to secondary-school fees. It was initially a group around a roneographed discussion magazine within the MMM. That group was heavily involved in the August 1979 general strike (sparked by a dispute over union recognition in the sugar industry, and job cuts in other sectors).

In 1982 the MMM won the general election and took over the government. Lalit became an independent organisation, and has continued as such since.
Lalit has sought a variety of international links, attending international events called by the “Lambertist” current, by the SWP, by Lutte Ouvrière, by Links in Australia, and by the Fourth International.

From the Mauritian group Lalit