May 1 is celebrated throughout the world as Labour Day, often called May Day (not to be confused with “Mayday” which is an international distress signal code in radio communication derived from the French “m’aider” meaning “help me”). Its origin is found in the Industrial Revolution that took place in Britain at the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th. There was a fundamental transformation from manual to mechanized labour, which transgressed the socio-cultural barriers. Workers became exposed to poor conditions and irregular hours of work, putting in between 10 to 16 hours in some cases. The concept of the 8-hour work emerged in the struggle for workers’ emancipation; and it spread gradually throughout the other parts of the world.
In Mauritius Labour Day was celebrated for the first time in 1938 under the initiative of Dr. Maurice Curé, an eminent leader of the labour movement at that time. But over the years this “day”, which is a pubic holiday, has been taken over by politicians. It is an occasion for political parties (government and opposition alike) to demonstrate their popularity and force by organizing mass meetings in the main townships of the island. Unions can hardly mobilize their rank and file to the bare 100, while tens of thousands of people flock to the political gatherings. Most of the public buses have been booked to carry people free to the meeting places. Some roads have even been closed to allow for necessary arrangements.
However, in remembrance to those who struggled for workers’ emancipation, wreaths are laid by union leaders as well as political men at the respective tombs. Dr. Maurice Curé, Emanuel Anquetil, Guy Rozemont, Anjalay are but a few of the martyrs of the labour movement in Mauritius. Unions have been organizing talks around a particular theme each year in order to keep their members alert to the happenings of the day.
But there are others for whom Labour Day will mean nothing; it’ll be a day just like any other day. They’ll prefer a round at the seaside or at the hypermarkets or still at the various commercial exhibitions being held at the moment. Oh! Right at this time as I’m writing I overheard, and it’s confirmed by my wife, the TV news announcing government has just decided to prohibit all commercial sales on the 1st May. Are they anticipating low participation at their meeting? Will they be able to pull the shock-giving crowd? Anyway, one cannot underestimate people’s frustration these days with the ever-drastically-increasing prices of all commodities. As low participation means unpopularity, the government doesn’t want to take risks; so it seems.
As for me there’s no special arrangement. I’ll take a good rest in the morning before I get ready for a service and dinner at my niece’s place on the occasion of her birthday. The whole family will be there. You might call it a family day for me, if you wish; well deserved anyway, after long work commitments. It’s long since I’ve distanced myself form political meetings. When I was a trade union leader from 1984 to 1999, I had to show myself in prominent position; no longer now. I better devote my time for more constructive activities. And what’s better than writing?
Just one thing before I pen off, don’t miss the interview I announced yesterday. It’ll be up tomorrow, May 1. I just hope it won’t be a Mayday for me!
Mauritian residing in Rodrigues, Amanoola Khayrattee (pen name Alfa King) is contributing writer and journalist to La Gazette Mag de l’océan indien and This Week News Mauritius.
Retired, former meteorological cadre, trade unionist and OSH consultant, Amanoola has written for in-house union and other journals, publications and magazines. He runs two blogs since 2007: “Alfa King Memories”, and “Le Journal d’Alfa King”. When he is not reading or writing, he is on a 10+ km daily hike in anticipation of his monthly trails.
Amanoola may be reached at [email protected].