Manuel Dimech – what would he think this May Day?

Recently, the 100th anniversary of Manuel Dimech’s death in exile in Egypt came and went. In spite of the fact that a statue in his honour was erected in front of Castille years ago, one wonders what he would think of the political system that has exploited his image and memory.

Manuel Dimech’s dream of an independent Malta was achieved, but beyond the superficial theatre of the changing of flags, our country is more divided than ever. Dimech’s dream of free-thinking Maltese women and men, free from the shackles of provincialism and servility, has still not been achieved. Malta remains captured by a complex of crooked businessmen, developers and political elites in bed with one another. Today, this ruling class parades around in the hollowed-out body of what was once a worker’s movement.

This oppressive force will always find a new host, so long as the fundamentals of our society and our democracy remain broken and bought out. What would Manuel Dimech think of Malta as it is today? Even with all the controversies surrounding the iconic Che Guevara, for example, the irony is that his face has become a feature of best-selling merchandise, mass-produced in sweatshops for profit off the backs of the poor. Similarly, could the use of Manuel Dimech’s ‘brand’ today by Labour be very much the same thing? Is he just a convenient image?

When questioned about his social principles, our new Finance Minister failed to hide his disdain for the basic tenets of progressive politics, preferring to let business hold the country’s reins. Let me make this clear, by business here I do not mean the self-employed, the small family companies or even SMEs. What I mean are those who snap their fingers and get elected officials to do their bidding; those pulling the strings and shaping the economy in their own interests at the expense of all others. There is nothing wrong with ethical business, but we have to seriously question the implications of the undemocratic obliteration of our countryside and heritage. If our country is headed in an unsustainable direction which provokes revulsion in the majority, then why is it that whoever changes government, or whichever new Minister crops up, that nothing fundamentally changes?

In Gozo, mayors have all banded together against the exploitation of their island by loathsome vultures. Where is the democratic will of the Gozitans expressed, if the powers that be continue to auction off Gozo’s common heritage? Similarly, the local councils in Malta put up brave but futile resistance to this parasitic elite – look at the approval of yet another unnecessary hotel outside Mdina, threatening its foundations and ruining Saqqajja Hill. These vultures demand vague policies which are bent and molded according to their latest ‘idea’. That ‘idea’ is more of the same: build more, build anywhere. The irony is they often break the very rules they write when they are not convenient.

We still live in a system where the popular democratic will does not find expression – because whether it is the Nationalist or Labour Party in power, our quality of life is still under siege – and why? It is because our common patrimony continues to be sold to the highest bidder. Manuel Dimech is gone but not forgotten – his fight did not conclude in 1964, but it continues today. Anyone who believes in equality and justice must recognise that real progress today means a better quality of life for all, a transition to a social-ecological economy. It means asking questions about our economic system and challenging its orthodoxies. It means stopping the plunder of our natural resources and reforming the economy to avoid the ravages of climate change. This May Day let us remember that despite the supposed ‘economic successes’, not everyone enjoys a decent income.

Let us resolve to study both at the European Union and the local level, the concept of a guaranteed Universal Basic Income, so that we make sure that everyone in Malta and the European Union has enough income for a good quality of life. Let us work to ensure that the rights that workers have acquired over the years, thanks to trade unions, apply to all newer types of work, including to freelancers, the self-employed and platform workers. The fight against zero-hour contracts must continue. It is unacceptable that despite some improvements, the minimum wage is still too low to make work pay and to lift workers out of poverty. It is easy to use Dimech’s image. It is also very easy for some to forget their principles and sell their souls to the highest bidder. It is up to us normal people to question such hypocrisy, and demand a better future for all.

Ralph Cassar
ADPD Secretary General
Published on The Malta Independent – Saturday 1 May 2021