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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: La zone industrielle d’Alger paralysée par la grève

by Hassane Zerrouky

Strike Paralyzes Industrial Heart of Algiers

Translated Sunday 17 January 2010, by Gene Zbikowski and reviewed by Derek Hanson

Since January 3, several thousand workers have been on strike, contesting the agreement signed by the UGTA trade union, the employers, and the government, notably over the age of retirement.

The industrial zone of Rouiba, on the eastern outskirts of Algiers, is seething. On January 6, thousands of employees, who have been on strike since January 3, clashed with the police. The police brutally charged the demonstrators, who were chanting “no to poverty wages,” and prevented them from reaching downtown Rouiba. Several workers were injured. Several opposition parties and the Algerian league for human rights have denounced this repression.

For a wage hike.

Indeed, on January 3, 5000 employees of the company for the manufacture of trucks, buses and industrial vehicles (SNVI) went on strike to condemn the agreement signed by the UGTA (the trade union confederation), the government, and private- and public-sector employers. The strike spread to the employees of seven other companies, paralyzing the industrial zone, where large contingents of anti-riot police had been deployed. “Between you, me, and the fencepost, when a government, the employers, and a trade union all come out of a meeting looking satisfied, there’s something rotten (...) In the final analysis, we’ve been diddled,” a trade union member who works for the company declared to Soir d’Algérie.

The strikers are demanding a wage hike to meet the fall in purchasing power and sky-rocketing prices. Above all, they are condemning the decision to lengthen from thirty to forty years the period during which workers who do arduous jobs must pay contributions before they can retire. “How can people who are doing extremely strenuous work do it for over twenty-five years without damaging their health,” asked one worker indignantly, according to Soir d’Algérie. “How dare they ask a man whose daily meal is a plate of spinach to work forty years at a blast furnace?” asked another. What is more, they finger the leader of the trade union confederation, Sidi Saïd, who is accused of having made “deals,” and is described as a “sell-out” and “a very plump trade unionist,” by the strikers!

Rank and file trade unionists at SNVI reacted sharply when confronted with the absence of any reaction from the UGTA trade union confederation, which limited itself to publishing a communiqué boasting about the result of the negotiations with the government and the employers, notably an agreement concerning a “rescue plan” for financially-threatened companies.

Two months after the teachers’ victory.

On January 9, they described the trade union confederation’s communiqué as an “attempt to discredit the trade unionists and to pit public opinion against the protest movement,” and they decided to continue their strike “until the public authorities announce concrete measures regarding wages and the retirement age.”

This labor protest comes less than two months after the successful three-week strike by Algerian junior and senior high school teachers. Their victory was not without an effect on the development of the current social movements, including that of the public health practitioners, who are in their third week and are threatening to no longer provide minimum service. The industrial workers’ protests comes above all in a context of social dissatisfaction – unemployed demonstrations in Annaba (Eastern Algeria), people living in substandard housing demanding better living conditions in Algiers, Oran, Constantine and Mostaganem – to which the authorities have responded with deafening silence.

Yesterday, some forty anti-riot police vehicles, including water cannon, were deployed around the struck factories. Here, nobody has forgotten that the popular uprising of October, 1988, which put an end to the single-party system of government, began in this same industrial zone.

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