Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, addressing the "African-Americans Speak Out for Palestine" forum on January 31, 2009 in Detroit. (Photo: Alan Pollock), a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Waves of Strikes Hit Africa From Egypt to South Africa
Economic crisis impacts wages and working conditions
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
While developments in Egypt in the aftermath of the military coup and a series of military and police massacres against supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood have dominated the western media, a series of strikes inside this North African state and other countries throughout the continent have erupted over the last several weeks.
With the release of former President Hosni Mubarak pending a retrial, April 6 Movement leader Ahmed Maher said that the “revolution had returned to square one.” Maher said that his organization refrained from demonstrating against the release of the ousted United States-backed dictator fearing that there would be more violence leading to additional injuries and deaths. (Ahram Online, August 22)
Egyptian workers at Suez Steel have been battling the bosses since July 23. The work stoppage prompted military forces to arrest union leaders on August 12.
The brief detention of union leaders and a melee that injured two workers had prompted the Lebanese-based owners to close down the plant indefinitely until the employees agreed to return unconditionally to the job. It was reported that on August 22 workers had reached an agreement with the bosses to resume work on the conditions that 15 fired employees be rehired.
''The Suez governor promised to release our colleagues on Friday. If not, workers might go on strike again,'' Walid Hassan, an employee at the steel company, told Ahram Online. ''Safety measures are not applied in the factory. One worker died from an electric shock nine months ago,'' another worker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told Ahram Online. (August 22)
''We didn't get a share of the company's profits since 2007. We only asked for the equivalent of six months of wages as profit for 2012, we reduced our demand by four months but still the administration refused,'' said Walid Hassan.
Another labor dispute involves workers at the Mahalla City Weaving and Textile firm where 10,000 employees on one shift refused to go to work on August 26. This action is part of a broader conflict involving all 24,000 employees of the factory who say that have not been paid profit-sharing bonuses in full as promised by management.
''The ministry of finance delayed the payment because of the current economic situation," Ibrahim Badr, head of the firm was quoted by Ahram Online. "I cannot say exactly when the money will be available, but it will not take longer than a few days," Badr said. (August 26)
Other demands by the workers include the firing of the existing management and a more representative labor bargaining unit which they accuse of siding with the bosses. Negotiations are reported to be underway between the military-appointed governor and the employees for the resolution of the problem.
''The dismissal of Fouad Abdel-Alim (the manager) is a main demand. We know him very well. The company will not flourish as long as he is in this position," says Kamal El-Fayoumi, an employee who had become a key organizer in strikes called before Mubarak’s overthrow, according to Ahram Online.
"It is not the workers' business to decide who should be dismissed or appointed; it's the state's responsibility," Badr comments.
Libya Oil Workers Strikes Leading to Huge Production Declines
Over the last several weeks in Libya, oil employees have blocked production reducing the flow of oil out of the country by more than 50 percent. Many of the demands relate to salaries and working conditions.
According to Platt’s, a publication of McGraw Hill Financial, “For buyers of Libyan crude, the inability to load at three of the country's main export terminals—Es Sider, Ras Lanuf and Zueitina—for the past four weeks, because of ongoing strikes and protests, has become a major headache. Libya's Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has warned that the country could well lose some of its main lifters of crude, which have sought out alternatives during this period of disruption, while oil minister Abdel Bari al-Arousi has said state oil company NOC could face legal action from buyers for failing to deliver on its term contracts.” (August 23)
The political, economic and security situation in Libya has continued to deteriorate in the aftermath of the Pentagon-NATO counter-revolutionary war of regime-change in 2011 that resulted in the overthrow and brutal assassination of former leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi. Rebel groups still remain outside the control of the United States-installed puppet government led by the General National Congress (GNC) while many people within the eastern region of the country as well as in the South want to break away from the tenuous “authority” of the politicians in the capital of Tripoli.
Nigerian Education and Health Workers Demand Better Pay
In the most populous state on the continent, the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has embarked upon an indefinite strike demanding an increase in pay and massive investment into the infrastructure of the higher educational system. Nigeria is the largest oil exporter to the U.S. but this economic arrangement has not translated to higher salaries and quality educational facilities.
In an article written by Patrick Eholor published in the Nigerian Observer, he says that “At this point, let me say this, our leaders’ children don’t attend our universities. You will find them at Harvard, Cambridge or Stanford. That is why our leaders don’t care whether our universities are providing quality education.” (August 26)
In the health sector, various unions, including the Medical and Health Workers' Union of Nigeria, National Association of Nurses and Midwives, Senior Staff Association of Universities, Teaching Hospitals, Research Institutions are participating in a strike that has paralyzed services in several areas of the West African state. Since August 21 in Ilorin, Kaduna, Sokoto, Lagos and Lokoja — health services in public hospitals have been ground to a halt following an indefinite strike action by health and medical workers who are seeking improved condition of services. (Nigerian Daily Trust, August 23)
South African Strikes Spread From Automotive, Construction to Mining and Airlines
Auto workers organized by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) have been on strike for over a week demanding a ten percent wage increase at Toyota and Volkswagen corporations. These actions have been joined by employees in the gold mining, building, civil engineering and airline industries who walked off the job also demanding better pay and working conditions.
South Africa has the largest economy and industrial working class on the continent of Africa. Since 2012 the country has been the scene of numerous strikes affecting the key sectors of the national and global economies.
During 2012 dozens of people were killed and injured in disputes in the mining and agricultural sectors. The rand, the national currency, has fallen in value next to the U.S. dollar, while mining bosses are threatening to close platinum facilities due to work stoppages and unrest.
All of these strikes in various regions of the continent are a reflection of the world capitalist crisis which has its origins in the U.S. and Western Europe. Workers inside the imperialist states must seek out information and avenues of expressing solidarity with the proletariat in Africa.
Labor militancy on the continent represents the inability of the profit system to provide a decent standard of living for the majority within society. These same contradictions also are escalating in the Western industrialized states where declining wages and growing poverty must be met by greater determination to organize and win the just demands of the workers.