Algeria’s Autonomous Unions — Striking When, for What?

On 19 October, the Algerian daily al-Khabar (the News) published a report, translated below, on the Confédération des syndicats autonomes’ (CSA) call for a national strike on Tuesday 29 October.

Two days after, on 21 October, the Parti socialiste des travailleurs (PST) released a statement supporting a Tuesday 29th strike (without naming the CSA)— ‘it’s six months we’ve struggled; dancing in the streets isn’t enough … we must faire le point’.

However, on the 23rd, the progressive grouping Forces du pacte de l’Alternative démocratique (PAD), of the which the PST is a member, expressed support for a Monday 28th strike, as ‘initiée par les syndicats’.

After, on 26 October, and following successive social-media polls, the Productive Forces Union Confederation (Cosyfop) called for a national work-stoppage between 5–7 November. As justification, the second confederation gave the state’s imposing ‘Autumn holidays’ in response to the CSA’s call, and a ‘lack of consultation’ between union groups.

1 November, this coming Thursday, is the national holiday marking the beginning of the liberation war. As it approaches, despite the uncertainty over the last ten days, two things are clear. First, that large-scale strikes are likely over the coming weeks; second, as elaborated below, sections of this enlivened labour movement are militating now not only against the regime’s high-political aims (nominations, elections, governments), but also its basic social strategy (health, pensions, and oil).

This translation was originally published on 29 October 2019.

The Confederation of Autonomous Unions Resolves to Strike on 29 October

كنفدرالية النقابات المستقلة تقرر الإضراب يوم 29 أكتوبر

The Confederation of Autonomous Trade Unions (CSA) has called for a strike on 29 October across all 48 wilayat [administrative units], accompanied by marches demanding the rejection of the government’s social policy, and particularly for the withdrawal of the hydrocarbons law (including the exploitation of shale gas), reviewing the pension system, improving purchasing power, and supporting the popular movement.

The CSA — the largest union organisation, including 28 unions and professional organisations — has explained in a statement, the product of a late-night Thursday meeting, that the 29 October strike will be across all 48 wilayat. It will be accompanied by marches to demand the rejection of the current government’s social policies, including of the retirement system included in the Ministry of Labour’s new draft bill, and the raising of the state pension age to 65 years, as against unions’ current demands for non-age determined retirement.

The national strike is also expected to be an opportunity for protesters to demand the withdrawal of the current, controversial Hydrocarbon Bill, which includes the exploitation of shale gas in the Algerian Sahara; the revision of the new Health Law, in view of its shortcomings and repercussions for professional practice and health coverage; and to condemn the deterioration of Algerians’ purchasing-power, and to call for its increase.

According to the statement, the Confederation is also seeking to make October 29 a day of support for the popular movement, and to reject the [12 December] elections in the current circumstances, demanding concessionary measures such as releasing prisoners-of-conscience, democratising of the political and media spheres, and lifting the blockade of the capital.

Noureddine Bouderba [1], an expert on labour studies, expressed satisfaction in a telephone call yesterday [with al-Khabar] with what he referred to as the “awakening of trade unions”.

We asked, “what are the background dimensions of the organisation of this national strike at this particular time?”.

“The labour unions that have for several months overlooked social demands have awoken”, he said, “— trade unions must pay serious attention to social issues”, to which he added, “there exists a difference between immediate social demands, and social issues which can be achieved in the medium- to long-term.”

And, he continued, “trade unions must see the popular movement as a means to improve their social position — the role of unions is to demand that political rights are accompanied by social rights”.

[1] According to Algerian daily El Watan, Bouderba is ‘a militant syndicaliste, expert on social issues, and former administrator of the Caisse nationale des assurances sociales’, Algeria’s national health-insurance fund.

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