‘Fever Rising’ — Algeria’s unions strike

Below is a translation of El Watan’s 5 November report on various trade unions’ work-stoppages over the last week.

On the development of the strike wave, see al-M’s translation, ‘Algeria’s Autonomous Unions — Striking When, for What?.

The following translation was originally published on 9 November 2019.

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The social front is on boil.

Over the last few days, several industries have seen sporadic protests. Primary school teachers continue to observe their strike, at the call of an autonomous collective and certain unions, including the Union nationale du personnel de l’éducation et de la formation (UNPEF) and the Syndicat national des travailleurs de l’éducation (SNTE).

The SNTE announced yesterday that 58.41% have upheld the stoppage. In it’s communiqué, the union, headed by Abdelkrim Boudjenah, denounced the ‘desperate attempts to turn certain inspectors against the strikers’, and have called the education authority to respond positively to teachers’ demands.

The protestors are calling for the ‘immediate application’ of Presidential Decree 266/14, ensuring fixed salary-scales and the recruitment of playground- and canteen monitors. They also demand the re-institution of specialised training for primary-school teachers, especially for sports, maths and painting.

Appearing before the finance committee of the People’s National Assembly [APN; Algeria’s lower house], Minister of National Education Abdelhakim Benabed announced the application of the Decree. The striking teachers do not have appear to have recognised the announcement.

Last Sunday, public-insurance workers observed a strike called by the Fédération nationale des travailleurs des banques et des assurances (FNTBA). The stoppage got 100% support, announced federation President Mohamed Zoubiri.

First amongst the workers’ list of demands is the re-evaluation of salary scales and improvements to spending-power. The banking sector could be paralysed if the demands are not satisfied, threatened the union. The strike notice is effective until 10 December.

On Sunday, taxi drivers in the Algiers wilayah [administrative unit] responded to a call for an unlimited strike, from a collective without affiliation to any previously active drivers’ organisations. In its communiqué, the collective demanded the cancelling of licences des moudjahidine [1], the revision of Tarif B for night-time routes, and the banning of all private-hire apps. A gathering of some 100 taxis was held outside the Directorate of Transport in El Biar, Algiers. Support for the strike has been mixed.

At the same time, the Productive Forces Union Confederation (COSYFOP) announced a three-day strike, beginning today [5 November]. The call for strike will involve numerous sectors, particularly energy.

‘It’s partly a solidarity action with the people and their legitimate demands’, said Raouf Mellal, founding member of the confederation, ‘and partly an action to change the management of the energy sector, which still suffers from unprecedented corruption’.

Muteg Dysfunction

The Syndicat national des travailleurs de l’électricité et du gaz (Snateg), affiliated to Cosyfop, has joined the call.

‘Our national strike is our way of supporting the hirak [movement], as COSYFOP has said’, reported Snateg General Secretary, Abdelkader Kouafi. ‘It’s a position of principle; then we’ll put forward demands related to the functioning of the sector’, he added.

‘We’ve always the contested Achour Telli’s management of the Mutuelle générale des travailleurs des industries électriques et gazières’ [Muteg; the pension fund of Sonelgaz, the state gas firm], continued Kouafi. ‘and conflict with another President of the Board, Laïd Laslaj, brought discrimination against workers, whose bank accounts were blocked.’

‘There’s also the problem of the œuvres sociales [OS; social fund] that Sonelgaz has taken into its suite of firms. We’ve contested the decision, and appealed to the law which blocks the transformation of an OS into an enterprise. The money of the OS belongs to all the workers’, he said.

Kouafi made clear that the groups’ workers are faced with other difficulties, which have prompted them to respond to the strike call. ‘We have problems today without any apparent solution, such as risk-bonuses,which is only 360 dinars [€3], when we’re sometimes called to work at night, in difficult conditions’, continued the trade unionist.

Kouafi says that Snateg has some 35,000 members, of the 100,000 working for Sonelgaz.

Over the last few days, Sonelgaz has seen sporadic protests linked, says Kouafi, to the designation of Chaher Boulakhras as Président-Directeur général. He was formerly of Sonelgaz-affiliate Sharikat Kahraba wa takat moutadjadida (SKTM). The energy sector may be disrupted by the union’s calling for strikes.

Last Sunday the Syndicat national des travailleurs de l’énergie (SNTE) called on workers in all energy sub-sectors and the Sonatrach [state oil firm] group to observe a national strike.

‘We are present in Sonatrach and the l’Entreprise nationale des grands travaux pétroliers [ENGTP; state engineering firm], amongst other places’, says Zaki Benhaddad, President of Snateg. ‘The call to strike will follow shortly’, he continued.

‘We will confirm it tomorrow [6 November]’.

[1] The translators are unsure of the details of this license. Moudjahidine (or mujāhidīn) suggests ‘fighters’ or ‘combatants’; we assume it involves some. dispensation for veterans.

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