African workers, youth strike against poverty

From Central Africa Republic, Egypt and Kenya to South Africa

Although escalating instability and threats of civil war have dominated the corporate media’s coverage of the African continent, trade unions and student organizations are raising issues that involve the workplace and educational institutions. Workers and youth, through their unions and mass organizations, have been expressing profound discontent with the impact of the world capitalist crisis, which has its origins in the Western imperialist states.

In the Central African Republic, the mineral-rich state occupied by 2,000 troops from France and forces from several African Union member-states, peace and stability have eluded the country. Now France, the former colonial power, is supporting the intervention of another 2,000 troops from European Union governments, along with an additional 12,000 so-called United Nations peacekeeping forces, ostensibly to bring order to the country.

The overall security situation has worsened with the French escalation in the CAR. The new caretaker government of President Catherine Samba-Panza and Prime Minister Andre Nzapayeke does not have full control of the CAR’s police and military forces. Widespread violence is being systematically leveled against the minority Muslim population, many of whom have fled the capital of Bangui and other areas.

Since the Muslim population constitutes only 15 percent of the people in the CAR, it raises the question of whether the French and their allied states are actually there to bring peace and stability. Many within the Islamic community and a growing number of Christians are rapidly turning against France and its indefinite military presence.

During the week of March 10, students in the CAR went on strike demanding payment of the grants for their tuition and housing. Prime Minister Nzapayeke met with the students, but it did not calm their anger.

CAR students set fires and held demonstrations demanding payment of the grants. The unrest among the students was covered extensively on March 13-14 by TVC, the Nigeria-based satellite news network that reports on events throughout the continent.

Kenya: transport workers, university lecturers strike

The East African state of Kenya, a close ally of the United States, was severely impacted by a nationwide transport workers’ strike on March 5. In the capital of Nairobi, buses and other forms of transport are privately owned and drivers are required to pay out of their earnings for parking costs.

Rising prices for fuel and parking have created a crisis for the drivers. They blocked traffic on major streets and roads, creating an intense traffic jam.

A Bloomberg report published March 5 said, “Kenyan paramilitary police dispersed public-transport drivers who paralyzed traffic by blocking roads in the capital, Nairobi, in a protest against increased parking fees. Operators of buses, commuter vans, known as matatus, and taxi-cab drivers stopped traffic on some of Nairobi’s busiest streets, including Thika highway, Jogoo Road and the central business district since early morning as motorists headed to work.”

The article noted, “Around noon, ground-level shops in the business district locked their doors as armed police carrying batons and shields chased protesters by foot and apprehended motorists and bus drivers as they tried to reclaim their parked vehicles.”

On March 14, thousands of college and universities lecturers walked off their jobs, effectively closing higher education institutions across the country. Even though the government sought a court order to halt the strike, lecturers and nonacademic staff workers halted work anyway.

Standard Digital reported March 17: “The Industrial Court in Nairobi has allowed university lecturers and non-academic staff to file their response stating why they are entitled to go on strike. The university teachers and workers appeared before Justice Monicah Mbaru after they boycotted last week’s session, which prompted the court to order that they be served through the media. The court had warned that it would give further orders against them if they failed to show up yesterday. The lecturers asked the court to allow them to file their reply within 14 days.”

Egypt state-run company hit by strike, protests

In the North African state of Egypt, where a military-backed regime has held power since a coup on July 3, 2013, protests by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, students and other opponents of the government have resulted in thousands of deaths, injuries and arrests.

Ousted President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood remains in detention, while several scheduled hearings have been adjourned for various reasons. Recently, the interim government blamed a spate of bomb attacks and the killings of several soldiers and police on the Muslim Brotherhood, an allegation the organization vehemently denies.

Strikes have been taking place in industrial sectors of the economy. The most recent is against the state-run Modern Fashion Co., where workers are demanding back pay and accuse the bosses of attempting to privatize the establishment, which has been in existence since 1951.

Ahram Online reported on March 16, “The company was nationalized in the early 1960s by former president Gamal Abdel-Nasser. Ben-Zaion (the firm) currently operates under law 203 from 1991 as a subsidiary of the Holding Company for Tourism, Hotels and Cinema, which owns 100 percent of the company’s shares.”

It added, “Before 2008, Ben-Zaion was under the state’s Holding Company for Internal Trade.  Its 84 retail outlets specialize in goods and consumer durables such as textiles, household appliances, linens and furniture.”

South African platinum miners face intransigent bosses

In the Republic of South Africa, which produces 90 percent of the world’s supply of platinum, workers under the leadership of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union have been on strike for nearly two months. The bosses are seeking to cripple the strike by refusing to negotiate in good faith with the union, which is a breakaway from the more-established National Union of Mineworkers. The NUM is an affiliate of the Congress of South African Trade Unions and a close ally of the ruling African National Congress.

The strike has created hardships for workers in the North West Province. Shortages of food and violence against people living in the communities have increased.

A statement issued by COSATU on March 11 revealed the rivalry between the federation and the breakaway AMCU, which now has the majority of platinum workers in this region in its ranks. COSATU called upon AMCU and the bosses to reach an agreement to end the strike.

The statement said, “The Congress of South African Trade Unions in the North West is inundated with calls from workers in the platinum mines who have been on strike for the past seven weeks. The workers, in particular those who are in the Impala area, are indicating that they want to go back to work but they fear for their safety, as there is a lot of violence in the area.”

COSATU goes on to observe, “As the federation we believe that the action taken by Impala management of putting all workers on special leave without payment is putting workers under economic challenges which they are facing today. We call on those workers to approach their employer and demand their work back as we prepare to engage the mine management on their request.”