670,000 Public-Sector Workers Strike in Tunisia

670,000 Public-Sector Workers Strike in Tunisia

Some 670,000 workers in Tunisia waged a nationwide one-day strike today to protest the government’s refusal to increase wages for civil servant workers. The strike follows months of intense negotiations between the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) and the government, which refused to increase wages in 2019 because of its commitment to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to freeze public-sector wages and spending and balance the budget.

Tunisia, general strike, UGTT, wages, unions, Solidarity Center

Hundreds of thousands of Tunisian workers pack the streets of Tunis for a one-day strike. Credit: UGTT

Workers began the strike at midnight. By morning, hundreds of thousands gathered at the UGTT headquarters in the capital, Tunis, and at regional offices across the country, rallying to cries of “We want employment, freedom, national dignity.” The UGTT says all public service workers took part in the strike, including workers from state-owned enterprises.

Public-sector wages have failed to keep up with rising prices, leading to a decline in purchasing power. The UGTT says the monthly minimum wage of about $128 is one of the lowest in the world, while Tunisia’s Institute of Strategic Studies says real purchasing power has fallen by 40 percent since 2014. The UGTT points out that private-sector workers have seen a 6 percent pay increase for 2019.

In addition, the government’s proposed $60 tax increase would severely impact workers’ wages, social security and the prices of consumer goods, UGTT Deputy General Sami Tahri said at a press conference yesterday.

Only one flight left the airport, and the strike affected ports, public transportation and central, regional and local administrations. Vital care at hospitals continued.

Tunisia struck a deal with the IMF in December 2016 for a loan program worth around $2.8 billion to address an economic crisis that includes high unemployment and stagnant wages. During negotiations with the UGTT, the government delegation withdrew many times to consult with the IMF, according to the global union IndustriAll.

Brazil Workers Strike in Early May Day Protest

Brazil Workers Strike in Early May Day Protest

Workers across Brazil launched a 24-hour general strike today, sparked by proposed legislation that would weaken labor regulations and force many Brazilians to work years longer before drawing a pension. Workers are protesting the government’s plans to remove all restrictions on outsourcing, impose drastic cuts on pensions, salaries and social security and dismantle labor rights, including provisions on vacations, overtime and working hours.

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Workers protest pension cuts with signs saying, “No one should have to work until they die death.” Credit: CUT

“A small cabal of immensely wealthy business people are the only beneficiaries of what is in effect a scorched-earth economic policy involving a huge transfer of wealth to Brazil’s oligarchs,” says Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

More than 14 million Brazilians are unemployed and the country is in recession, even as nearly a third of President Michel Temer’s cabinet and congressional allies are under investigation, part of a widening corruption scandal that has revealed massive levels of graft at the top of government.

“We are making the biggest general strike in Brazil’s recent history to respond to the biggest attack on social, labor and social security rights that the working class has suffered,” says Claudir Nespolo, president of the Central Workers Union (CUT) in Rio Grande do Sul. CUT is Brazil’s biggest labor confederation and one of several federations that spearheaded the strike.

Unions and their members shut down the subway, train and bus in Sao Paulo, Brasilia, Salvador and Recife, and have partially paralyzed public transport in other major cities like Belo Horizonte and Rio.

Workers, Unions Targeted in Proposed Laws

Public transport staff, bankers, teachers and hundreds of thousands of other workers took to the streets two days after the lower house of Congress passed reforms Wednesday to reduce labor costs and erode the power of unions. The legislation is now in the Senate.

Luiza Batista, president of the National federation of Domestic Workers in Brazil, says the new labor reforms “will be awful” for domestic workers.

“A worker may have a contract with an employer that requires her an hour of work a day, or two hours a day, and her salary will not pay anything,” says Batista. “Employers take advantage of the workers’ needs, knowing their difficulties, to offer inhuman wages and hours of work.”

CUT President Vagner Freitas says the drastic cuts to worker rights are not about saving money but rather an attempt to weaken the trade union movement.

What the government wants to do is ensure “workers do not have a formal contract, so they do not have a clear and legal professional category and therefore have difficulty having a union that protects them,” says Freitas.

Next week, a special congressional commission is due to begin voting on a constitutional amendment that would overhaul the pension system. A survey published last month found that 72 percent of Brazilians opposed the pension reform.

Workers Wage Successful Nationwide Strike in Morocco

Workers Wage Successful Nationwide Strike in Morocco

Hundreds of thousands of public- and private-sector workers waged a massive national strike throughout Morocco yesterday to protest the government’s unilateral approach on pension reforms, including moves to increase the retirement age, and its unwillingness to engage in dialogue with unions. Nearly 85 percent of workers joined the strike, according to union federations whose members took part, with teachers, health care workers, local government employees and port workers turning out in force.

“The strike is a message to alert the government to the seriousness of the current social situation and to meet the demands of the working class,” says Mohamed Atif, communications officer for the Democratic Labor Confederation (CDT). The unions, whose members hold a sixth of the seats in parliament, say they will block a government draft bill making pension changes.

Workers took the action after repeated calls by unions to begin negotiations went unheeded. Unions say they want to draw attention to the deteriorating economic conditions of Morocco’s working class, made worse by government’s halt to fuel subsides and violations of worker rights, including the right to strike.

The 24-hour strike included banks; postal and telecommunications services; the energy, electricity and water sectors; agriculture and fisheries; ground transportation; construction; mining; hotels, restaurants, call centers and more.

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Credit: Hicham Ahmadouch/UMT

Unions called on airport workers, emergency health workers and others in key sectors to stay on the job but to wear red armbands in a show of solidarity with strikers.

Moroccan workers received widespread international support for their walkout, with theInternational Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) calling on the government to have a meaningful dialogue with unions.

“The Moroccan government is refusing to listen to its own people—the women and men who create wealth and sustain society and the economy,” says ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow. “The ITUC calls on the government to step back from its anti-social and confrontational approach, and have a meaningful dialogue with the unions.”

The IUF, the global union for food workers, denounced the government’s lack of willingness to negotiate with workers and called for greater respect for basic democratic principles and the rights of unions.

In addition to the CDT, major federations calling the strike include the Moroccan Labor Union (UMT), the General Union of Workers of Morocco (UGTM) and the Democratic Labor Federation (FDT). The National Union of Higher Education (SNEsup) also played a big role.

Morocco Workers Wage One-Day General Strike

Workers from three union federations waged a general strike in Morocco. Credit: IndustriALL

Workers from three union federations waged a general strike in Morocco. Credit: IndustriALL

Thousands of workers in Morocco’s three trade union federations waged a general strike Wednesday to protest the government’s refusal to discuss fundamental worker issues such as working conditions, pensions and other benefits.

manufacturing, commerce and agriculture, along with private-sector employees, took to the streets after many attempts to engage the government in collective bargaining.

The first-ever joint strike involving the Confédération Démocratique du Travail (CDT), the Union Marocain du Travail (UMT) and the Fédération Démocratique du Travail (FDT) highlighted worker frustration with the lack of dialogue. Workers also protested the government freezing salaries and benefits while raising taxes. The economic squeeze is exacerbated by the skyrocketing cost of consumer goods.

Workers also called out corporations for their selective application of Morocco’s labor code, saying many employers only abide by a few provisions and ignore key regulations such as those covering workplace health and safety and medical coverage.

The workers are demanding the government:

• Decrease taxes on wages and consumption,
• Retract the law that criminalizes union activity,
• Provide citizens with adequate public services,
• Guarantee secure and stable employment and cease hiring workers for precarious subcontracted or temporary jobs,
• End ongoing freedom of association violations, which include dismissing union leaders and firing large numbers of workers, and
• Address the concerns of retired workers struggling to survive on pensions.

Read the full list of demands in French and Arabic.

Tunisian Union Calls Strike to Protest Murder

Tunisians accompany the ambulance carrying Belaid's body. Credit: Sarah Mersch

Tunisians accompany the ambulance carrying Belaid’s body. Credit: Sarah Mersch

The Tunisian Labor Federation (Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail, UGTT) is holding a general strike today in response to the murder Wednesday of a popular political leader. Chokri Belaid, a respected human rights lawyer and leader of the Democratic Patriots party, a major partner of the opposition Popular Front, was shot dead by two unidentified gunmen as he left home on his way to work.

Thousands of Tunisians across the country have been taking to the streets to denounce this crime and an escalation of violence. Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali has called for the government to dissolve, a movenot entirely supported by his ruling Ennahda party.

In an emergency meeting following Belaid’s murder, the UGTT administrative council, the union’s highest body, called for a general strike in condemnation of the assassination. The strike will coincide with Belaid’s funeral, which is expected to draw tens of thousands of mourners.

A video posted on YouTube shows people calling openly for Belaid’s death. Opposition politicians in Tunisia report receiving death threats in recent days.The UGTT has been the target of violent attacks in recent months, including the June firebombings of trade union offices around the country. Since calling for a general strike, the UGTT General Secretary Hassine Abassi also has received a death threat.

The UGTT was recently honored by the AFL-CIO and received the George Meany–Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award for its key role in supporting and sustaining the Tunisia’s democratic revolution which, in January 2011, sparked what has become known as the Arab Spring.

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