Brutal and violent government repression of worker rights activists has resulted in the death of a community guardian and the disappearance of four others in Algeria.
On July 11, 2012, some 45,000 community guardians engaged in a peaceful march, following the 30-mile-long route between Blida and the capital city of Algiers. They planned to submit a petition to the minister of the interior protesting their precarious working conditions. But a 2,000-strong force of riot police used water cannons and extreme violence to break up the march in the suburb of Birkhadem, resulting in more than 700 arrests. Those detained were subjected to inhumane treatment and violence. Four persons have simply disappeared, an ominous echo of behavior last seen during the dark years of Algeria’s national tragedy, the bloody civil war of the 1990s in which nearly 150,000 people were killed and thousands disappeared. One community guardian, Said Lasfer, died on July 12 as a result of blows and injuries he suffered at the hands of the police.
Community guardians are a form of paramilitary police established during the years of the national tragedy. They now suffer doubly—not only from the emotional trauma of what they witnessed during those years of civil war, but also from precarious and unacceptable levels of pay and benefits.
Nassira Ghozlane, general secretary of the independent and autonomous Algerian trade union SNAPAP, is calling on civil society, human rights activists, autonomous unions, and all those who fight for the return of justice and freedom of expression in Algeria to condemn the use of violence, repression, and attacks on basic human dignity.
These incidents continue the pattern of systematic repression against trade union activism and peaceful protest in Algeria by the authorities that have been denounced by the AFL-CIO.
“We call upon the Algerian government to immediately cease harassing trade union activists engaging in their right to freedom of association and expression, to release four persons still unaccounted for, and to conduct an independent investigation into the causes of the death of Said Lasfer,” said SNAPAP’s Ghozlane. “The government of Algeria must open meaningful avenues for dialogue with independent unions and labor activists with an aim of finding solutions to the very real problems of workers in Algeria.”
After more than three weeks on a hunger strike to protest government repression of the independent trade union movement, six women and two men from Algeria’s National Federation of Justice Workers are increasingly frail and face grave, possibly permanent, health threats. A ninth worker suspended his hunger strike. ACT NOW!
One of the women strikers, Leila Aberkane, is hospitalized in critical condition. Having lost consciousness and suffering neurological and skin conditions, she was rushed to the emergency room on May 25. Doctors also have had to resuscitate three other women strikers—Nadia Derouiche, Zahia Boutaoui, and Fouzia Bouziani. The health of all is rapidly deteriorating.
“These courageous women and men are using the ultimate means of action available to them by going on a hunger strike so as to make their voices heard,” said Nassira Ghozlane, secretary-general of the National Independent Union of Public Administration Personnel (SNAPAP). “They have reached a stage of severe physical deterioration and can hardly speak.”
The hunger strike has its roots in the decision by justice workers to reject a union created by the Ministry of Justice and to obtain representation by the National Federation of Justice Workers, affiliated with SNAPAP. When Justice Ministry officials rejected the workers’ choice, the federation staged a general strike in April, which was subsequently repressed by security forces.
Women workers, who are at the forefront of the growing movement for democratic rights in the workplace and society, comprise the majority of courthouse workers and are facing the brunt of the crackdown. They have been subjected to violence, arrests, suspension, and harassment over recent months. On April 24, more than 150 women were wounded at a peaceful demonstration. In addition, the government replaced more than 500 court clerks with other court employees in violation of Algerian law and International Labor Organization conventions.
The workers’ demands are:
- End repression against and harassment of trade unionists
- Revise the special statutes governing judicial officials
- Extension of benefits
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) is calling for an end to the repression.
“We are very concerned that the health of the hunger strikers is deteriorating rapidly,” said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow. “We ask the Algerian government to step back from its policy of confrontation, accept that these workers have the right to form and join their own trade union, and negotiate a comprehensive solution to the complaints they have raised. First and foremost, any justice ministry should itself operate on the basis of justice, in accordance with international law.”
Ghozlane is appealing for solidarity from fellow women workers.
“As the Secretary-General of SNAPAP, member of the National Bureau of Women’s Committee, and representative of the group in support of the hunger strikers, I appeal to all organizations, all women’s committees, and all women activists to take tangible action in solidarity with the hunger strikers,” she said in a prepared statement.