The National Union of Workers of Guinea-Bissau (UNTG), which is the largest trade union in the country, was created on May 18, 1961, as a tool for bringing together workers and struggle as a social subject of the revolution. It played a crucial role in the struggle for independence against Portugal’s fascist state. After the fight for liberation, the union was hijacked by a single party which discouraged its true expression of class unionism. Instead, it became an organization that responded to the will of party elites to the detriment of the interests of the working class. However, on December 11, 2017, the jurist António Júlio Mendonça was elected as the new secretary general of the UNTG-CS. Among the 241 people who voted, he managed to obtain 71 votes against his opponent Laureano Pereira da Costa who received 67 votes.
The new Secretary General has made his project as leader of the UNTG-CS to change the trade union paradigm by rescuing the workers’ institution from the hands of the parties so that it can instead defend the opportunities of the working class and by extension the people. After taking office, Mendonça’s project immediately began the process of revolutionizing the way of thinking and doing trade unionism in Guinea by showing workers it is necessary to combine strikes with demands on the streets. This is why in 2019 when workers began to exert pressure on the regime–which at that time was led by the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC )–as general elections were nearing, with talks of wage increases, and strikes in all social sectors, the regime responded by attempting to remove workers from their office in 2019 under the false premise that the building needed to be renovated. The UNTG-CS’s struggle not only had the character of class unionism but also managed to improve workers’ lives. The working class was in a truly miserable situation, with back wages being owed, and with the minimum wage set at 31,000 CFA francs in 2018, which did not cover basic expenses including rent, which has been subject to market inflation, private health care, their children’s education, and private transport since public transport does not exist. Workers’ managed to get an increase of 50,000 CFA francs in the struggle.
Why does the dictatorial regime in Guinea want to silence the working class through a union coup?
This attempt to silence the real voice of the Guinean working class in Bissau did not start with the court litigation, pushed by Laureano Pereira da Costa, which resulted in the illegal boycott of the fifth congress by the P. O.P (public order police) that was scheduled from May 9-12, 2022. Rather, it is only a continuation of the tactics and strategies of the Bonapartist regime headed by President Umaro Sissokó Embaló, who, through former Finance Minister Aladje M. Fadia, filed a criminal complaint on May 7, 2021, against then secretary general of the UNTG-CS, Júlio António Mendonça. The sole objective was to hinder the struggle being waged by the UNTG-CS against the imprisonment of tax board employees orchestrated by Fadia, who was unable to meet the demands for the payment of nine months of back wages to workers.
When this case did not have the desired effect for those plotting the union coup, they turned to the highest levels of the Public Ministry, Attorney General Fenando Gomes, to do their bidding. Their intention was to meddle with the health workers who were on strike with 100% of union members participating. Instead of sitting down with the union to negotiate minimum services for patients, the confrontation with the Bonapartist government instead culminated in the arrest of two union leaders, Yoió João Correia and João Domingos da Silva, who were accused of the crime of failing to provide medical aid. This arrest of the two UNTG-CS leaders was met with a response in the streets, where workers and their supporters demanded the release of the two trade unionists. Protestors were met with police brutality and an attack on the UNTG-CS headquarters, tear gas, blocked doors, and cuts to power and water. It was a real attack on workers.
As if that were not enough, the regime decided to storm the headquarters of the UNTG-CS on May 5 of this year in a cowardly and shameful manner with police armed to the teeth. And further, the regime supported and protected a false leadership that was defeated in a judicial process and at the fifth congress, which reelected the leadership headed by Mendonça.
In order for a dictatorial regime to establish itself anywhere in the world, it must put an end to the organization of workers. The entire history of dictatorial regimes in the world has already proven this modus operandi. However, in the case of Guinea, it is being done differently. That is, instead of doing away with workers’ organizations in the strict sense, it seeks to violently implant by force a leadership programmed to collaborate with all the regime’s atrocities. That is exactly what is happening in the UNTG-CS. And not only are they attacking the working class, but also anyone who dares to raise their voice against the cyclical violations of democratic freedoms. While they call them “isolated incidents,” we know that the kidnappings, beatings, assassination attempts against political opponents and journalists, and shootings in the homes of political commentators, in radio stations, and even against ordinary citizens are part of a strategy to silence those who speak out.
Why is unity, struggle, and international solidarity necessary?
We call for unity with the struggle of the UNTG-CS, because it has been made explicit how democratic freedoms have been trampled not only by Embaló’s dictatorial regime, but also by different political formations including MADEM-G15 (Movement for Democratic Alternation, Group of 15), PRS (Party for Social Renewal), APU-PDGB (Assembly of the People United–Democratic Party of Guinea-Bissau, RGB-BÁ-FATA (Resistance of Guinea-Bissau-Bafatá Movement), and military elites, all with the collaboration of the international community and sub-regional organizations. Unity must come at the national level through the masses and the working class fighting the dictatorial regime in the streets, and not at the ballot box as other parties, such as the PAIGC, do. And at the international level, it has to be with different peoples and with the working class, especially the Portuguese people since Guinea played a historic role in the fight against the dictatorship in Portugal. The Guinean people need this solidarity to question not only the parliament’s silence, but also the role that the Costa government and the President of the Republic Marcelo Rebelo Sousa have been playing in the rehabilitation of the dictatorship in Guinea. As the Portuguese people well know, no one wants fascism and dictatorship.
Down with the dictatorship!
Long live democratic liberties!
The UNTG-CS belongs to the working class, not to the coup plotters!