The situation in Africa is escalating. As class struggle becomes more polarized, new, more intense fights are on the horizon. Although, a new element has begun to appear in the rebellions and insurrections in Africa: the working class.
By Cesar Neto and Asdrúbal Barboza
Originally published in Spanish here
Organized sectors of the working class began an intense struggle with a wave of strikes from June/July to early November 2021 in sub-Saharan Africa. These strikes, generally, corresponded to three critical issues: a) defense of health during the pandemic; b) salaries; and c) union disputes. Taken together, this awakening of working-class struggle leads us to believe there may be a process of reorganization. Let’s look at these strikes, country by country:
South Africa: a) Metrobus strike in Johannesburg, 8 weeks, with a lot of violence (2 killed); b) Strike on Impala Platinum (Rustenburg), pandemic and union dispute; c) Nestlé, 8 weeks, salary increase and inter-union disputes; d) University of Rhodes (Makhanda/Eastern Cape), union representation dispute; e) Workers of the CNA, the ruling party, in all regions, due to three months of back pay; f) Town Hill Hospital (KwaZulu-Natal) against moral harassment during the pandemic; g) SAKPRO Manufacturing (Nelspruit), workers demand 8%, the company offers 5%; h) Spot On Dry Cleaners, strike demanding the recognition of a different union; i) First Automobile Works, strike for a wage increase and recognition of union; j) the Public Sector had an important process of demonstrations and movement, but the majority of the union leadership accepted a wage increase of 1,5% which was approved without consulting the workers.
However, the most important strike was that of the metalworkers, who stopped for three weeks, organized large demonstrations, did not get intimidated by government repression, and had a small, but important victory.
Angola: Strikes by doctors, nurses, and Sonangol (oil) workers; tentative strike of water and sanitation workers.
Chad: Exxon workers went on strike, worried about jobs after local assets were offered to be sold to British company Savannah Energy.
Gambia: Nurses and midwives go on strike demanding subsidies and better salaries due to the pandemic.
Ghana: a) Strike on the Pantang Psychiatric Hospital for safer conditions during the pandemic; b) Strike at the Simon Diedong Dombo University of Business and Integrated Development Studies (SDD-UBIDS) demanding a series of salary and administrative issues.
Guinea-Bissau: a) The National Union of Guinean Workers (UNTG) called for a general strike of public workers to demand from the government, among other things, the layoff of workers hired without public tenders, better working conditions, and the doubling of the minimum wage from the current 50,000 CFA francs (76 euros); b) Health workers from different regions of the country organized a strike in late September to fight for better healthcare.
Lesotho: 40,000 garment workers (mostly women) went on strike for a 20% wage increase. It was a long strike, with a lot of violence on the part of the police and army. In the end, they were victorious. At times activists took the streets and burned the properties of Chinese people due to their bosses being mostly Chinese. b) Nurses hired by the government as part of the campaign against Covid-19 went on strike for back pay.
Malawi: Two weeks of strike on the Malawi Post Corporation (MPC) for back pay.
Namibia: Workers of the national TV channel, Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), went on strike for better working conditions, equipment, and for contracted workers to have permanent jobs. The strike lasted a month.
Nigeria: Junior doctors organized a nine-week long strike due to months of late wages and other benefits, also for having terrible equipment and little resources for work, as well as the terrible conditions of public hospitals.
Kenya: a) Workers of Chemelil Sugar Company paralyzed the production due to back pay. They add up to 600 effective workers and 469 contracted workers; b) Teachers of 35 universities paralyze activities due to the 2017-2021 collective agreement not being followed by the government.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo : a) Doctors go on strike for three weeks due to back pay and for wage increases; b) Teachers’ strike for salaries, bonuses, and retirement age; c) Port workers organize a very radical strike due to 38 months of late salaries. Hundreds of workers of the state-owned port company invaded headquarters, breaking windows, burning furniture, and fighting against the police for what they claim are more than three years of unpaid salaries. This strike calls attention to the changing mood of workers during the pandemic: they waited 38 months for their wages, but when they decided to fight, it was VERY radical.
Senegal: Post office workers (Poste Senegal) went on strike due to not receiving benefits. Workers accuse the Macky Sall administration of retaining money from the company.
Zimbabwe: 1,500 workers in the Chinese company Afrochine Smelting strike. According to the union, “We worked in fear, without job security and being humiliated every day. You’re beaten by Chinese overseers and if you bring this to the police, you’re fired before the case is closed.”
There’s been a series of very emblematic strikes these months. The one that attracts the most attention is the metalworkers’ strike in South Africa . It is particularly relevant for being very radicalized, for being very extensive since a substantial part of the companies in the country were included, and for happening just after a wave of looting. Another important strike was the Lesotho garment workers movement. Although this country has been quite stable in the last months, it was a very radical strike that had multiple confrontations with the police and army. It is a sector composed mainly of women who showed themselves willing to fight the effects of the economic crisis, likening Chinese companies’ labor practices as similar to slave labor. Attacking commercial properties of Chinese owners is also a form of repudiating the violence with which Chinese bosses treat workers in Africa. Their practices range from not acknowledging unions to the physical aggression reported in Zimbabwe, Congo, and Lesotho.
Another emblematic strike is the Congolese port workers’. These workers went three years without receiving wages! Why did they blow up during the pandemic? We believe this is due to the enormous polarization we are starting to see after the most intense period of the pandemic.
If radicalization is one of the marks of these strikes, there is another one that appears in many countries, which is the strengthening of unions, or the appearance of new organizations that fight the old union bureaucracy.
We need to help workers expand their struggle and seek allies for their strikes in and out of the countries. We have the obligation of bringing solidarity and support to the battles of our African brethren.
What about the workers? The public sector wage agreement was signed without grassroots consultation – https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/opinionista/2021-08-02-what-about-the-workers-the-public-sector-wage-agreement-was-signed-without-grassroots-consultation/?tl_inbound=1&tl_groups=80895&tl_period_type=3&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=First%20Thing%20Tuesda
África do Sul: Trabalhadores metalúrgicos mostram o caminho da luta – https://litci.org/pt/65270-2/
(translated by Miki Sayoko)