Wed May 22, 2024
May 22, 2024

Workers Show the Way in Angola with the General Strike

By: César Neto

Introduction

After 48 years in power, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) has become a pro-imperialist and bloodthirsty dictatorship. The imprisonment of activists is frequent. Three activists who went to support a demonstration of motorcycle cabs on September 16 last year have been imprisoned ever since. Incidentally, they were imprisoned for supporting a demonstration that never took place. Three leaders of the Division III hip hop movement were arrested for attempting to discuss the need for local elections. But now, the MPLA dictatorship will feel the force of the working class entering the scene and things may begin to change.

Angola: A Dependent Economy in the Midst of the Capitalist Crisis

Angola is one of the largest oil producers on the African continent; yet, fuel production is in the hands of foreign companies. Since the times of Eduardo Santos, the state-owned SONANGOL has suffered a process of under-investment and downsizing. Thus, the door was opened to privatization with the construction of a refinery in Cabinda, controlled by English capital through Gemcorpo Capital LLP, which controls 80%, while 10% is owned by Sonaref (a subsidiary of Sonangol) and the other 10% is distributed among private shareholders. And the Soyo refinery, which is essentially private, without Sonangol, is to be controlled by the Quanten Consortium, made up of four companies, three of which are American (Quanten LLC, TGT INC and Aurum & Sharp LLC) and one Angolan (ATIS Nebest). As a result, oil that used to cost 160 kwanzas has jumped to 300, in order to bring it closer to international prices. In fact, the idea is to push the price to 500 kwanzas.

Foreign debt is another element that points to the fragility of the Angolan economy imposed by its position as a semi-colony. This year the government will pay off 4.4 billion dollars in commercial debt and another 1.3 billion with bilateral and multilateral banks. Another part of the total debt (48%) will be paid to China with oil deliveries.

So, with its limited foreign reserves committed to the debt, the government is trying to reduce imports in general and food imports in particular. As a result, shortages have lead to price inflation. On the other hand, the situation has been aggravated by the devaluation of the Kwanza, which has further increased inflation. While last year inflation was 20%, this year it is expected to be even higher. While unemployment stands at 31.9%. According to official figures, 81% of those classified as employed are working in the informal sector.

As the Situation Worsens, Struggles Emerge

The rise in fuel prices from 160 to 300 kwanzas meant an immediate increase in the dollar and food prices. The dollar jumped from 550 to 800 kwanzas. A bag of rice, which used to be 7,000, doubled in price. Beans jumped from 18,000 to 27,000 kwanzas, sugar from 16,000 to 26,000 kwanzas. The reaction was immediate. Young people, health workers, zungueiras (street vendors), the people who live in the outlying districts, who had already been fighting between June 12 and 17, protested in various cities across the country. The MPLA and its dictator João Lourenço felt the impact of the mobilizations and, from Monday, June 12, authorized violent repression against the demonstrators. Thirteen people were killed, including a 12-year-old boy. Savagery is the only word to describe those events.

In September, the motorcycle taxi drivers set out to mobilize. Frightened by the repression and the retreat of their leaders, they suspended the mobilization scheduled for September 16. Nevertheless, a protest was attempted. Three activists who supported the movement were arrested on a Saturday and sentenced on Tuesday to two years in prison.

On March 1, public prosecutors went on strike demanding better working conditions and a pay rise.

On March 7, dictator João Lourenço, at the service of the oil companies and debt creditors, decided to withdraw the fuel subsidy for cargo vehicles and passenger transport by April 30. Taxi drivers are already talking about raising the amount to charge from 300 to 500 kwanzas. This means a 66% increase in the cost of the movement of people and goods. We can expect new mobilizations and these could be the fuel needed for the civil servants’ strike.

Civil Servants Heading for a General Strike: A Chapter in Itself

Since September last year, the various unions representing civil servants submitted a list of demands. Only in January did the government respond to the unions.

The representatives of the 800,000 civil servants are demanding a 250% wage increase and the government has offered 5%.

Thus the unions: SINPROF (National Teachers’ Union), SINDEA (National Nurses’ Union of Angola), SINMEA (National Doctors’ Union of Angola), SINPES (National Higher Education Teachers’ Union), SINTEE (Electricity Workers’ Union), SNMMP (National Union of Magistrates of the Public Prosecutor’s Office) and SOJA (Union of Angolan Justice Officers) organized assemblies in the 17 provinces and on Saturday March 9 the final assembly was held in the capital Luanda, where they voted to declare a general strike.

UNITA and MPLA United Against the General Strike

The bourgeois opposition, represented by UNITA, the main opposition party to the dictatorship, is showing its well-behaved face. Confronted with the imminence of a general strike, on February 12, it called a press conference to declare that it was in favor of “dialogue between the Angolan government and the trade union federations to find solutions that satisfy all parties so that there is no general strike in the country.” [1]

For UNITA, the well-behaved bourgeois opposition, the way out is not a general strike, the way out is local elections. In other words, they are not interested in allowing the workers to take the country’s history into their own hands. It’s no coincidence that this party, together with the MPLA, voted for the anti-strike law last year.

Civil Servants Show the Way

The staggered strike will have begin its first phase from March 20 to 22, a second phase from April 22 to 30, and a third phase from June 3 to 14. In all these phases, the youth, cultural movements, residents’ associations, and trade unions must actively support the strike. This is not just a strike by Angolan civil servants, it is a strike against the economic policy of the MPLA dictatorship, which is supported behind the scenes by UNITA.

The Workers are Willing, but It Remains to be Seen Whether the Unions Will Go All the Way

There is no doubt that the Angolan people can no longer put up with the suffering imposed by the MPLA as an agent of the Angolan and foreign bosses. There is a lot of willingness to fight. And in these cases, the trade union organizations and their leaders play a key role. The question that remains is: will they go all the way, or will they negotiate watered-down agreements?

New Ways Forward the Country

With the civil service strike, we may be building new ways forward. Or, as the rapper MCK would say: “Ways in which young people can build agendas that don’t depend on the bipolarity of UNITA and the MPLA… we, the young people, our universities, our society, must dictate our future and not wait for the politicians to offer it to us.” [2]

[1] UNITA calls for dialog between the Angolan government and the trade unions to avoid a general strike in the country – https://rna.ao/rna.ao/2024/02/13/unita-defende-dialogo-entre-o-governo-angolano-e-as-centrais-sindicais-para-que-nao-haja-greve-geral-no-pais/

[2] MCK: It’s become more difficult to be an activist artist these days – https://www.lilpastanews.net/2024/03/mck-nos-dias-que-correm-tornou-se-mais.html?m=1

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