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Autonomous syndicalism in Algeria: the example of the CLA

category north africa | workplace struggles | interview author Wednesday March 18, 2009 18:17author by JH Report this post to the editors

Achour Idir is an organizer with the autonomous Algerian trade union, the Conseil des Lycées d'Algérie (CLA, Council of Secondary Schools of Algeria). He is 30 years old and lives in Algiers. In a country where there remain the stigmata of a Party-State, maintaining one's autonomy is not an easy thing. This is an interview with a class-struggle militant, who identifies with the red and black ideals of disobedience and resistance. [Français] [Castellano]

Achour, can you tell us about your organization?

The CLA is a trade union operating in the education sector and basically groups together secondary-school teachers, though in principle it takes part in the struggles of all sectors. The CLA was founded in 2003 and bases itself on three principle demands:

  • 100% pay rises for teachers
  • the creation of a statute for teachers
  • a decent pension after 25 years service.
Today, the CLA represents over 15,000 teachers. The world of Algerian syndicalism in the education sector is bureacratized and corrupt, so the CLA is indeed a credible reference point as far as our positions and involvement in the class struggle are concerned.

What struggles have the CLA been involved in so far?

When the CLA was formed in 2003, it led a strike based on the three points I mentioned earlier. The strike lasted 3 months and met with some success, managing to obtain a pay rise of 5,000 dinars [tr. note: around €50 at today's rates] for all education workers.

Another movement of a similar sort was an initiative of the CLA in 2005 within the "Intersyndicale de l’éducation", a coalition of the more combative unions in the education sector. The movement gathered pace again in 2006, in 2007 and in 2008, but this time spread to the "Intersyndicale de la fonction publique", grouping not only the education unions (such as SATEF) but also those of the civil service (like SNAPAP).

In the summer of 2008, we led a very difficult strike of teachers on temporary contracts, and the strikers did not hesitate to go on hunger strike for 45 days. But without result. They are thinking of renewing the hunger strike during the spring holidays, beginning on 19th March.

Can you tell us something about the trade union scene in Algeria?

For a long time the trade union setup in Algeria revolved around a single Central - the UGTA. The Union Générale des Travailleurs algériens (UGTA - General Union of Algerian Workers) was founded on 24th February 1956 and was the first Algerian trade union. It arose out of the national liberation movement, though it was not dominated by the revolutionary politicians. Its founding members were basically Algerian syndicalists from the CGT (Confédération Générale du Travail) and the CFT (Confédération Française des Travailleurs). It is important to underline that the UGTA evolved on the fringe of the political movement. This autonomy would last only up to the country's independence. Following that, it became part of the State apparatus in Algeria, controlled by those in power. It is the only legal body that the government recognizes.

In contrast to this integrated syndicalism, there is also what is called autonomous syndicalism, of which the CLA is a part. But this other type of syndicalism does not have an easy life, as freedom to operate is very limited in Algeria. All strikes initiatied by labour organizations which are not part of the authorities' plans are systematically declared to be illegal. Syndicalists are arrested by the armed forces and imprisoned. We cannot find premises for our unions, nor is our union recognized for the purposes of representation.

The powers are under no illusions about this. The Intersyndicale de la fonction publique represents the combative line of Algerian syndicalism. This leads the Algerian powers to use original strategems to discredit us. It is not unknown for them to create their own "autonomous" unions, copies of the truly autonomous ones. In fact, there is a CLA clone, a SNAPAP clone. They hope to create confusion in this way.

Is there an anarcho-syndicalist or libertarian tradition in Algeria?

There is no trade union that openly describes itself as anarcho-syndicalist. However, there are many anarcho-syndicalist militants who are members of the various unions. Maybe we are not so many, but we do exist.

Can you sum up for us the social situation in Algeria?

The social situation is marked by extreme levels of poverty. As a general rule, most families have an income that covers their expenses for only 15-20 days a month. FOr the last ten days or so they have to scrape by as best they can. Many workers are in serious debt.

The unemployment rate is approaching 17% and is even higher among young people.

In the public sector (a sector which is still dominant in "socialist" Algeria), many employees are on temporary contracts. Corruption is legalized at all levels of the State.

Although most of the Algerian economy is under State control, there does exist a private sector. What is the situation with unions in this area?

Syndicalism in the private sector is non-existant. This is due basically to the fact that private sector workers are on short contracts. Indeed, they often work illicitly, without any contract, undeclared. These workers are thus in a very fragile position. They are afraid of losing their jobs if they were to get involved in setting up a union.

Any closing words, Achour?

The CLA gives its solidarity to all union struggles on a national and international level. We support all those causes which aim to create greater social justice. We also strongly believe that only struggle pays. On with the class struggle!

Interview by Jérémie Berthuin of the International Secretariat of the CNT. Translation to English by FdCA International Relations.

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