On 1st May, Axadle Times reviews the history of trade unionism in French-speaking Africa. A journey that at the beginning of the twentieth century is confused with Belgian and French trade union history.
But if this Monday, Labor Day is celebrated everywhere, each country does not have the same trade union traditions and concerns.
If the first strike ever recorded in sub-Saharan Africa took place in Dakar and dated 1919, it was not until 1923 that the first union appeared: the Federation of Maritime Trade Unions, affiliated to the CGT.
The large French power plant plays a key role in the emergence of unions in French West Africa (AOF). While in the Belgian Congo, the Christian CSC and the Socialist FGTB are sponsoring local confederations.
In 1937, a decree of Leon Blum favored the establishment of unions in the colonies and we witnessed a real boom. On the eve of the Second World War, the French colonies had 175 unions mostly affiliated to the CGT.
After the war, the African power plants accompany the struggle against colonization. This is the main characteristic of African trade unions to be thus engaged in both social and political struggles.
The first African parties, such as the GDR, the African Democratic Rally, will emerge from this union matrix.
Independence will place some trust in national unions as single parties develop. Conversely, the liberalization wave of the 1990s has considerably strengthened trade union pluralism.
To the point that today fragmentation is one of the main weaknesses of African power plants.
The Gambia, a wind of freedom for trade unions
This 1st of May is special in Gambia. This is the first Labor Day under the new regime. Until then, without real negotiating power, the trade unions hope to mark the beginning of a new era for the rights of workers in the country.
The time was therefore for enthusiasm among the trade unionists at the time of the preparations.
We must mark the blow for this day of work unlike the others, according to Amadou Bah, the trade union of transport and agriculture. ” Of course it’s a different Labor Day. It is expected that the collaboration with the new government will be more fruitful , “he said.
It must be said that, beforehand, between arbitrary threats and detentions, freedom of expression was more limited.
Essa Sowe is in charge of the teachers’ union: ” We had to make a lot of compromises at the time, we had to make flattering statements and we had to be very careful about what we were saying.
It ended up being political declarations, just to please the interlocutors and get what they wanted, “he recalls.
Today, Malick Secka, trade unionist for the dockers, hopes to be heard. ” Under the old regime, when one complained, they never listened to what one had to say. Because of the dictatorship, we were told that decisions came from above. Maybe this new regime will listen to the workers ‘ complaints, “he hopes.
Amadou, from the transport union, also wants to avoid being short-circuited by corruption systems. ” Workers used money to gain the attention of agents and weigh on the administration, ” he said. So the union did not have much weight. That will certainly change. ”
The unionists will march on Monday morning and then hand a document to the Minister of Trade and Industry to support their new demands.
Trade unions at the center of Burkinabe history
Trade unionists in Burkina Faso are proud of it: at every turning point in history, they were there. In 1966, they were at the origin of the first popular uprising in Africa that led to the fall of a regime. Maurice Yaméogo had resigned.
They also remember the 1975 general strike to prevent the establishment of a single party. By 2015, they were also the ones who contributed, by paralyzing the country, to defeat the coup attempt.
They are powerful and very well organized, explains Abdoul Karim Sango, political analyst. ” The network is so important that it crosses all sectors of the public world in particular.
Their role seems to me all the more interesting because what matters to the Burkinabe trade unions is not always corporatist claims. They join in their struggle the struggle for the strengthening of democracy and for the respect of human rights, analyzes it. From this point of view, we are obliged to count on them. ”
A leading figure in Burkina Faso trade unionism, Bassiema Bazie believes that trade unions have above all a role of counter-power. ” Trade union organizations must be able to keep themselves at an equal distance from all political forces, especially since they do not have the role of conquering and managing state power.
Their role is to ensure the implementation of political decisions and to denounce and go to the front and ensure that these political decisions do not have a negative impact on the lives of the populations , “he said. .
For Bassolma Bazie, May 1st is more than just a party, it is above all a moment of mobilization and combat. This Monday in Ouagadougou, a march will be followed by a meeting at the labor exchange.
A counter-demonstration of anger in Gabon
In Gabon, the feast of 1 May is officially organized on the boulevard Triomphal Omar Bongo of the capital, under the supervision of President Ali Bongo. A program of worker decorations, a parade, an exhibition and a cocktail.
But all the unions will not join Ali Bongo. Several unions decided to organize a counter-demonstration to demand the rehabilitation of the National Convention of National Education Unions (Conasysed), banned on 18 March.
Sunday afternoon at the headquarters of Dynamique unitaire and the ex-Conasysed in Awendje, in the 4th district of Libreville, a dozen people work with great ardor. All are putting the finishing touches on the manifesto that will be read this Monday.
This 1 May will not be a day of rejoicing, but an anger against the dissolution of the Conasysed, affirms Simon Ndong Edzo, delegate general of this disbanded trade union coalition. ” It’s a day of anger.
We condemn with the last energy the dissolution, if not the prohibition of activity of the Conasysed by administrative way. The ILO [International Labor Organization, ed.] Condemned this , “he said.
The unions that made up the Conasysed will walk from the roundabout to the Awendje basketball stadium to demand the rehabilitation of their coalition. ” We are asking the government to rehabilitate the Conasysed and its activities because it is not competent to suspend a trade union organization by administrative means “, urges the trade unionist.
The government has banned the activities of the Conasysed because of an alleged connivance with radical opposition and the organization of a severe strike in national education. Seventeen striking teachers are threatened with dismissal.
In Madagascar, trade unionism has lead in the wing
The statement by Jean-Raymond Rakotoniasy, the secretary-general of Madagascar’s new Trade Union Solidarity Platform, is straightforward: ” Trade unionism is not doing well today. ”
From year to year, the parades were frayed in Madagascar, the workers disengaged. Several explanations, such as the loss of credibility of the trade union centers with the workers, after some leaders have embezzled money or pact with political parties.
But the problem also stems from the economic situation in the country, where the specter of unemployment and the precariousness of employment annihilate any desire for a claim. And this, despite the 80 years of existence of the movement on the Big Island.
” There have been many trade union leaders and even trade union delegates, including Air Madagascar and Jirama, who have been dismissed, which is not in line with the Malagasy Labor Code.
The fear of being fired, the fear of not receiving a salary, is one of the causes of the de-unionization in Madagascar, “he comments.
Moreover, trade union movements suffer from a cruel lack of financing, since the automatic deduction of a contribution on wages does not exist. This results in a lot of difficulties for union representatives, starting with the level of quality of services rendered or the ability to mobilize employees.
“We need to reinvigorate the trade union movement in Madagascar. Because today we can no longer remain in the classic mode of governance, that is to say, the plundering of national wealth, the diversion of public funds.
This is no longer acceptable in relation to the poverty of the population in Madagascar , “he said.
Jean-Raymond Rakotoniasy estimates that the number of workers currently unionized is less than 15%.