The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Mauritania:
Strike at the Tasiast Mine

Aug 22, 2016

In the July 3 edition of their paper, Le Pouvoir aux Travailleurs (Power to the Workers), the African Union of Communist Internationalist Workers told about the victorious strike of the workers at the Tasiast gold mine in Mauritania.

The workers’ strike totally blocked the production of gold in the Tasiast mine for 18 days. This gold mine and its factory, located 250 kilometers to the north of the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott, is one of the most important in West Africa. The company employs a total of 2,600 workers, with no more than 1,000 “permanent” workers at the mine and factory. The rest are “non-permanents” and the sub-contractors. Since 2010 it has been part of a Canadian company, Kinross Gold Corporation, operated by a local intermediary, Tasiast Mauritania Limited SA (TML SA).

The strike started on May 23 in reaction to management’s decision to reduce payroll in order to increase profits. Abdallah Nehah, secretary general of the General Confederation of Workers of Mauritania (CGTM), one of the main unions that led the movement, explained: “Starting on May 15, the company decided to reduce their share of payment for health insurance from 100% to 80%, their share of the taxes from 75% to 25%, and to reduce the trimester bonus (every four months) from the equivalent of one month’s pay to only five days.... These benefits were part of the workers’ wages and were not supposed to be diminished without negotiations and an agreement between the two parties.”

This decision was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The discontent had been growing for a long time. In August of 2013, a strike broke out over a number of wage and health insurance demands. In October of 2015, there was also an angry movement against layoffs. The workers had not forgotten management’s promise from a few years earlier to hire 4,000 workers. But since 2013, there were already two rounds of layoffs: 300 workers laid off in 2013, and 148 in 2015.

Management’s thirst to increase profits by reducing the number of workers and cutting benefits provoked the most recent strike. The workers are even angrier because they see a large quantity of gold leaving the factory every day as a result of their labor, yet management wants to reduce the little bit that they get.

At the end of the 18 days on strike, during which the factory was completely blocked, management finally had to back off. At first, it tried to break the movement and to replace the strikers with sub-contractors. But this attempt failed and management had to call for negotiations with the representatives of the strikers. The company officially announced that it had suspended the wage cuts and that it would submit to negotiations with the unions. The strikers went back to work after getting the promise that no strikers would be fired and that no measure would be taken without negotiations.

Nothing can guarantee that management has definitively renounced its plan to reduce wage payments. Management is certainly waiting to sense when the workers let down their guard. Their goal is above all to increase their profits, in order to enrich the investors in the gold mine. But in their strike, the workers have shown their collective force and shown to management that they will defend themselves against these nefarious attacks.