Feb 6, 2017
In Ivory Coast, at the beginning of January, the army mutinied in many regions. At the same time, government functionaries went on strike. On Monday, January 23, the fire fighters demonstrated before they were dispersed by force. Comrades of the African Union of Communist Workers described the social struggles that are taking place in their paper, Le Pouvoir aux Travailleurs (Power to the Workers).
Like a lit trail of gunpowder flowing from the city of Bouaké, the soldiers of different garrisons in the Ivory Coast rallied to the movement of the soldiers. On Saturday, January 7, the soldiers of the biggest military base in Abidjan also mutinied. They fired off gunshots inside the barracks. At Bouaké, the city was under the control of the mutineers who paraded in vehicles taken from the police.
The mutineers demanded the payment of a bonus called “Ecomog.” They demanded a raise in their wages, a reduction in the time it takes to get to higher pay grades, and housing for each one of them. “In the army, we don’t have unions, this is the only way we have to express ourselves. We don’t wish harm to anyone, but the president must hear us.” And the president seems to have heard.
The Ivorian population faces a contradictory situation. On the one hand, there are grand words from the government about economic development and public works. On the other hand, there is the daily misery of the majority of Ivorians. To look at the factories, the roads and other new construction all over the country, the cars that more and more clog the towns, it is clear that there is a growth in business, without any benefit to the ordinary people. On the contrary, rent, the prices of transport and basic necessities have continuously increased. The population’s discontent is palpable.
The rank and file soldiers who largely come from the ordinary population are expressing this general discontent. There aren’t more than 10,000 mutineers, but because they know how to speak with gunpowder, the authorities have to bend an attentive ear.
Soon after the mutiny, a week-long strike of government workers (officially 200,000 people) arrived. And the country’s leaders got increasingly uneasy.
This strike movement started in response to an attack by the government on pensions and included health workers, government workers, and teachers.
In effect, the government wanted to apply a reform to the retirement system enacted in 2012. It wanted to lower the pensions of government workers to the level of the private sector, and to raise the level of their contributions. And in the case of death, the surviving spouse must wait five more years to receive the pension.
Government workers have many other demands as well. Among them is the hiring of temp workers as regular government workers. The teachers, on their side, are owed back pay. In general, the demands are for a raise in wages and an improvement in working conditions. But the government is deaf to their demands as long as the strike doesn’t affect them otherwise.
For months, the government has been afraid that this strike movement would spread. But its leaders have not proposed any policies that might spread it to the private sector, to the industrial workers, construction, or the port. Strike leaders don’t propose to spread it to the teachers in private schools or to private health clinics, etc. All of these workers have problems of pay and of conditions of work and might rally to this strike movement, radically changing the balance of forces.