The Spark

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

Guinea:
General strike against low wages, the high cost of living and corruption

Feb 19, 2007

The following article comes from the January 15 issue of Le Pouvoir aux Travailleurs (Workers Power), the publication of the African Union of Internationalist Communist Workers (UATCI), active in French speaking Africa. An updated portion comes from the February 9 and February 16 issues of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), published by the revolutionary workers organization of that name in France.

The Guinean Workers Union and the National Confederation of Guinean Workers, as well as 14 opposition parties, have called for a continuing general strike movement. It began in Guinea on January 10th. The catastrophic economic situation, into which the immense majority of the population is plunged, has been the main cause of this strike wave.

What ignited it was the dictator Lansana Conté freeing two businessmen from jail. Mamadou Sylla, the CEO of Futurelec Holding, the richest man in the country, and former government minister Fodé Soumah had been accused of embezzling 2.6 million dollars. The movement's organizers called the current strike and civil disobedience as a sign of protest against Conté"s decision.

This protest is not the first to take place in recent years in Guinea. At the beginning of 2006, a general strike extracted from the government a 30% raise for government employees and the establishment of a minimum wage. Of course, a short time later, the government took back with the right hand what it had been forced to give up with the left. The devaluation of the Guinean franc in March, followed by an enormous rise in taxes, wiped out the concessions gained by the pressure of thousands in the streets. Prices rose 30%. A gallon of gas costs $4.56 in a country where half the population lives on less than a dollar a day. Last June, government forces shot and killed some 20 students and youth.

Guinea is a country where colossal riches are buried under the soil. It has half the world's bauxite, with 12 billion tons of reserves. Several companies that mine and refine aluminum have divided up this wealth. In addition, Anglogold Ashanti de Siguiri and Dinguiraye Mining mine gold. There are also diamonds in the ground. This country has a good climate with plenty of rain, which produces agricultural riches such as bananas, mangos and even potatoes, which are exported to several neighboring countries. Despite all these potential riches, Guinea is one of the poorest countries on the planet.

The opposition parties are right to denounce misery, corruption and the "bad government" of the regime headed by a senile and sick dictator. Conté spends a good part of his time taking care of his diabetes and leukemia in a luxurious clinic in Switzerland. Every so often, he throws opposition leaders into prison. But these politicians bear some of the responsibility. Some of them have held power as prime ministers, for example, Sidya Touré, leader of the UFR (Union of Republican Forces).

The majority of people suffer from poverty and misery. They are the victims of the daily contempt and corruption of government functionaries, large and small. Further, there are serious shortages of water and long power outages, which often plunge the poor neighborhoods into total darkness even in the capital.

Guinea, like so many other African countries, gets poorer year by year. It is no natural catastrophe that causes this decline. The main reason is that most of the riches are in the hands of a few giant corporations, multinationals which make staggering profits for their owners while leaving millions of people in an intolerable situation. The leaders of these countries are complicit in this situation, even if some of them (once they are deposed) denounce certain realities.

On January 26th, there was an agreement to form a transition government, with the dictator naming a new prime minister. The union leaders called for the "suspension" of the strike movement. Some of the opposition politicians also wanted a "pause." When Conté named Eugene Camara, a man close to him, as the prime minister, the unions set February 12th as the date for another general strike. But people didn't wait. On February 9th, they took to the streets by the thousands, calling for the resignation of the new prime minister and the dictator. The youth, the main ones to suffer unemployment, considered Camara's appointment a betrayal of the agreement by which the new prime minister would be "independent." And companies weren't paying all the wages agreed on as a result of previous struggles. These companies included CBK (Bauxite Company of Guinea) and Ingelec. The revolt spread like wildfire, drawing in many thousands. The unions joined in the protest.

Since the night of February 9th, youth have confronted the police and the army with the only weapons they have: stones and sticks. The next day, dozens of youth ransacked the residence of the new prime minister. In the capital Conakry, high school and university students erected barricades. In Kindia, in the west of Guinea, repression left seven dead. The houses of a number of government ministers were attacked, as were government buildings, and police stations burned down. The army killed at least 23 people.

The movement appears to gain support each day among the poor classes. City youth, whether in school or not, the working masses and the peasants who"ve confronted repression and the dictator's bullets, are not satisfied to leave the defense of their interests to the unions or the opposition parties. Of course, the unions and opposition parties called for the resignation of the dictator under the pressure of the popular movement and during the general strike. But a number of opposition leaders have already participated in the government with these same military officers and torturers. The workers and the peasants of Guinea can only count on their own forces to defend their interests.

We hope that in the fire of general strikes, some conscious workers, enriched by the experience of struggles, along with some intellectuals, get down to the task of constructing a true opposition party capable of leading future struggles. Such a party would not replace corrupt leaders by others pretending greater honesty. It would put a complete end to the capitalist system. Certainly that will be a struggle extending over a much vaster scale, involving several countries. But by making misery for the peoples of the entire planet, don't the capitalists themselves help to create those who tomorrow will end their rotten system!