Nov 9, 2015
While a campaign was going on for the October 25th elections in Ivory Coast, the government harshly crushed a construction workers strike. The African Union of Internationalist Communist Workers wrote this in their paper Power to the Workers:
The Ivory Coast government proved that when workers struggle for dignity and demand an improvement in their living conditions, the government is always on the side of the exploiters.
Soroubat is a public works construction company. Like other exploiters in the Vridi and Yopougon industrial zones, the company believes it can get away with anything when it’s a question of exploiting its workers. It employs workers under the table and pays under the industry’s legal minimum wage. It doesn’t give workers a pay slip or pay government deductions. It violates safety standards on its construction sites. And it forces the workers to work unpaid overtime.
This company can be so arrogant because it knows it has the support of the authorities. It gets rid of workers whenever it wants. But the firing of one worker too many on a bridge construction job at Angré was the final straw. It unleashed the workers’ long pent-up anger, just when they were about to finish the bridge. They went on strike and blocked the building site. They then chose representatives to tell the boss that they wouldn’t go back to work until their co-worker was brought back.
Soroubat’s management was not at all used to workers standing up to them, and it immediately fired these representatives. The company undoubtedly thought the workers would calm down, but it seriously misjudged the workers’ anger. One hundred and fifty workers organized to put up around-the-clock pickets to stop all activity, including the movement of construction equipment. They demanded the reinstatement of their co-workers. They seized on the occasion to add a list of demands about working conditions, and unpaid wages and benefits.
To reinforce their movement, the workers spread the strike to other Soroubat work sites where the workers faced the same problems. This involved the PK 24 job site at Yopougon employing 200 workers, and at Bassam, Koumassi, Taabo and Yamoussoukro. Workers at all these construction sites joined the movement, leading to 500 workers on strike.
The state, both civil and military, supported the company. It ordered workers’ delegates to come to local police stations, and then forced them to stay an entire day. The police’s goal was to pressure the delegates to call on their co-workers to go back to work, under the pretext that their strike was “illegal.” But this threat didn’t impress the strikers. They were determined.
The police then raised the pressure a notch, by locking up five workers taken from three different job sites.
Faced with this situation, the workers met all together and decided to conditionally go back to work, hoping this would free their arrested co-workers. But at the moment, they are still in prison without being tried.
Nonetheless, the workers don’t feel defeated. On the contrary, they are proud of their success in building a solid and efficient organization and of being able to stand up. They took up collections to aid the families of their imprisoned brothers and to bring food to those in jail. They found a lawyer to defend them. They haven’t yet had their final say in this struggle to defend their rights.