The Spark

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

Algerian Workers on the Move

Apr 15, 2019

The following was taken from several articles in Lutte Ouvrière, the newspaper of the French revolutionary workers group of that name.

For more than six weeks, Algerians have been engaging in a massive mobilization of protests and strikes. Never before have so many Algerians, including many women, expressed their anger in the streets. They could no longer stand the farce of keeping an ill, disabled man at the head of the state (former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika) while, behind the scenes, the ruling clique of businessmen continued to take the country’s resources.

Many social categories are involved, and different, even opposing, interests are expressed. Each category – lawyers, journalists, students, Islamist militants – has interests of its own. Businessmen defend their businesses and politicians play their usual little game, claiming their agreement with the protestors after being initially hostile to the movement.

Yet the demonstrations have attracted mostly workers – young and old, with or without work – as well as students, who are all outraged by what they call “bad life” and the worsening of their living conditions. The minimum wage is less than 150 dollars a month, and many workers don’t even earn that much. Algeria boasts a majority of young people, but a third of them are unemployed. As a consequence, more and more youths aspiring to better living conditions put their lives at stake by trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.

Algeria is oil rich. But the country’s public services are deteriorating, schools are overcrowded, and hospitals have been abandoned. Last summer, there was an outbreak of cholera, a disease caused by poverty. At the same time, rich businessmen continue to suck money out of sectors like oil, gas, construction, and import-export. The country’s resources and cheap labor have attracted foreign capitalists – who are quite well-treated by Algerian officials.

Strikes have broken out in many public and private companies. Railways, the oil industry, construction sites, and other economic sectors have been hit hard. In addition to their political demands, and their demands for wage increases, workers have begun putting forward a new slogan: “Show us all the accounting books!”

These demonstrations have already forced out the long-time president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika. But so far, the layer of politicians just below him, including the old Prime Minister, have appointed themselves as the interim government. As one human rights activist put it, expecting change from these men “is like asking a pyromaniac to put out a house fire.”

So far, many demonstrators are not satisfied. They want to get rid of everyone linked to this system, as their slogans make clear. And despite the increasing threat of repression, the demonstrations continue.

The demonstrators have good reason to remain vigilant because the transition now being prepared is anything but democratic. Behind the political maneuvers, there is the army. And despite the oft-repeated slogans of the demonstrators, “Army, People, Brother, Brother!” the head of the army, Gaid Salah, assures the continuity of the system, and he seems ready to launch serious repression. In the past, the army showed more than once that it could unhesitatingly shoot protestors. In 1988, the army killed hundreds of young demonstrators. During the 1990s, its reaction to the Islamists’ massacres was even more massacres. In 2001, it killed at least 125 people.

Today, faced with the power of the movement, no one can say what choice army-chief Salah will make. This fast-friend of the old president Bouteflika, who supported his continuation in office before the demonstrations began, now poses as an agent of change. While he is rejected by a section of the demonstrators, he benefits from the support of the liberal press and many of the opposition parties who would also like to see the end of the movement.

In this situation, the interests of the exploited can only be defended by the workers themselves. That’s true in Algeria as well as in France.

The rebellious people of Algeria are our brothers and sisters. We are bound together by a multitude of family or friendship ties. France’s working class includes millions of workers of North African descent (just as the U.S. working class includes millions of workers of Latin American descent). And Algeria, with her century-old history as a colony of imperialist France, continues to enrich big French corporations. This is why the fact that Algeria has an authoritarian regime never posed any problem to successive French governments.

The Algerian rebels are also our brothers and sisters because they are working people. They were no doubt prompted to fight by Algeria’s specific political problems, but the struggle they now have to wage to guarantee their living conditions is the same as in every other country.

In Algeria, the domination of a clique of army top-brass and bourgeois people is based on the preservation, by the state, of the monopoly of oil money. In France, the wealth of those who make up the big bourgeoisie is based on the economic domination of major industrial and financial corporations. In other words, on both sides of the Mediterranean, the wealthy thrive on the exploitation of workers.

That is why the struggle of the Algerian people could open up bright new prospects for all working people!