Following the last years’ active work of IndustriALL in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, IndustriALL affiliates in the region met to deepen discussions and lay out an active organizing agenda.
More than 80 participants took part in IndustriALL’s MENA Conference on "Building Union Power through Organizing" in Beirut, Lebanon 20-23 April 2015. There were delegates from Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Palestine, Tunisia and Yemen, as well as representatives from European affiliates from France, Germany and Spain.
The four full days included various sectorial, cross sector, networks and women meetings: IndustriALL Middle East and North Africa Textile, Garment and Leather Sector Unions' Regional Network Meeting; MENA Oil and Gas Unions’ Regional Network Meeting; MENA Regional Auto and Suppliers Sector Unions Meeting; MENA Regional Meeting; MENA Regional Women's Network Meeting.
Several MENA unions experience difficulties in organizing and reaching out to new production locations due the political disputes, terrorism, deteriorating security situations, armed conflicts in some countries and lack of laws on protecting the rights to organize.
In Egypt and Iraq, independent and free unions still struggle for fair labour and trade union laws that recognize their rights to organize freely. The emergence of ISIS in different parts of the regions adds to the daily misery of workers who cannot safely reach their workplace, and in some cases ISIS are in control of the production locations.
The Iraqi government is now turning state owned companies, more than 70 in total, into a so-called self-financing system. This means wages can only be paid if the company makes a profit. This puts the salaries of thousands of workers on hold for several months.
The Moroccan government is still reluctant to respond to unions' demand to improve citizens' purchasing power and pensions funds and to put an end to the violation of trade unions rights. The three national centres Union Marocaine du Travail (UMT), Confédération Démocratique du Travail (CDT), and Fédération Démocratique du Travail (FDT) have recently announced May as the month of protests and condemnation across the country.
In Palestine, the suffering of the workers in the occupied territories and crossings continue to be the major issues in achieving decent working conditions and increasing union membership.
In Kuwait, highly dependent on oil revenues, the government’s new project "strategic alternative" represents a direct threat on the long-standing rights and retreat on the benefits for the workers in the oil sector. IndustriALL's affiliate Oil & Petrochemical Industries Workers Confederation stands firm on defending 30,000 workers in the sector.
Participants from Libya and Yemen explained the extreme difficulties faced by workers and their organizations due to the ongoing armed conflicted and called for peaceful resolutions.
Tunisian unions have played key role in the country's transition. However revising labour code, implementation of the outcomes of the social dialogue among UGTT, government and employers' organization as well improving health and education systems are current challenges for the unions.
The conference discussed the progress of IndustriALL’s work in various sectors and countries, as well as future perspectives on building stronger democratic and free unions. Participants shared experiences on their respective unions' structures and strategies on organizing with the purposes of improving strategies and cooperation on increasing union density at national and sectorial level.
Women and youth are important active components of MENA society. In line with the agenda of various unions from the regions, the conference discussed details on how to empower and include more women and youth in the unions. Together with the affiliates from the respective countries, IndustriALL progress on establishing women and youth networks was subject to intensive discussions.
Considering the growing number of multinational companies (MNC) operating in the region, especially in oil and gas, garment and metal sectors and the difficulties confronted by workers in organizing and defending their rights in the supply chains, the conference devoted intensive discussions on improving organizing tactics and pressuring MNCs for a constructive social dialog. Success stories from Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and Morocco were highlighted.
With the purpose of enforcing networking and enhancing cooperation among unions in the MNCs home countries and MENA unions in the supply chain, European unions emphasized workers' interests on both sides. Panelists highlighted the key facts on the operations of major European companies in the region as well as the ongoing bilateral cooperation between unions in Europe and MENA. Representatives from IG Metall, Germany; FTM-CGT, France; CCOO de industria, Spain and MCA-UGT, Spain pointed out potential cooperation and activities to strengthen union presence. Organizing have been planned for the coming months.
IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan underlines the organization’s support for building stronger unions and promoting its affiliates’ organizing agenda:
Such unprecedented participation and inspiring discussions reflect our affiliates’ commitment and awareness. Unions with such enthusiasm and common understanding of the challenges ahead will defend their rights and achieve their members’ demands sooner or later.
Participants decided to deepen discussions in their home countries, identified potential organizing targets and adopted a slogan:
LET US ORGANIZE MORE!! - !!يلا ننظم أكتر