A general strike that began on Monday of this week continues today, Thursday, in west Africa’s Guinea. Tens of thousands of workers are taking part.
The action has closed factories, shops, banks and offices in the capital Conakry and other major towns. Most schools are closed and hospitals are providing only emergency services. Many of the street markets have shut.
The two major trade union federations are demanding cuts in the price of food, fuel and other basic commodities plus pay rises for large sections of workers.
A spokesperson for the National Confederation of Guinean Workers told Socialist Worker, “The strike is very solid. We hope that negotiations will be successful, but if not we are prepared to continue for as long as necessary. Guinea’s workers are strong!”
In response the government of Alpha Conde mobilised police on to the streets.
Yesterday 16 trade unionists were reported to have been arrested and are being held by the Mobile Intervention and Security department.
A key issue in the success of the strike will be whether it spreads to the bauxite mining sector. At present only some bauxite workers are out.
Guinea has around a third of the world’s entire reserves of bauxite (the main source of aluminium). The mineral produces around 80 percent of the country’s foreign exchange.
Guinea has one of the best-organised workers’ movements in Africa. A three-week general strike in Guinea in 2007, which included bauxite workers, won big concessions from the dictatorial regime of then president Lansana Conte. He was forced to appoint a new prime minister from a list supplied by the trade unions.
The strike also won cuts in fuel and rice prices.
The heroic battle saw over 70 workers killed by security forces and hundreds wounded.
Guinea’s economy is shaped by multinationals and other major investors. The main bauxite producer is 49 percent owned by the government and 51 percent by a consortium controlled by major firms including Alcoa, Rio Tinto and Dadco.
A victory for the general strike now would be powerful evidence of how, even when commodity prices are falling, workers can fight to protect their class interests.