A general strike that began in west Africa’s Guinea on Monday of last week ended after five days with significant gains.
Tens of thousands of workers took part in solid action that closed factories, shops, banks and offices in the capital Conakry and other major towns.
Most schools were closed and hospitals provided only emergency services. Many of the street markets shut.
The government of Alpha Conde mobilised police onto the streets and arrested dozens of activists, but this did not break the strike.
Instead the action demonstrated the potential power of the working class.
Workers in the crucial bauxite mining sector, which provides 80 percent of the country’s foreign exchange earnings, had begun to join the strike. This probably forced the government’s hand.
Two major trade union federations called the strike to demand cuts in the price of food, fuel and other basic commodities plus pay rises for many workers.
After five days the unions told activists that the “strike has been suspended until further notice”.
Large groups of workers will receive wage increases backdated to the start of this year, and pensions will be improved.
Health and education workers will have better access to social housing and the government has made a commitment to reduce police harassment.
However there was no shift on fuel prices. The government said that the International Monetary Fund would cut off funding if it cut the price. This led to some workers shouting “We have been betrayed!” when the strike was called off.
Guinea, a country of close to 11 million people, is recovering from the effects of ebola, which killed over 2,500 people.
But this has not halted class struggle. 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.
Guinea’s economy is partly 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.
The gains from the general strike are powerful evidence of how, even when commodity prices are falling, workers can fight to protect their class interests.