In the first nine months of 2004, the trade balance of the country had a surplus of $6.5 billion. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) describes the situation as "quite favourable" and it notes the steps which have been taken on the field of structural reforms, in particular the re-organisation of the banking sector. The US ambassador announced that his country would support Algeria in its "process of joining the World Trade Organisation (WTO)." France is trying to maintain its links, sending government ministers for visits to Algeria on a regular basis.
Ouyahia government: a government for the capitalist class
The government, led by Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia, is responsible for dispossessing the Algerians of the wealth which is being produced and exported - mainly oil and gas.
2003 resulted in strong economic growth in Algeria but the majority of the people didn’t see an improvement of their living standards. On the contrary, everywhere there are signs of a population having difficulties. Some workers haven’t been paid their wages in months, which underlines the disastrous social conditions.
There have been semi-insurrectional riots developing and spreading around the country to protest against the central power and the regional authorities. In some places the protests are about the price of water, in other places about the housing problems or about the zeal of the police and the government in controlling the small shop owners in the markets. The rise of the number of struggles however is very clear.
In 2003, before the elections, there were several strike movements, including a strike of railworkers against the plans to further privatise public services. These movements slowed down the privatisation projects of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
The government attacks the workers
Certain sectors have seen unlimited strike actions. For example, the public health workers started a strike action on 18 October 2004 to demand 300,000 new jobs in the public services. The dockers from the National Coordination of Trade Unions organised action against the possible privatisation of the shipyards which would threaten the jobs of thousands of workers, including 3,000 workers on day contracts.
Faced with these mobilisations and the riots, particularly in the area of M’zab, the government has tried to stop the movements with judicial and military repression. From Ghardaia to Constantine, the number of lawsuits against the young people involved in "riots" is increasing, and more and more youth end up in prison.
Faced with these social movements, the government is trying to limit the right to strike in the public services. Some exemplary measures have been taken against strikers. The government, for example, decided not to pay wages for any strike days, despite an agreement to limit the non-payment to three days per week.
There has been a lawsuit against the unions who "undermine" the public health services by organising unlimited strike action. The government has also started a procedure to sack workers who have been on strike, claiming they have "abandoned" their workplace!
These workers fightbacks are, in general, led by independent trade unions, sometimes by unions affiliated to the UGTA, the official trade union federation. With their battery of anti-working class measures, the government has taken back one of the last gains of the October 1988 uprising. Both Bouteflika and Ouyahia show whose interests they defend; those of the Algerian and foreign capitalists who want to open up the Algerian market to exploit for profit.
Resist by building a socialist alternative through the struggles!
The independent unions are resisting the government attacks, but the UGTA remains absent. There hasn’t been any official support from the official union to defend the current workers’ fights. The union federation thinks it is not useful to "start hostilities" against Ouyahia as the federation is not officially opposed to privatisations, despite the mobilisation of its members. A part of the National Commission of the federation actually belongs to the RND, the political party led by Ouyahia…
The nationalisations and the industrial development of the country are historic gains which need to be defended by the Algerian workers. The workers and youth demand decent living standards, affordable housing, access to cheap water, etc. Inevitably, these demands lead to a confrontation with the political establishment, which defends the profits of a handful of capitalists. This battle is a direct confrontation with the vested capitalist interests.
The demands on public services, living conditions, etc, raises the question of the who wields political power. Capitalism seeks to advance its position in Algeria, but this system is not able to satisfy the needs of a majority of the population, which leads to the attack of the Ouyahia government. It is through the demands for improved infrastructure (roads, water, housing) and against privatisations, that the workers can be united around a programme which opposes the present capitalist system.
The renationalisation of the privatised companies or the building of new roads, raises the need for democratic workers’ control and management of the economy.
Socialism is the only perspective for Algeria, not the "socialist" model of the former Stalinist regimes, but a system democratically organised and taking the needs of the majority of the population into account so that workers and youth can benefit from the country’s wealth. For that, it is necessary to build a tool for political struggle, a party that defends this perspective of struggle for a socialist alternative on a daily basis. The Committee for a Workers International is fighting for such a strategy.