The population of the mining town of Jerada, in northeastern Morocco, has been mobilised for more than three months against misery, economic marginalization and state repression. Last December 22nd, the death of two brothers, Houcine and Jedouane, in a disused underground coal well, transformed a latent anger into an open revolt. In the following weeks, two other young people died in similar circumstances.
The region of Jerada, one of the poorest in the country, has been socially wracked since the late 1990s following the closure of the coal mines. This desperate situation has forced hundreds of former miners and unemployed youth to risk their lives in the so-called “mines of death”, extracting coal in dangerous conditions, and smuggling it for a handful of dirhams [the local currency] to profiteering traders commonly referred to as “the barons” - who are often also corrupt local politicians, or businessmen with links to multinational energy companies operating in the region.
Formerly providing more than half of the country’s energy needs, the people of Jerada today complain of unaffordable electricity and water bills, mass unemployment and the contempt of the monarchical authorities.
After a first wave of mobilization involving daily demonstrations and strike actions, the country’s ruling elite, fearing that the struggle could spread beyond its epicentre and be emulated in other parts of Morocco, proclaimed an “emergency plan” for the city in February.
But the local people quickly realized that the promises made by the government were smoke and mirrors aimed at smothering their demands rather than satisfying them. Since the resumption of mobilization at the end of February, the regime’s only response has been a brutal police repression, including the massive arrest of activists, targeting in particular the leaders of the movement. More than 300 people have been detained since the start of the mobilizations in Jerada, including at least 17 minors.
Following a well-followed general strike in the city on March 12, the Ministry of the Interior ordered the banning of any local demonstration from the next day onwards. Videos posted on social networks have since shown police trucks driving into the crowd of demonstrators who braved this arbitrary ban. Some people injured by this police violence had to treat themselves at home, avoiding the hospital for fear of being arrested.
Now, the city is in effect under siege, with a police presence at every street corner. Despite this, radicalized further by the repression, the local population, like that of the surrounding villages, continues to seek to mobilize; calls for a new general strike and a march towards Rabat, the capital of Morocco, have been discussed.
Meanwhile, hundreds of protesters still languish in the kingdom’s prisons for their participation in last year’s social movement in El-Hoceima, in the neighbouring Rif region. What is happening in Jerada is just the latest episode of recurrent movements expressing similar demands across the country: the right to work for young people, decent public infrastructure, a dignified life. Last October, “thirsty protests” against water cuts had also erupted in Zagora, in the South, because of the overexploitation of water tables for the benefit of big farmers. The regime had also responded to this movement by force.
The ongoing struggle at Jerada took the name of “Hirak of Jerada” (the “Jerada Movement”): a direct reference to last year’s events in El-Hoceima, illustrating the widely shared sense of a convergence of interests between these struggles.
The challenge is to materialize this feeling into the building of a joint struggle. It is by making common cause that these movements have a chance to move forward and break the policy of encirclement and isolation practiced by the regime. Some trade union and associative organizations have rightly made a call for a national mobilization in solidarity with the “Hirak of Jerada” on April 2nd. This call could serve as an opportunity to seek the expansion of the struggle, and to mobilize the workers’ movement and the youth throughout the country on the basis of a broader set of demands, hitting at the heart of the regime’s anti-poor policies. A 24-hour general strike, in solidarity with Jerada and for the release of all political prisoners, but also incorporating clear demands for jobs, wage increases, ending privatizations and the attacks on subsidies, would be an important step in creating such a dynamic.
The demands of the inhabitants of Jerada are indeed national in scope. Because it is only by fighting the heart of the economic and political power in the country that the demands of marginalized communities can find lasting satisfaction, and that the demand for an “economic alternative” called for by the demonstrators in Jerada can find all its meaning. Why should the unemployed, the workers and the poor sink into misery and risk their lives to feed their families, while the ‘Makhzen’ [the king and ruling institutions], along with a handful of mafia companies and business owners close to it, grow rich at their expense?
A mass struggle involving workers and youth throughout the country is necessary to expropriate the monarchy and the big companies, Moroccan and foreign, which control and plunder the country’s economy, and to reorganize economic life on the basis of people’s needs. This alternative is socialism, which the CWI defends against the misery, injustice and barbarism of the world capitalist system.
The CWI stands in complete solidarity with the ongoing struggle at Jerada. We demand:
-An end of state repression and the criminalization of social movements, in Jerada as in the rest of Morocco; the immediate release of all political prisoners and the end of criminal proceedings against them
-The development of local action committees to democratically coordinate the struggle, and to organize the defence of the movement against police repression
-The preparation of a 24-hour general strike throughout Morocco: in solidarity with Jerada in struggle, for jobs, against the repression of social movements, and against the neo-liberal policies of the government
-Public, decent and well paid jobs for all. A vast program of construction and renovation of infrastructures in marginalized areas, financed by the State, and democratically coordinated by the populations concerned
-For quality public services, accessible to all – an immediate end to privatizations; maintain all subsidies on basic commodities
-Nationalization, under the democratic control of workers and the population, of the key sectors of the economy, with a view to plan resources according to social needs
-Support for the struggles of workers and young people in Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria... for a socialist, democratic and voluntary federation of the Maghreb peoples.