Over a thousand workers at Kenana Sugar Company in Sudan are starting their second month on strike to demand basic trade union rights, increased wages to offset the spiralling cost of living, the removal of figures associated with the old regime from the company and the reinstatement of 34 workers sacked for taking part in the uprising against dictator Omar el-Bashir last year. Other demands raised by the strikers include renovating the workers’ canteen, improvements to health services in the company town and investment in education for workers’ children.
Activists from Sudan Labour Bulletin, an independent monthly publication based in Sudan documenting workers’ struggles, spoke to Middle East Solidarity about the strike and why there is an urgent need for solidarity.
“On 20th of September 2020 the strike entered its 33rd day, and is now tied with the record set by the strike of the railway workers of Atbara of the longest strike in Sudan’s history that took place in 1948 starting from the 16th of March to the 18th of April. The strike’s demands include recognizing the workers’ steering committee, upholding the workers’ rights and improving their working conditions,” the activists explained.
The government’s response has been to try and impose an appointed committee on the workers, hoping to end the strike with a compromise deal. According to reports from the company yesterday, striking workers were not satisfied with what was on offer.
“The government has also dispatched the “Empowerment Removal Committee” to the company. This body has been formed with the declared goal of dismantling al-Bashir’s regime, but in effect has been seizing what al-Bashir and his cronies owned and further consolidating the monopolies of the junta that rose to power after ousting the former military dictator. The “Empowerment Removal Committee” appointed a governmental steering committee whose designated tasks explicitly and deliberately omitted holding a workers’ general assembly meeting to elect a democratic workers’ union.”
Kenana Sugar is one of the largest producers of white sugar in Africa. The company employs around 6000 people and processes 400,000 tons of sugar a year, alongside 65 million litres of ethanol and 80,000 tons of animal fodder. The company has major export markets in the Middle East and further afield, and counts the Government of Saudi Arabia, the Public Investment Authority of Kuwait and the Government of Sudan among its major investors.
“The significance of the Kenana Sugar factory workers’ strike lies in the fact that it mirrors the struggle of the Sudanese people at large in their fight against multinational capital for self-determination,” Sudan Labour Bulletin told us. “It also demonstrates how the government colludes with its Gulf allies/patrons in oppressing and exploiting the population.”
Sudanese activists say that solidarity is urgently needed. “A few days ago we received unconfirmed reports that allege the government may be contemplating the option of breaking up the workers’ strike by the force of arms. The reports allege the government is preparing to mobilize its militias (the notorious Rapid Support Forces) and one of the most brutal divisions of the security forces, in addition to the police.”
What you can do:
- Sign our online solidarity statement with the Kenana Sugar Workers – add your name here: https://menasolidaritynetwork.com/kenanasugarstrike/
- Send a message to the Sudanese Embassy in London on 07385656014 or via the Embassy’s contact form here: https://www.sudan-embassy.co.uk/contact/ [suggested wording: Dear Ambassador, I am writing to you to express my solidarity with the strike by workers at the Kenana Sugar Company. As a member of xx trade union, I am deeply concerned to hear that the workers’ rights to elect their own representatives are not being respected. I urge the government of Sudan to ensure that striking workers are able to express their legitimate grievances without fear of reprisals and to meet their demands for increased wages, the reinstatement of dismissed colleagues, an elected workers’ committee and improvement to working conditions, health and education facilities without delay. Yours sincerely ….]