By Shelagh Smith
The strike of the workers of Numilog in Bejaia, Kabylia, is playing an important role in building confidence and solidarity in the Algerian workers movement. Their conflict with the transport and logistics firm, part of the huge Cevital group, began in July when three workers were sacked for setting up a trade union branch of the national UGTA union. The workers had been complaining about their working conditions, for example the lack of rest periods, long hours, the absence of safety standards, humiliation and repeated threats of dismissal, as well as low wages. The workforce came out on strike in solidarity with the three trade unionists, whereupon 195 of the 250 employees were sacked for being members of the union. Since then they have led an active strike, with marches, meetings and sit-ins.
On November 18th the courts ruled in the workers’ favour and ordered their reinstatement, but the Numilog management has refused to budge. The Ministry of Labour and the local authorities in Béjaïa have done nothing to help enforce the ruling, so on 25th November the workers travelled to the capital Algiers to hold a sit-in at the Ministry. Ten workers were arrested, as well as two members of the Parti Socialiste des Travailleurs (PST – translated as the Socialist Workers Party): Kamel Aïssat and Samir Larabi. They were all released later the same day. The PST has been actively involved in building solidarity with the Numilog workers. Both Kamel and Samir have contributed to MENA Solidarity publications.
The PST is calling for solidarity with three other activists who are due to appear in court on 8th December on charges of being in a peaceful gathering (“attroupement non armée”): Said Benarab of the FFS, Lemnouar Hamamouche of the PST and Yanis Adjilia, currently in prison. The accusation goes back several months, and is another example of the legal system being used to repress freedom of expression.
The struggle at Numilog has been inspirational for other workers. In September the workers of the brewery company BSA, in El Kseur, ended their strike after winning their demands. They stressed the importance of taking the strike out beyond the workplace, the importance of confidence and solidarity, and crucially the huge contribution of the Numilog strike with its example of courage and determination.
Numilog is part of the Cevital group, the largest private conglomerate in Algeria, created by Issad Rebrab, whose personal fortune is £3.9 billion dollars. Although his business thrived under ousted president Bouteflika, he backed the protests against him which began in February 2019, and called Cevital a “citizen enterprise”. Later that year he was sentenced to six months in prison for tax, banking and customs offenses, in an anti-corruption campaign seen by many as a ploy to defuse the movement and settle scores. The majority of the workers at Numilog took part in marches in Béjaïa to unlock the investments of the Cevital group at the time, and now find themselves on the streets, blaming Rebrab for his ingratitude. This is not the first time that companies in the Cevital group have refused to recognise trade unions, installing house unions instead.
The struggle at Numilog brings into focus the reality of workers’ rights in Algeria today, where despite legal guarantees, private and public/private firms sack workers who organise union branches, and the labour inspectorate turns a blind eye. This is in the context of the continuing popular movement for a complete system change, a civilian not a military state, and a defence of human rights and democratic freedoms, including freedom of the press and workers’ rights. The “New Algeria” claimed by the regime is trampling on all of these.
What you can do:
- Send messages of support to the Numilog workers and the PST on these two Facebook pages: