By Myriam Poizat
On February 22, Algerian president Bouteflika’s announcement to stand for a fifth term in office sparked protests of anger across the country. Millions of students walked out on the streets of Algeria, and triggered what became the beginning of a mass movement for democracy and workers’ rights.
Workers move into action
In March, workers from sectors including transport, docks, auto industry, teaching, healthcare, have followed the path of the young people, and have played a major role in organising two five-days and three-days general strikes. Those first developed independently of the official Trade Union confederation, UGTA, whose corrupt and conservative leadership has always worked side by side with Bouteflika, maintaining social order and suppressing any growing militant mood amongst workers. From March 10, sections of the UGTA challenged the conservative leadership and followed autonomous workers’ calls to join the general strikes.
For years, Bouteflika’s dictatorship managed to use booming oil and gas export revenues – 30% of economic output – to lower the cost of living and invest in social programmes. However, since the 2014 collapse of oil prices, the regime has less room for manoeuvre. 90% of households have seen their living conditions drop; while in 2015, a report indicated that 80% of the national wealth was held by 10% of the Algerian population. A sentiment of anger against an unequal system maintained by an undemocratic regime had been boiling under the surface for a long time, and Bouteflika’s fifth term was only the final straw.
Break with capitalism
Although Bouteflika’s regime initially announced that their President would not be running for another term, they then postponed indefinitely the elections of 18 April. There is no doubt that the ruling classes are being forced to make concessions to the movement, and had postponed the elections to gain time, and take control of the situation to protect their interests. However, this only improved the confidence of the movement, which realised its ability to shake the political establishment. Protests have only been growing, calling for Bouteflika’s resignation, as well as for the end of an exploitive and oppressing system for young people, women and workers. This meant that Bouteflika was forced to resign on April 2, establishing an “interim government”, which the ruling class will try to use to quell the struggle, and maintain their power.
The movement has undoubtedly raised confidence amongst workers and young people to organise and mobilise against the prevailing undemocratic and unequal system. The struggle cannot simply end with Bouteflika however, it now needs to be consolidated through the organisation of workers’ assemblies and committees, which would be necessary to organise a democratic struggle, to collectively plan actions, and to structure the movement independently of the power of the ruling class and its political parties. Those committees could also challenge economic and social oppression through delegating representatives to a general revolutionary assembly, which would discuss alternatives to the current constitution.
Women, workers and young people, who have been at the forefront of the movement, have been calling for the end of an oppressive regime for women. By linking in with the working class as a whole they could play a major role in sweeping away the interference of religion in state affairs and in liberating women from gender-based inequalities and stigma. The movement also needs to discuss alternatives to the neoliberal and capitalist system, by nationalising the key industries and banks that dominate the economy. On this basis the economy could be democratically planned to meet peoples’ needs, not those of profit.