Casablanca Beginning in 2002, the Organizers Forum began its International Dialogues with a thrilling visit to Sao Paulo, Brazil in the exhilarating days before the first primary where Lula de Silva from the Workers’ Party would be elected to begin what everyone felt would be a transformative period in the country, if he were actually allowed to take office. Now fifteen years later the sixteen of these dialogues found us in Morocco, a country where, as usual, most of our delegation had never visited, and where many were trapped in English in a country that teetered easily, if sometimes unhappily, between French and Arabic.
We were an interesting mix of community and labor organizers as usual from Canada and the United States along with Fred Brooks, professor of social work at Georgia State University, a former ACORN organizer and canvass director and veteran of several previous forums. We also included from Europe our head organizer for ACORN Italy, based in Rome, David Tozzo, as well as Marielle Benchehboune, a campaigner and labor organizer with our good partner, ReAct, in Lyon, France. Marielle, having lived in Morocco for several years and worked on ReAct transnational campaigns here, had been key to putting the program together and, fortunately, we were also joined by three Moroccan based ReAct organizers, Laila Nassimi, who had been part of our delegation in Cameroon last year, and Bouchra Rhouziani and Marwa. Add in our activist translator to the team and we were a dozen.
Once assembled and oriented with several walks in the central part of the bustling city of Casablanca, that is roughly the size of Chicago, we shuffled over to our first briefing in a room in the offices of PAD, a local political party where Bouchra was active, overlooking the large plaza near the well-known landmark, the clock tower. We were meeting with an economist and a journalist there in order to gain some context to the many meetings we would have over the week between Casablanca and Rabat.
Neoliberalism was the dominant economic theme with Morocco playing the role of a lower waged off-shore producer to European companies, especially the French, in the way that Mexican maquila plants served the United States for years. The other major theme was the post-2011 situation in the wake of the Arab Spring and the 20th of February movement which has led to a new constitution and parliamentary elections in this monarchy, but also has meant other social changes and economic and political pressures. Among these developments has been a more concerted effort to break unions in the formal sector, whose strength is now only 6% of that sector, and, according to the analysis of the journalist, Omar Radi, an effort to use the huge informal sector to both release some of the political controls by allowing people to try to make a living and exerting downward pressure on unions and wages in the formal sector.
This first 3 ½ hour briefing on a Sunday afternoon was merely an introduction that would be fleshed out in separate meetings with unions, informal worker organizers, other veterans of the 20th of February movement, women’s groups, youth organizations, and political parties. It was already clear that Morocco, widely seen as the most stable country in the MENA, Middle East North Africa region, is a country is great transition where the eventual outcome is still in contention and difficult to predict.