Meeting the Challenge of Organizing Immigrant and Domestic Workers

Rabat   We got a good look at alternative strategies to meet the demand of immigrant and domestic workers in Morocco, one from an NGO project with the African Cultural Center of Morocco and the other from a feisty, political union of 18,000 members that had created a “section” for immigrant workers, domestics, and others, like street sellers.

Rose Monde and the NGO

Rose Monde and her colleagues were sharp as tacks and very articulate. They had narrowed their focus within the outlines of a European Union grant over recent years to the sub-set of domestic workers who were from sub-Saharan countries, like the Congo, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, and Senegal. Their estimate of the total numbers of domestics in the country and in Rabat, the capital, were huge and in the six figures, but their target was only a couple of thousand. Their main strategy had been education and training in various conferences over the years of the project. The butcher paper on the walls, looked like they had a good understanding of the issues and abuse, but might not have succeeded in forging tactics for effective response. They touted the law that would protect some workers from some of the more extreme abuses, but it still had another year to go before implementation, so it was unclear what their options might be now.

They agreed with the ODT, the Democratic Organization of Workers, and its leadership on several issues, one of them being the fact that Morocco has become less a transition stop for migrant workers moving to Europe, than a destination location now. The ODT was a younger union and touted its inclusiveness and openness to various workers. They ran what they called parallel structures with the formal workers and then the various sections of informal and immigrant workers running semi-autonomous programs within them. They were proud of being the first to welcome immigrant workers.

The legal framework for immigrants is fraught. The law allows a process of receiving registration that allows the ability to work. In a provision that only President Trump could love, they have to re-register annually and certify that no native Moroccan is interested in the job. If not, all good. If so, away you go!

With such a far-flung membership and several offices around the country, the fact that ODT opens its ranks is a smart strategy for growth in the future with limited investment or capacity in the present. Ali Lotfi, the General Secretary, of the union was proud of his international labor contacts, and mentioned having been at the SEIU convention and heard Hillary Clinton speak. He said they had also helped on the McDonalds’ campaign.

The ODT is worth watching. They are doing some interesting work, even if we were sometimes struggling to put our arms around it. The ACM project has some good staff, research, and skills, but lacks some of the innovative instincts and aggressiveness of the ODT.

Immigrants and domestic workers with a clear view of their plight are probably wishing there was one plan to build a real organization so that they could win their rights and protect them. Hopefully we’ll hear about that in the next stage.

Please enjoy David Bowie’s Suffragette City.

Thanks to KABF.


An Activist with Real Courage in Morocco

Ibtissame Betty Lachgar from MALI

Rabat   We’re organizers assembled at the Organizers’ Forum, not advocates or activists. We’re most interested in how people build organization, organize in their communities or workplaces, and launch their campaigns. One of our most interesting meetings though came with Ibtissame Betty Lachgar of MALI, which means roughly, What is so Different? She had virtually no organization. Doesn’t seek money from international NGOs. They don’t do outreach for actions or events other than the odd Facebook or social media post. Perhaps MALI has 50 members she said in defining their core activists. Nonetheless, Lachgar impressed us all with her commitment and, frankly, courage.

Boiled down to the basics, her cause and that of her associates in MALI has been individual rights and freedoms.

In 2009 they called their first public action in this conservative country whose slogans are God, the King, and Country. Muslim is the state religion and earlier in the our visit we had heard of the difficulties of other minority religions. MALI organized what they called a “picnic” in a public place to make the point that everyone was not Muslim and did not need to fast for Ramadan. The outrage at Lachgar and her group was intense. They ended up running for it and having to have their picnic in what she called a forest nearby.

This event triggered an almost annual action. In 2010 they dramatized harassment, and of course they were harassed. In 2011, the 20th of February movement was in force, so there was plenty of action on every front. Lachgar once again soaked up the hostility in that period when she wore a t-shirt to one of the events saying, “I Don’t Need Sex, the Government Screws Me Every Day,” or words to that affect. In 2013, to protest the bans on showing public affection, they organized a “Kiss In” in front of the Parliament, and were promptly arrested as well, and held for a bit.

On women’s rights and LGBT rights, MALI invited the Netherlands-based “Women on Waves” to bring down their ship to educate women on access to abortion pills and abortion rights. The government went crazy again, and insisted they would block the ship from coming anywhere near Morocco, and were embarrassed when they found out the ship had been there a month earlier and was already gone. The abortion pill had been available over the counter before this, but doctors then started profiteering with the price as it became more difficult to obtain without prescriptions.

Lachgar was not part of an organization and seemed not to really want one, but she was a force of nature, and very inspiring. She can’t seem to keep out of trouble, and mullahs have issued fatwas calling for her death to protect the faith. She has also found herself on an ISIS list. Asked if she made any precautions or had any security, and she simply shrugged it off.

There is an important role for loud and effective voices in the wilderness like Lachgar, and we were all moved to meet her and offer solidarity for her sometimes solitary struggles for the rights of so many.