Tag Archives: Morocco

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.


Hard Road for Unions In Morocco

Casablanca   The Organizers Forum delegation learned a lot about the problem of workers and their organizations when we met with an organizing director from the UMT, the Moroccan Workers Union or Union Morocaine de Travail as well as several activists with the UMT at ST Electronics. The UMT is the largest union in Morocco with about 300,000 members and has not been afraid to try to organize some of the workers in industries that have off-sourced to Morocco like call centers and micro-electronics, but even in the stories of victories, it was clear to all of us that this has not been an easy road.

Members of our delegation through our partner ReAct had worked on some of the call center organizing drives and supported campaigns linking plants in France, Italy, and Malaysia with the ST Electronics plant in Morocco, so we were especially interested in these discussions and could celebrate some of the progress where they had participated. Nonetheless, Ayoub Saoud from the UMT was frank with us in describing the difficulties, especially in the call centers.

The UMT estimated that there are now 70,000 workers in this sector, many of them young and women. Turnover is high at 80%, making it difficult to stabilize the union as well. Much of the Moroccan labor code involving unions seemed to match and be based on the French rules for unions for both good and evil. A vote of 35% can give a union the right to force bargaining with the employer. Other voting percentages allow the union to be able to elect delegates. In the organizing campaigns in call centers the UMT has been able to elect 120 delegates from what we were told with 20,000 workers at different times voting for the union. At the same time when we asked what the UMT membership was in call centers, we couldn’t believe our ears and asked repeatedly for clarification when Saoud reported that they only had 100 dues-paying members in call centers. The simple math would indicate that even some of their elected union delegates are not even paying dues. It is hard to imagine that these organizing drives can be sustainable, and it also became evident in the discussion that call center work was already deserting both Morocco and Tunisia for even cheaper locations in Madagascar and Senegal.

ST Electronics has a huge 7000-worker plant in Grenoble, France, where ACORN’s affiliate Alliance Citoyenne was founded and where ReAct began its work when ST Electronics threatened the CMT local that it would downsize the plant. Two activists and leaders from the plant joined us and told the inspiring story of their organizing efforts in the company and the company’s retaliation when they fired a dozen leaders. The firing promoted a strike. A short video produced by ReAct’s Emma Saunders showed the workers routing the company’s security workers and their dogs. The workers were able to win recognition and reinstatement, and a number of improvements in their wages and working conditions.

We rose in applause and ended on a high note, but at the same time we all recognized that unions are beleaguered in Morocco with little support and massive challenges among formal workers, and a job still to be done with informal workers that dominate the economy.