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.



Welcome to Morocco

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.

Omar Rani…journalist

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.