Sunday, 2 September 2012

Morrocan Workers: Lessons for us All


My first post of the new academic year and written with an expression of solidarity with Moroccan workers following a great holiday there in August. By sheer coincidence I happened across the offices of the Union Marocaine du Travail (Union of Moroccan Workers - whilst on a trip to Marrakech. Sadly though the offices were closed, so I had no opportunity of meeting with sister and brother trade unionists and expressing my support for their work.
The ITUC’s 2012 Survey of Violation of Trade Union Rights presents Morocco in the bleak, customary picture of labour movement repression across North Africa and the Middle East, underlining heavily that these two regions represent the worst violators of both limited national labour rights and ILO core labour standards.

If you examine the Survey detail for Morocco it does though reveal a degree of tenacity and resilience on the part of the Morrocan labour movement. What is particularly interesting is that, despite the ability of the royalist regime to avoid a popular uprising during the wave of the Arab spring, it has not diminished an increase in strike action across the country, nor attempts by workers to unionise. Read the Survey here:

As with many other North African nationals Moroccan workers are historic migrants and I have written before on the exploited state of Moroccan workers in Gibraltar who have been denied basic civil and human rights for over 40 years. In 2010 the UK-based International Centre for Trade Union Rights (ICTUR), backed by UNITE, undertook an extensive survey of the treatment of Morrocan workers employed in Gibraltar.

The detail of this work is linked here: I am proud to record that this activity was also supported by Denis Gregory long-standing trade union tutor at Ruskin College and Rupert Griffin, who at the time was a BA labour studies student at Ruskin, and who now works for IDS Research Services.

The ICTUR report, written by the respected labour rights scholar Keith Ewing, documents the tragic circumstances of the lives of Morrocan workers. You can read the report ("Britain's dirty little secret") via the link above but this passage is taken from it:
"Moroccans pay full taxes and in all the time they have been there they have contributed considerably to the growth and economy of Gibraltar. However, despite an extensive campaign by our union, the International Centre for Trade Union Rights (ICTUR) and campaigning groups such as the Moroccan Community Association in Gibraltar and the Moroccan Workers Association, they are still treated as 2nd class citizens. Very few Moroccans have been given citizenship rights; they have little access to public housing; they are denied the right to vote in the European elections; they have problems with travelling to visit family in Morocco and restrictions on family visiting them in Gibraltar and they are still denied access to some public services."

These workers are of course part of the global story of exploited migrant workers, denied citizenship and full civil and political recognition for their contribution to, for example, the re-building of economies in the post-war era. The respected Marxist writers on migration Castles and Kosack have written extensively of this phenomenon and in particular of the impact on the indigenous working class of migrant workers.
They acknowledge that, whilst migrant workers typically join the ranks of the working class, the come to form a sub-culture differentiated on the basis of employment status, housing etc. This historical theoretical and practical understanding of the exploited status of migrant workers is a critical factor naturally in the reason why established, national labour movements have sought to organise migrant workers – but with differing levels of success.
Thus the plight of Moroccan workers, both at home and internationally, is emblematic of those challenges facing organised labour globally. Progress is not however, beyond our grasp, and despite the embattled position of the Moroccan labour movement, its obstinacy is not just celebrated but analysed and understood.

In this spirit I’ll leave you with a passage from the debut novel by Kevin Powers (The Yellow Birds) which draws on his experience as a US solider in Iraq, and which defiantly declares that little in the world is the way it is because it should be, and that something better is always realisable.

"The rest is history, they say. Bullshit, I say. It's imagination or it's nothing, and must be, because what is created in this world, or made, can be undone, unmade; the threads of a rope can be unwoven. And if that rope is needed as a guideline for a ferry to a farther shore then one must invent a way to weave it back, or there will be drownings in the streams that cross our paths. I accept now, though in truth it took some time, that must, must be its own permission."

In Solidarity

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