Five years after Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring erupted on the world stage, the wave of youth-led protests have largely retreated into the social margins, pushed back by vicious reaction from the political and economic establishments. At least in one corner of North Africa, though, the sentiment behind those movements is still resonating.
About 500 fishing cannery workers are in crisis in the Moroccan city of Agadir, according to the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco, and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF), which is campaigning on the workers’ behalf. The workers, most of them women, have since last March been struggling to hold onto their jobs in the face of a vicious union busting scheme by a prominent food processing corporation, DOHA, which exports tinned fish and other delicacies to North America and Europe. The union reports that the management, “with the help of compliant legal and political authorities, has sought to dissolve the union, dismiss its members, criminalize and punish the strikers and confiscate the union leaders’ home.”
The management, according to labor activists, targeted the union representing the cannery workers, the left-leaning Confédération Démocratique du Travail, early last March, dismissing 51 employees, 45 of them women, about half of them union members. The action prompted about 500 workers to go on strike. Nearly a year later, the workers are still waging a legal battle to challenge the mass firings. The company, meanwhile (which has not yet responded to inquiries), has put the union on the defensive by suing for €280,000 in “punitive damages.” Since the union leader, Rahmoun Abdellah, could not afford the penalty, “the court ordered ‘precautionary confiscation’ of his apartment,” reports the IUF. The union confirmed by e-mail on Sunday that the the management has used “strikebreakers” to replace the regular workers, though the litigation is still pending. (Moroccan law allows employers to seek a court injunction against strikers found to be unduly interfering with business, but the union argues DOHA acted illegally.)
The conflict appears to fit a pattern of labor conflict both within Morocco and across the global seafood industry. The IUF’s fishing industry campaigns have faced massive challenges in protecting workers at large multinational processors like Philips and Philippines seafood exporter Citra Mina, which have been accused of abetting or committing abuses across the supply chain, including suppressing organizing efforts, safety violations, precarious employment, mass firings, and “slave like” conditions on fishing boats.