Workers Struggles: Europe, Middle East & Africa


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Germany: Lufthansa cabin crew strike over pay


Cabin crew at Germany’s major airline, Deutsche Lufthansa, staged a six-hour token strike on January 28 over a demand for higher pay.


The latest action at airports in Frankfurt and Berlin led to the cancellation of dozens of flights. Workers at the airline also walked out last week. 


The workers are demanding a 15 percent increase in wages for its 16,000 members. Lufthansa is only offering 10 percent.


Germany: 24-hour rail strike over pay and conditions


Germany’s two largest rail unions took 24-hour strike action on January 29 after failing to reach agreement on pay and conditions with Deutsche Bahn, the country’s largest rail operator. 
The Transnet union issued the warning of temporary stoppages after a second round of wage negotiations with Deutsche Bahn on January 22. The locomotive engineers’ union GDL also rejected Deutsche Bahn’s revised wage offer, and said it would also call out its 12,000 members on strike. However, GDL said it would not strike before February.


Services in Munich, Nuremberg, Hamburg and Cologne were hit, as were the cities of Dusseldorf, Bremen, Saalfeld, Magdeburg and the capital Berlin. The GDL union is demanding a 6.5 percent wage increase, while Transnet and GDBA, which together represent 130,000 workers, seek a 10 percent increase.


Deutsche Bahn is Europe’s biggest rail cargo carrier, running around 5,000 daily services in Germany. It also owns rail freight firms across Europe, including in Britain, Spain, the Netherlands and Denmark. 

Italy: National strike over deaths on the docks 


There was a national one-day strike across Italy on January 23 in protest over poor workplace safety that has led to a series of deaths in the country’s ports.


The strike, called by Italy’s main port unions, Filt Cgil, Fit-Cisl and Uiltrasporti, was prompted by a number of fatal accidents, including the death of Giuliano Fenelli, a dockworker who was crushed recently by a mobile crane in La Spezia, and two other fatalities in the port sector since the beginning of January alone. 

Spain: Construction subcontractors go on hunger strike

Owners of a small construction subcontractor in Spain went on hunger strike in Madrid last week to get back their money. As some employees of the firm Romtectabi joined the action, commentators have taken the development as symbolic of the severity of the real estate collapse Spain is experiencing. 


The end of Spain’s decade-long real estate boom has destroyed hundreds of small construction firms, including many subcontractors like Romtectabi, whose owners have gone on a hunger strike to try to collect €700,000 ($920,000) they are owed. 


Damian Catalin of Romania and his Spanish business partner Julian Martin began their protest outside the Madrid offices of construction firm Obrum, which they say owes their company the money. In a reference to the 200 people employed by Romtectabi who are now out of work, one of placards placed outside of the company’s offices read: “200 families in need because of Obrum”.


Some workers have not been paid since October. 


Home sales in Spain fell by 36.4 percent during the third quarter of 2008 over the same time last year, according to housing ministry data. The slide in the real estate sector has spread to other areas, pushing Spain to the brink of recession and bringing the unemployment rate to 13.4 percent in November, the highest rate in the 27-nation European Union. Just over 3 million people were unemployed at the end of December in Spain, a nation of some 46 million people, including 590,000 construction sector workers. 


UK: Schools closed in strike against private academy status


Over 1,000 children in south London were sent home this week after teachers went on strike in protest at plans to create three private academies at their schools.


Teachers voted by over 90 percent on a 40 percent turnout to back “discontinuous, sustained strike action” against the change of employer that the plans would impose on them. 


Five schools in Croydon were closed when around 130 members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) staged a one-day walkout. The union said teachers did not want to become the employees of private academies. 


The January 27 strike coincided with the first day of Croydon council’s consultation over the proposals for secondary schools in the borough. 


Dave Harvey, secretary of the Croydon NUT branch, said, “The council has produced a review of secondary education provision which removes all of the secondary schools in the borough from council control. There would not be a single community school in Croydon, only faith schools, trust schools, academies and foundation schools. We describe this as an abdication of municipal responsibility”.


A planned strike against private academies by around 50 teachers at the Royal Docks School in Newham, east London, was suspended after the mayor agreed to meet with the NUT. 


UK: Teachers strike in defence of colleague 


Seven teachers went on a three-day strike at Joseph Locke Primary School in Barnsley last week in defence of a fellow teacher who faces a pay cut of £4,000 a year. The teachers have taken 10 days of industrial action since the beginning of December. 

UK: Glasgow council strike enters fourth week 


Twenty-one community service supervisors employed by Glasgow council are in their fourth week of indefinite strike action, at going to press. 


The workers, members of the Unison union, are in dispute over the council’s single status re-grading review. They supervise the work placements of people sentenced to community service by the courts. This can include supervising serious, violent and repeat offenders who have been given community service as an alternative to prison. 


The council now intends to give them additional duties, including assessing work requests from the public (often from those who cannot afford to pay for gardening or decoration services), developing new placements, training offenders, driving council vehicles, placing offenders in appropriate squads, assessing offenders “attitude, development and employability” and a compulsory increase in hours and days worked.


The council want to pay the workers grade 4 for this new job. The workers believe their job should be grade 5 under the council’s grading system. The new grade leaves many of employees facing pay cuts of over £2,000 caused by the council’s 2007 “equal pay review”.


Middle East


Egypt: Rail workers strike over low pay


Railway workers went on strike for the second time in a week on January 27, bringing trains throughout Egypt to a standstill.


The Daily News Egypt reported, “Signalmen, switch operators and crossing guardsmen began the three-hour strike shortly before noon after the administration of the Egyptian National Railway (ENR) reneged on a promise made two days previously to meet and discuss their demands.


“The workers congregated in the signal tower in Cairo’s Ramsis railway station while a delegation of three signalmen and three trade union members met ENR deputy manager Hany Hegab”.


Haitham Mohamadein, a lawyer who specialises in workers’ rights, told Daily News Egypt that the ENR’s 62,000 signalmen and switch operators are demanding wage parity with train drivers.


“Signalmen, switch operators and crossing guardsmen earn between LE 200 and LE 700 [US$35-125] a month while train drivers get between LE 700 and LE 1,500, [US$125-270]”, Mohamedein explained. 


“While train drivers receive an occupational hazard allowance of LE 200 [US$35] per month, the equivalent allowance for these workers is only between LE 20 and LE 70 [US$3.50-$12.50]. In addition to an increase in this allowance they are calling for a bonus equivalent to 20 percent of their salary”.


Mohamedein said that crossing guardsmen have particular grievances.


“Crossing guardsmen work 12 hours a day and are not reimbursed for the four hours of overtime they work in addition to their basic eight hours. They are also forced to work on national holidays and again do not receive compensation due to them for this. At the end of the month they are simply given an extra payment of between LE 20 and LE 70 [US$3.50-$12.50] on top of their basic wage”.


Qualified crossing guardsmen who have worked for 10 years or more on the railways are also being passed over for promotion.


Some 200 to 300 drivers congregated on the tracks of Cairo’s Ramsis station last Tuesday, preventing trains from moving for four hours. According to drivers in Ramsis, train drivers in other parts of Egypt were also on strike.




Kenyan teachers remain on strike


Kenyan teachers have continued their strike action despite a court ruling declaring it illegal. Lawrence Majali of the Kenyan National Union of Teachers said that he had not been served with a court order after members of the union prevented officials from attending a hearing at the industrial court. The strike, which is affecting primary schools, has now entered its second week.


Nigerian doctors continue strike


Doctors organized in the National Association of Government General Medical and Dental Practitioners (NAGGMD) remain on strike after more than a month. They are demanding the payment of arrears and the harmonisation of their salaries with those of other doctors at the Park-Lane Hospital and Government House Clinic. The strike has hit medical services in rural areas.


Four-month strike at Nigerian tertiary colleges


Teaching and non-academic staff at tertiary colleges in the Nigerian state of Borno remain on strike after four months. The colleges include Ramat Polytechnic, three colleges of education, the Borno College of Legal and Islamic Studies and the College of Agriculture. The strike is over the government’s failure to implement a new pay structure. The National Association of Nigerian Students has threatened to mobilize its members against the state government if it does not settle the dispute.


Angolan diamond workers strike over pay


Workers at Enditrade, a subsidiary of the Angolan government-run diamond company Endiama, went out on strike on January 28. The 130 workers are demanding a pay increase.


Half of the world’s demand for diamonds comes from the United States. In addition to being a big producer of oil, Angola is the fifth largest exporter of diamonds.


Endiama has recently stated that it plans to increase diamond production by around 10 percent to 10 million carats in 2009, compared with 2008.


Nigerian telecom workers back on strike over salary arrears


Telecom workers employed by the Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (Nitel) and its mobile phone offshoot Mtel are back out on strike over salary and other arrears, 10 months after suspending a strike over similar issues.


The strikers are demanding payment of arrears after five years of a pension buyout, as well as seven months’ arrears of their salaries and allowances.


The National Union of Post and Telecommunications Employees (NUPTE) and the Senior Staff Association of Communications, Transport and Corporations (SSACTAC) are demanding that the government pays Nitel/Mtel the debts of N4.5 billion (US$30.3 million).


Zimbabwean water workers strike over working conditions


Maintenance workers employed by the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa) went on strike in the week beginning January 19, after management refused to supply them with protective clothing. The workers say the clothing is needed when repairing burst pipes and blockages in sewage pipes.


According to the Zimbabwe Independent, one of the workers explained, “We have repeatedly told management to supply us with protective clothing, but it seems our calls are falling on deaf ears”.


The workers also complain that they lack the proper tools to do the maintenance work for which they are employed.