Clearly, Algeria’s impotent president Bouteflika announced his decision to drop his bid for a fifth term in office... to better extend his present fourth term as head of state. But the ploy imagined by members of the Bouteflika clan has in no way affected the determination of protesters. On Friday, March 15, there were more demonstrators than ever, perhaps 15 million across the country, telling the ruling elite to “Go away”. The anger against the business people who control the country's resources is widespread. It is present in every region of this vast country as well as among Algerians living in France. Growing anger has also encouraged Algerian women to fight against the Islamists who want to confine them to the home. Many social groups, including privileged ones--judges, for instance--have also mobilized. As for pupils and students, they have been at the forefront of the massive anti-Bouteflika protests from the beginning.
Algerians are mobilizing today because they have had enough of a system which condemns them to job insecurity and destitution while the privileged who are directly linked to the leading circles hoard the wealth and display their contempt for working people. In Algeria, the minimum wage is under 130 euros per month. In comparison, Issad Redrab, founder and owner of Cevital, a huge conglomerate active in agro-business, the food industry and retail stores, has accumulated a fortune of 3.7 billion dollars. This simple fact alone points to the fierce exploitation of Algerian workers by capitalists.
What prospects have the current events opened up in Algeria? Well, for one thing, the army has stayed put so far. But, in the past, it showed more than once that it could unhesitatingly shoot protesters. In 1988, the army killed hundreds of young demonstrators. During the 1990s, its reaction to the Islamists' massacres was even more massacres. In 2001, it killed at least 125 people in Kabylia. Islamists are also waiting in the wings, though they lost a good deal of their influence when they accepted the governmental posts they were offered. The outcome of this agitation could be that the regime's dignitaries will give in and organize a presidential election--without Bouteflika--to designate a new president... as fully committed to the defense of their privileges as Bouteflika has been.
The French media reports only talked about last Friday’s demonstrations. But the unrest is both deeper and more widely spread than it seems. Strikes have broken out in many public and private companies. Railways, the oil industry, construction sites and other economic sectors have been hit hard. Striking workers demand the departure of Bouteflika, but in some cases, they’ve added a wage increase to their initial claim. It is to be hoped that more strikes will be launched and that more workers will come to a better understanding of the role they play in society. As the producers of all the wealth that ends up in the pockets of the privileged, they already have strong leverage. And by getting organized in the workplaces, they would gain unprecedented bargaining power and become a social and collective force that counts.
A majority of workers reject the present system. As such, their interest is to impose a real change and not just on the surface. Merely replacing Bouteflika with another senior official cannot change the lives of millions of young unemployed Algerians to whom the system has only low wages and job insecurity to offer. It is to be hoped that workers will intervene more and more as events unfold, and that they won’t accept to simply bring in new faces without questioning the concentration of wealth in the hands of a small clique.
The protesters have also targeted Macron, who supports Algeria’s official leaders. In the past, France used the utmost violence to transform Algeria into a colony and plundered it during 132 years. Today, the French capitalists linked to the Bouteflika regime continue to steal Algerian resources and labor. As more and more young people try to cross the Mediterranean at the risk of their lives, the French government has reduced the number of visas granted to Algerians. Far-right political leader Marine Le Pen declared that she would like them to be suppressed completely. She obviously remains the worthy daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the far-right MP who volunteered to join the French army during the Algerian war, specializing in the torture of Algerian fighters.
French politicians defend the interests of the capital-owners of both countries. The workers of France have every reason to support the struggle of Algerian workers. The capitalists who exploit them on both sides of the Mediterranean are often the same: Renault, Total, Lafarge, Sanofi and others. And their interests as workers are the same too.
For now, our hopes are focused on the women and men who have stood up for their freedom and dignity and are fighting, for a decent job that will allow them to lead a decent life. Long live the struggle of the workers of Algeria!