The Algerian General Workers' Union and the Workers' Movement
If any one element of civil society has consistently presented
a cohesive and substantive constituency, it is the workers' unions.
The explosion of union activity following political liberalization
in the late 1980s indicates that the affiliational role of the
unions has persisted despite years of subordination to party directives.
The Algerian General Workers' Union (Union Générale des Travailleurs
Algériens--UGTA) was created in 1956 after Algerian participation
in French trade unions was banned. Despite the union's efforts
to remain independent, it was taken over by the FLN leadership
in 1963. Under the party structure and the socialist tenets of
the National Charter, the UGTA became more of an administrative
apparatus than an independent interest group. The UGTA consistently
opposed mass strikes and public demonstrations that threatened
productive economic activity and supported government legislation
to prohibit strikes in certain industrial sectors. Until the mid-1980s,
all member unions were integrated federations spanning several
industries. After 1984 and in response to increasing independent
activity on behalf of the workers, these large federations were
broken down into smaller workers' assemblies, greatly reducing
the political force of the large unions and strengthening the
managerial control of the UGTA authorities. The number of strikes
sharply declined in the following years.
From 1989 until January 1992, union activity increased to an
intensity not previously witnessed. Splits within the UGTA, the
creation of a number of new, smaller, and more active unions--
including the formation of an Islamic labor union--and a rapid
rise in the number of strikes and demonstrations have quickly
politicized a previously dormant workers' movement. The frequency
and size of labor strikes jumped; Ministry of Labor figures placed
the number of strikes for 1989 at 250 per month, four times that
of the previous year.
The growth of the workers' movement illustrates the genuineness
of democratization in the period up to the January 1992 coup.
Labor has generally not supported economic liberalization, and
strikes have hampered a number of the government's free-market
reforms. The government's response to and tolerance for increased
mass politicization and especially union activity will undoubtedly
provide clear evidence of the likelihood for successful democracy
in the 1990s.
Data as of December 1993