Young Moroccan teachers strike defies intimidation and water cannons!

Young teachers in Morocco outside the Parliament in Rabat. They were later dispersed with tear gas and water cannon

YOUNG teachers in Morocco who have been striking and protesting outside the parliament in Rabat for three weeks against being employed on inferior conditions compared to their more long-standing colleagues, have refused to disperse, despite being  fired on with water cannon.

At the same time as the Moroccan state is attacking its teachers and taking money out of their pockets, there is also a concerted effort underway to de-unionise public transport services and a multi-billion dollar contract has just been signed with the US arms industry to buy 72 jet fighter planes and other military hardware.

About 15,000 teachers in Morocco embarked on massive protests on Sunday in Rabat to demand better working conditions, hours after police had dispersed an earlier demonstration with water cannon.

The earlier protests had seen teachers march peacefully from the Moroccan education ministry in Rabat to the square in front of parliament where police had intervened with water cannon.

This time however, the police, whose presence was visible, did not interfere with the protesting teachers.

The authorities were trying to end the teachers’ rally in front of parliament where they planned to spend the night ahead of an even bigger demonstration called by a coalition of leftist opposition parties, unions and civil society groups.

Police in riot gear moved into action after negotiations between officers and teachers to ask protesters to leave the area broke down after several hours.

On Tuesday several thousand Moroccan teachers were still staging a protest in the capital, Rabat, defying the violent police dispersals.

The teachers are demanding permanent contracts and better working conditions, as well as protesting against the rising cost of living.

Of the country’s 240,000-strong teacher workforce, 55,000 have been hired since 2016 under the new contract system.

The teachers on temporary contracts, who are mostly in their 20s and 30s, have been staging regular strikes over recent weeks.

Two weeks ago, they staged sit-ins at regional academies in different cities.

They earn the same wages as their colleagues on permanent contracts – about 5,000 dirhams (£400) a month – but are demanding full benefits and pension rights.

The teachers are also demanding that their monthly pay is raised by 1,500 dirhams (£118) per month.

Sunday’s march in Rabat came a day after police had used water cannon to disperse the teachers who were sleeping outdoors in protest.

The teachers marched from the education ministry to the front of parliament  and demanded permanent contracts that deliver civil service benefits including a better retirement pension.

They shouted slogans including ‘liberty, dignity, social justice’, ‘this is a corrupt country’ and ‘we are ruled by a mafia’ – and demanded Prime Minister Eddine El Othmani resign.

The government has threatened the striking teachers with the sack unless they return to the classroom.

But the striking teachers are defiant, with one young teacher, Abdelilah Taloua, telling the press: ‘We are not intimidated by the threats of the education ministry because we came to claim our right to be integrated in the civil service and defend the public school.’

The teachers have been on strike since 3rd March, holding demonstrations for the past three weeks in front of educational institutions across the country.

Morocco has come under increasing pressure from the IMF and other international lenders to cut the civil service wage bill and strengthen the efficiency of the public sector.

  • The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), which represents 18 million transport workers worldwide, is raising serious concerns about the suitability of Alsa to run public transport services in Morocco after the company failed to show up to a critical meeting with the governor of Tangier.

The governor, Mohamed Mhidia, had offered to mediate after Alsa began a concerted campaign to persecute activists from the ITF-affiliated UMT union in Tangier.

This included the dismissal of the general secretary of the UMT office of Alsa in Tangier, Jamal Al Sharfi, while several other workers were intimidated and offered bribes to leave the union.

Alsa began the repressive action after its workers in Tangier exercised their right under international and Moroccan law to form an independent trade union to have their voice heard.

ITF inland transport section secretary Noel Coard said: ‘Alsa in Tangier is part of the global National Express group, and it needs to take a lesson from the rest of the company.

‘National Express companies have good union relations in the UK, USA and Spain – they need to do the same in Morocco and respect the wishes of their workers.

‘Alsa is expanding in Morocco and bidding on a major contract in Casablanca, but until it shows it can work with the unions, we do not think it is a fit and proper company to be running bus services in Morocco.

‘We urge the management at Alsa in Morocco to end their anti-union tactics, engage in dialogue with their workers’ union and reinstate Jamal Al Sharfi.’

  • The US State Department has cleared Morocco for a major increase to its F-16 fleet, including both sales of new planes and upgrades to older models.

Two potential deals cover the purchase of 25 F-16C/D Block 72 fighters, estimated at $3.787 billion, as well as upgrades to the country’s existing 23 F16s to the more advanced F16V.

Combined, the two sales could net American contractors roughly $4.8 billion.

The new F-16 request represents the single largest notification of fiscal 2019.

It is also the second largest purchase requested by Morocco, which in November requested new Abrams tanks.

In addition to the 25 new jets, the larger package includes 29 Pratt & Whitney F100-229 engines; 26 APG-83 active electronically scanned array radars; 26 modular mission computers; 26 Link 16 systems; 40 Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing Systems; 30 M61 Al Vulcan 20mm guns; 40 AIM-120C-7 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles; 50 GBU-49 bombs; 60 GBU-39/B Small Diameter Bombs; and assorted other equipment.

The upgrade package includes much of the same equipment, with similar quantities of AESA radars, Link 16 systems and weapons. The configuration improves the radars and avionics on the older jets.

The US’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency said the potential sales ‘will improve interoperability with the United States and other regional allies and enhance Morocco’s ability to undertake coalition operations, as it has done in the past in flying sorties against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

‘Morocco already operates an F16 fleet and will have no difficulty absorbing this aircraft and services into its armed forces.’