Twenty-nine of the striking miners went on trial today facing charges that include unarmed rebellion.
On July 4th 300 workers from the mine at Jbel Awam in the Middle Atlas went on strike to try and improve their working conditions. The management of the Compañía Minera de Touissit (CMT) refused all meetings with the trade unionists, but had the army sent in on successive occasions to stop the strikers paralysing production. After the intervention of the army some of the workers went back to work leaving 106 on strike.
The last intervention took place on the night of Monday, September 10th, with the arrest of 29 miners and numerous injuries. The following day between 500 and 1,000 people assembled in front of the police station at M’rirt. Later the demonstrators decided to go to the court at Khenifra 30 kilometres away.
It was the first time, after two months on strike, that the miners went to demonstrate in the town. The women have been playing an important role in the mobilisation since the intervention by the army. Some of them have been arrested and later released, and they have launched a call for solidarity throughout the country. It is necessary to pay the legal costs of the miners who are facing trial, and it is also the start of the school year with hundreds of strikers’ children lacking school materials and means of transport.
The majority of the strikers are casual workers on temporary contracts, employed by bogus subcontractors of the CMT. Only a third of the workers have contracts under the mining law. Officially the casual workers work in the open air. In reality for them the descent into the mine is basically a descent into hell; frequent accidents at work, the absence of social protection and reasonable safety equipment, poverty level wages, compulsory unpaid overtime and repression of trade unionists. When one of them fails to leave the mine - deaths average four a year – the company declares that he died outside and sends a few tens of euros to his family.
However the work produces great profits. At Jbel Awam lead is extracted together with silver and zinc. This will shortly be joined by gold. The mining company has been controlled for decades by European, and in particular French, capital. The last owner, the North East Group, recently sold it for 38.3 million euros to two financial funds, Truffle Capital and Moroccan Infrastructure Fund.
On Monday September 17th the court at Khenifra sent five of the arrested workers to prison. The other 24 were released provisionally. They are accused of impeding the freedom to work (article 288 of the penal code), although in reality part of the workforce on permanent contracts is working; of unarmed rebellion (articles 300 and 308 of the penal code), simply for being camped near to the mine; and resistance to and insulting authority (articles 263 and 267 of the penal code), when the police invaded their camp at four in the morning while they were sleeping, waking them with blows and forcing them onto buses requisitioned for the purpose.
The trial of the 29 miners continued today. As yet there has been no report of how it went.