MOROCCO: TRANSPORTATION STRIKE BRINGS COUNTRY TO A HALT

Identifier: 
09CASABLANCA74

UNCLAS CASABLANCA 000074

SIPDIS

STATE FOR NEA/MAG AND DRL/ILCSR

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ELAB, PGOV, ECON, ETRD, MO
SUBJECT: MOROCCO: TRANSPORTATION STRIKE BRINGS COUNTRY TO
A HALT

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Morocco's labor unions brought
much of commerce to a halt and caused widespread
shortages of fuel and a substantial increase in food
prices after a nine day strike in protest against
the government of Morocco's (GOM) proposed reform to
the traffic code. The strike which began on April 6
gained momentum and culminated in a near complete
stoppage of deliveries and taxi services by the end
of the week. The unions suspended the strike on
April 15 after the GOM agreed to withdraw the
offending code for further negotiations. Although
stricter safety standards and greater government
oversight of the transportation sector in the code
were the spark that started the fire, some union
observers point to posturing for the impending
national labor elections in May as the true reason
for the widespread success of the strike. END
SUMMARY.

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No, I Won't Wear My Seatbelt!
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2. (SBU) Morocco's labor unions went on strike April
6 in protest of the GOM's new draft traffic code
which recently moved a step closer to becoming law
when it passed to the upper chamber of parliament
for review. The new laws aim to increase the safety
of the roads by increasing government oversight of
the licensing and training of commercial drivers and
their vehicles. The reforms also include a point
system for drivers, a substantial increase in fines
for moving violations, and jail sentences for death
and injury resulting from reckless driving. Morocco
has long suffered from a poor safety record on the
road. The Ministry of Transportation estimates that
every year traffic accidents in the kingdom kill
more than 4,000 people, injure more than 7,000, and
result in approximately $239 million U.S. dollars in
financial losses.

3. (SBU) The strike began in earnest Monday, April 6
when drivers abandoned their trucks in front of the
entrance to Casablanca's port, effectively
preventing the flow of any goods in or out of
Morocco's largest seaport. Likewise, drivers of
grands taxis, responsible for medium distance
transport between towns and in the cities, blocked
or slowed traffic on major arteries in the cities
and on busy highways including the Casablanca-Rabat
motorway. Many of the petits taxis, the backbone of
transport within the cities, did not initially
participate in the strike but harassment, vandalism,
and threats by the strikers culminated in a complete
national transport stoppage on Saturday, April 18.
A ConOff in Marrakech observed distraught tourists
unable to catch their flights out of the country
with not a single taxi on the road.

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Economic Repercussions:
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4. (U) The strikes took a heavy economic toll
resulting notably in severe localized gasoline
shortages and an increase in food prices. Although
the country's only refinery in Mohammedia reported
no shortage in production, as of April 11
approximately 90 percent of the countries gasoline stations
reported a shortage of supply and many rationed
distribution. The Oil Tankers Group of Morocco
(Groupement des Petroliers du Maroc) informed the
press that of the 1,800 service stations in the
country only 380 were still in operation as of April
13.

5. (U) The delivery from production centers to
cities of fruits and vegetables was equally
affected, especially in Casablanca. The press
reported increases in fruit and vegetable prices of
10 to 15 percent on average and in some cases a
doubling or tripling of prices for staples such as

potatoes and tomatoes. Over the weekend of April
11-12, Casablanca's Mayor Mohammed Sajid reported
that no trucks had reached the central fruit and
vegetable wholesale market in days. Other industries
have likewise suffered. Construction projects
reportedly halted for lack of materials.

6. (U) Fish processors in Agadir and others involved
in the export of food items abroad complained that
the transport strike forced food exporters to pay
penalties to their customers and risks cancellation
of contracts with European distributers. On April
9, strikers blocked 25 refrigerated trucks carrying
fruits at Guelmim en route from the Western Sahara
to factories in Agadir resulting in the spoiling of
some 400 tons of food. Vandalism, harassment and
threats against drivers were widespread. The press
reported the death of one striker who tried to block
traffic in Temara, a coastal town south of Rabat.

7. (SBU) The port in Casablanca was initially kept
in operation but at a 30 percent reduced capacity. In the
final days of the strike, the ports in Casablanca
and Agadir reportedly stopped all loading and
unloading of goods. Business owners demanded that
the GOM assume responsibility for storage fees at
the ports. The American company Proctor and Gamble
informed the Consulate General that its factories in
Casablanca and Mohammedia had ceased operation since
April 13 due to a shortage of raw material that were
blocked at the port of Casablanca.

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Union Politics: Pay No Attention to that Man behind
the Curtain
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8. (SBU) Karim Ghelleb, the Minister of Transport
from the Istiqlal party, faced with crushing
economic costs quickly sought to defuse tensions by
proposing meetings with the unions, a suggestion
which was rejected out of hand. Minister Ghelleb
has come under intense criticism from the press and
has received little public support from his party.
Prime Minister Fassi met with representatives of the
trade unions on the evening of April 13 and offered
to withdraw the draft law to allow for further
review. By April 14 gasoline deliveries resumed
thanks to security forces escorting the tankers to
the service stations. On the same day, the police
moved to restore order by unblocking Casablanca's
main inter-city bus station and principal avenues by
towing cars and arresting strikers. Preliminary
reports from union and business contacts indicate
that the strike was suspended on April 15.

9. (SBU) Mohammed Ansar, an Istiqlal party
representative in the upper house of parliament,
complained publicly that he did not understand the
union's decision to strike given that the new
traffic code has been under discussion for the past
two years and has undergone more than 267 amendments
and concessions. Mustapha Bakkoury, the General
Director of the Deposit and Management Fund (Caisse
de Depot et de Gestion) a quasi-public investment
firm, told the Consul General that the government
had brought on board all of the large unions before
moving forward with the traffic reforms. According
to Bakkoury, it was the small unions, who were not
included in the government negotiations, which
provoked the strike. As the strike gained momentum
among drivers, the large confederations felt obliged
to add their support lest they lose popularity in
the run up to next month's union delegate elections.
This May, for the first time in six years, laborers
will vote for their union delegates. The outcome
will determine the proportional representation of
the five largest unions which represent the workers
in collective bargaining talks with the government
and the business community.

10. (SBU) COMMENT: Moroccan labor unions have been
criticized by the Moroccan press for being weak,
undemocratic and self-serving. They are undoubtedly
no longer the major social force they were in the
1980s and labor strikes in recent years have been
fractured, short-lived, and ineffective. It is
unfortunate that this strike, which has rattled the
government, has targeted much-needed road reforms.
It appears that the large trade federations rushed
to appease their members for the short-term
political expediency of the upcoming elections
rather than uphold their commitments to the
government.
MILLARD