Building Trade Union Solidarity in Madagascar

Participants to the exchange organized by the Steelworkers Humanity Fund in Fort-Dauphin, Madagascar. (Photo: Guillaume Charbonneau)Eugene and Anthony are two union activists in Fort-Dauphin, a small town located at the southern tip of Madagascar. Both have been elected to the head of their respective unions, SVS and SEKRIMA. In this island country south-east of Africa, labour laws allow for the presence of two different unions in the same workplace. At the QMM mine, a subsidiary of the multinational Rio Tinto, SVS and SEKRIMA both represent workers. In Fort Dauphin, Anthony and Eugene encourage their members to work together rather than compete in order to face the many challenges they face as unionists. Indeed, SEKRIMA mainly represents the direct employees of the company, while SVS focuses on the employees hired by the many subcontractors.

QMM is the main employer in Fort Dauphin, and its impact is felt strongly on the city’s, and to some extent the country’s economy. Faced with such a giant, unions cannot take anything for granted, hence the importance of solidarity among them. In order to help build a more equitable balance of power, the Steelworkers Humanity Fund (SHF) recently implemented a pilot project that contributed, among other things, to the opening of a single office for both unions – a first in the region. This will allow Anthony and Eugene, as well as many other local union representatives, to access important resources to do their jobs better.

Anthony and Eugene (Photo: Doug Olthuis)In this context, a first delegation of the SHF took place earlier this month with the aim of consolidating the relationship with its local partners, learning more about the impact of the mine, as well as organizing an exchange of experiences with close to thirty activists affiliated to SVS and SEKRIMA. During this two-day workshop led by District 5 staff Denis Trottier and Guy Gaudette, participants recognized the critical importance of communication, consensus, and member engagement to better represent workers and their needs in front of their employer. As for the members of the Canadian delegation, they found that they had much in common with Malagasy workers, and learned from the resilience of their brothers and sisters in a context that makes union organizing difficult.

All in all, the delegation observed that trade union solidarity definitely has a future in Madagascar, and the Steelworkers Humanity Fund will respond vonona! (present! In the Malagasy language) to continue supporting the building of this movement.

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For further information:

Ken Neumann, President, Steelworkers Humanity Fund, 416-544-5951
Doug Olthuis, Executive Director, Steelworkers Humanity Fund, 416-859-9953, dolthuis@usw.ca

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