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Students clash with police as rare strike disrupts schools, hospitals

[Guinea] Russian-made University of Conakry, June 21, 2004.
Univertsité de Conakry (Pierre Holtz/IRIN)

Student protesters clashed with police, and a strike called by Guinea’s oldest trade union disrupted schools and health services, as anger over the country’s economic woes spilled out of the workplace.

“Since the increase in fuel prices last May and the attendant increase in the prices of basic goods and services, not a penny has been added to workers’ wages,” Yamoussa Toure, Deputy Secretary General of the National Confederation of Guinean Workers (CNTG), told IRIN.

The CNTG called a two-day strike starting Tuesday to demand a four-fold increase in wages and pensions, as well as the establishment of a basic wage and a labour disputes tribunal, and improved transport.

Backed by a second of the country’s three trade union groupings, the Guinean Workers Trade Union (USTG), the stoppage disrupted schools and offices and forced hospitals to offer minimal services, with scores of patients lined up for help at the capital’s main Donka hospital.

“This is now our last resort,” said one worker at the Social Services ministry. “We have been taken for granted for too long by the (President Lansana) Conte regime.”

The president of 21 years has faced spiralling anger in the last couple of years over skyrocketing inflation that is sapping the already meagre incomes of those Guineans lucky enough to have a job.

When fuel prices rose by 55 percent in May, causing an immediate knock-on effect on public transport prices, trade unions reacted by demanding a four-fold increase in wages. But negotiations since then with the authorities have failed to produce a rise, triggering this week’s strike action.

“This is not a political action,” said El Hadj Mamadou Bah of the CNTG. “We are defending the moral and material interests of workers so that we can live decently.”

Rice, the staple food for the West African nation’s eight million people, has almost doubled between January 2004 and November 2005, with the free-market price of a 50 kg bag of rice increasing from 50,000 francs to about 85,000 francs. The latter equates to about half the average monthly salary of a civil servant.

Inflation, which was running at just below 28 percent in 2003, up from single digits two years earlier, was at over 30 percent in the second term of 2005, according to the Economy and Finance Ministry.

Tuesday’s strike action also hit the country’s provinces, with many workers reported to have stayed at home in Leluma, Mali, Faranah, Dinguirai, Koubia and Fria.

In Conakry, angry students attacked and damaged several vehicles and witnesses reported that police had made several arrests. No confirmed casualty figures were immediately available.

Guinea contains a third of the world reserves of bauxite, the mineral ore refined to make aluminium. It also has gold, diamonds and large unexploited reserves of iron ore, as well as enough rain to give it vast agricultural potential.

But diplomats and aid workers say that poor governance and rampant corruption have led to years of economic decline, and there are worries about what will happen when Conte, who is 71 and suffering from diabetes, finally departs the scene.

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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