In an article in the Washington Post, political scientist Matt Buehler analyses the role of trade unions during the Arab Spring. Attention tends to focus on countries that have experienced regime change or major violence, but in countries like Morocco, Jordan and the Persian Gulf important developments took place as well, Buehler argues.
In Morocco, economic liberalisations started being implemented in the 1990s. Entrepreneurs benefited, but employees paid the price in the form of rising costs of living.
By the late 2000s, trade unions with different backgrounds (from left-wing to Islamic) joined forces to demand higher wages and pensions as compensation for the risen prices. The regime took a tough stance, but meanwhile the number of protests – strikes, marches and sit-ins – rose.
The protest movements that erupted in Tunesia and Egypt reached Morocco in 2011. The Moroccan regime was concerned about youth protests but perhaps even more about the role of trade unions. In order to contain the protests, a ‘social dialogue’ was started. Organisations including the unions participated in the dialogue but at the same time kept up the pressure by frequently threatening to rejoin the street protests.
Eventually, the protests and negotiations were succesful in that they led to substantial wage and pension increases.