Fears of strikes and unrest

Guinea’s powerful trade union groups are considering whether to go ahead with a general strike at the end of March and risk a government crackdown, like the ones that occurred in January and February 2007 which led to the deaths of up to 200 civilians.

“We are continuing consultations for a successful outcome of the crisis,” said Raibatou Serah Diallo, the secretary general of the National Confederation of Guinean Workers.

Unionists last threatened to strike in January 2008, claiming President Lansana Conté was breaking the power-sharing agreement that brought an end to last year’s violence.

Guineans have endured four union-led strikes in last 15 months to protest high food prices, worsening living conditions, corruption and President Conté’s leadership.

Government position

The government is keen to stave off a strike according to an unnamed interior ministry official. “We are actively participating in dialogue with the [government-civil society] coalition… and we will put all our energy into dialogue to prevent the tragedies of January 2007 from recurring.”

A coalition, made up of government representatives, trade unions, and civil society representatives, set up in 2007 to monitor progress with government and union agreements, is also meeting to consider how to prevent the strike from taking place.

Union asks

Following the 2007 strike the government appointed a new prime minister, Lansana Kouyaté, and agreed to devolve power to him. But Ibrahim Fofana, secretary general of the Guinean Workers Union said progress on reforms is too slow and Mamadou Diallo, spokesman for the civil society-government coalition said Kouyaté has still not been able to take the reins.

"The Kouaté government has become dysfunctional, and we only hear contradictions from the president.”

Unions are also calling for greater progress on investigations into those responsible for the violence in 2007 and for more information on the misappropriation of public funds.

Frustration and fear

Despite mounting frustrations at the lack of political reforms, worsening living conditions, and rising food prices, many people in the capital say strikes are not in Guinea’s best interests.

“Last year there were many deaths, extensive property damage, robberies and even rapes”, Alhousseiny Tounkara, a trader in Conakry told IRIN. “The only result of the strikes was regret.”

Abdoulaye Oumar Camara, an engineer in Conakry told IRIN, “If the trade unions focus on the real concerns of Guineans then they may succeed, but if the strikers just show blind support for Kouyaté’s camp then it will lead to nothing,”