Cablegate: Niger: Labor Unions Strike; Inter-Nigerien Political

DE RUEHNM #1008/01 3561944
R 221944Z DEC 09




E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Niger: Labor Unions Strike; Inter-Nigerien Political
Dialogue Continues Amid GON's Criticism

Ref: a) Niamey 1005 b) Niamey 556 c) Niamey 225
d) Niamey 01004

1. Summary: The Inter-Union of Nigerien Workers (ITN) observed a
strike on December 22 to demand salary and benefit increases and to
press the Government of Niger (GON) to implement previous agreements
signed. During a press conference, President Tandja criticized the
Economic Community of West African States' (ECOWAS) action with
regard to the situation in Niger. Niger's Opposition declared the
end of President Tandja's term in office and labeled his
continuation "illegitimate." End summary.

Unions Call Strike
2. The Inter-Union of Nigerien Workers (ITN), a coalition of the
country's seven trade union confederations, called a general strike
for December 22 to press the GON to address the following claims:
the implementation of the March 2009 agreement between the GON and
labor unions (ref C); a 50 percent increase on salaries and
pensions; a 50 percent reduction of income tax on salaries and
benefits; job opportunities for an increasing number of unemployed
young graduates; a reduction on fuel prices; and a stoppage of GON
harassment of civil service organizations and private sector
workers. The response to the strike ranged from "diversely
followed" to "lukewarm," as some union members told Embassy staff.
Public sector offices were staffed lightly, as were several public
schools. Markets and other private businesses, however, remained
open, and taxis and other public transportation vehicles ran as
normal. While private media reported that the strike had been
observed partially, unionists called it "satisfactory." Djibrilla
Idrissa, Secretary for the Democratic Confederation of Nigerien
Workers (CDTN) stated that the strike was "well followed overall,
with some variations depending on the sector of activity."

3. There were reports that on the evening of December 21 an
inter-ministerial committee led by the Ministry of Labor and Public
Services tried in vain to convince ITN leaders to call off the
strike. Union leaders said that the talks would continue. In an
interview on Radio France International (RFI), Minister of
Communication and Government Spokesperson Moctar Kassoum said, "At
face value these appear to be normal social claims...(but) it (the
strike) is a purely political act directed by desperate
politicians...(the day of the strike) has not been chosen at
random." (Note: December 22 would have marked the end of President
Tandja's term of office under the 1999 constitution, which was
superseded by the new constitution adopted through the August 4
referendum. End note.)

President Tandja Slams ECOWAS
4. On December 20, President Tandja, who had remained silent
following the recent ECOWAS and EU sanctions on Niger, strongly
criticized the West African body during a press conference held in
Diffa after the Republic Day festivities. The President, who spoke
in Hausa, said, "We joined the West African Community in order to
promote economic, social and cultural development...Thirty years
after that, this has not allowed us to build a single kilometer of
paved road or power line; to stay within (ECOWAS) seems useless...If
we have enough, couldn't we leave it?" He further criticized the
insertion within ECOWAS agreements of "futile clauses copied from
White people." He also thought that the ECOWAS text, ratified by
Niger, and which does not allow states to modify their
constitutional provisions six months before an election without
prior political consensus, represented "an impediment for
independent states."

Inter-Nigerien Political Dialogue Continues, Stalls
--------------------------------------------- ------
5. The INPD, which opened on December 21 (ref A), started its second
day, with reports of difficulties in adopting an agenda due to
clear-cut differences between the GON and the Opposition.
Abdouramane Bio, a student leader and member of the pro-Tandja
Patriotic Movement for the Reshaping of the Republic (MPRR), said,
"Based on what we heard from the Prime Minister (Ali Badjo Gamatie)
and the Mediator (retired General and former Nigerian head of state
Abdusalami Abubakar), if all negotiators are here in good faith and
for the general interest, we will achieve something positive. But I
deplore the Opposition's behavior when its members declined to stand
for the group photo." Marou Amadou, a civil society leader and
member of the Opposition Coordination of Forces for Democracy and
the Republic (CFDR) stated that, "This morning, instead of the
chairman of the government delegation, the head of the Patriotic
Movement for Peace and Development, was allowed to speak on behalf
of the government...The (country's) problems started with violations
of the law, but they can be solved if we return within the law,

NIAMEY 00001008 002 OF 002

i.e., the constitution of the Fifth Republic or any similar
consensus text...the starting point (for negotiations) should be
building a consensus."

Opposition Declares the End of President Tandja's Term
--------------------------------------------- ---------
6. On December 22, the CFDR issued a statement denouncing President
Tandja's will to "cling to and stay forever in power" to preserve
the business interests of his family and clan. In the context of
the ECOWAS mediation of the INPD, the CFDR thought that it was clear
that the GON was not willing to negotiate, especially when its
Spokesperson publicly stated that the new constitution and deriving
institutions were "irreversible assets." The Opposition declared,
"Today, December 22, Tandja's term as President of Niger has
ended...He has no legitimacy or legality." The CFDR urged its
supporters to stand by and respond to impending calls from their

7. In July 2009, the ITN, a member of the CFDR, posed the same
grievances (ref B) regarding the implementation of the March 2009
agreement. By targeting salary and collective bargaining issues,
the ITN seeks to avoid charges that its grounds for a strike are
political, and hence illegitimate. On various occasions the GON
filed lawsuits before the court, which declared the strikes proposed
by ITN to be illegal as they involved political rather than labor

8. While the majority of Nigeriens had welcomed the political
dialogue with measured optimism and hope, the President's recent
statements (detailed in ref d) on December 15, the launching of the
campaign for local elections; December 17, his Republic Day address;
and December 20, his press conference, may hamper the ongoing
inter-Nigerien talks. On December 22, the Minister of Communication
and Government Spokesperson told an international radio station that
it was the Opposition, not the government, that requested
negotiations; he indicated that the government would be there to
hear what the Opposition had to say. He also stated that the new
constitution and related elections were "non-negotiable." End


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