The National Union of Malian Workers (French acronym UNTM) is a formidable organization. Transitional Prime Minister Choguel Maiga (in office since June 2021) is a controversial figure at home and abroad, and has antagonized the UNTM among many others.
On May 6, the UNTM sent a threatening letter to Maiga. Taking as a point of departure Maiga’s April 21 address to the transitional legislature (CNT), the letter deals with a wide range of issues, including the right to strike, the negotiation of salaries, the functioning of various government boards, and a host of political issues. There are deep memories at stake here – the date 1991 comes up twice in the letter, referring to the popular revolution and coup that brought down longtime military ruler Moussa Traore. There is, it seems, bad blood between Maiga and the UNTM over the 1991 revolution – Maiga was a pro-Traore youth leader in the 1980s.
In any case, the UNTM says, in the letter, “Trade-unionism can enter the national political game. All the conventions and resolutions sanctions it. So watch out!” The UNTM stresses its support for head of state Assimi Goita, but warns, “The red line is the attempt at the proliferation of negationism of the democratic revolution of March 26, 1991 and its results, without which today would not be.” I take this as not just a reference to the past but also as a condemnation of the transitional government’s authoritarianism, a portion of which seems to emanate from Maiga personally.
The full letter can be found here, along with some brief but useful commentary by Malian writer Mamadou Togola here.
On November 23, the National Union of Malian Workers (French acronym UNTM) sent a 6-page letter to the Minister of Employment and Civil Service threatening a general strike from December 14-18. The letter lays out an immense range of demands. Rather than trying to summarize them all, I’ll just evoke a few that caught my eye:
- “…the implementation of measures and structures appropriate for relaunching the railroad, the Post Office, and for evaluating privatizations, contracts, and the mining code, in addition to the exploitation of gold, to put Mali back in its rights…”
- “…compensation of workers who have been victims of the crisis in Mali since 2012…”
- “…immediate measures for reducing the high cost of living…”
Whether or not the strike happens, and regardless of what it achieves or doesn’t achieve, the letter is a reminder that for many Malians, the country’s crisis goes beyond insecurity and beyond questions of coups and elections – the letter evokes a sense of a citizenry experiencing a socioeconomic crisis that the union leaders, at least, understand as a result of both short-term “political inertia” in 2020 and long-term consequences of privatization and the hollowing-out of the state. There is a short paragraph on the first page summarizing the UNTM’s role in Malian history since 1960 and I don’t think that’s idle; the letter’s authors suggest that the problems they are responding to are deeply embedded in the entire arc of Malian history. I also got the sense that the letter’s authors see almost total continuity between Mali’s pre-coup problems and post-coup problems; if there was a honeymoon for the junta or for the transitional government, that honeymoon definitely seems to be over now in the eyes of the UNTM – and the UNTM sees the transitional government as being fully on the hook for past, unfulfilled agreements with labor made in 2019 and earlier. With the phrases I highlighted above, the letter seems to be calling not just for a resolution of labor’s demands but also for a much more muscular and assertive Malian state.