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Trade unions join reform protests for May Day marches

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-05-01

Moroccan trade unions took to the streets Sunday for May Day marches, adding their numbers to those of youth-led protesters who have been holding a sit-in to demand democratic reforms.

REUTERS - Trade unions in Morocco threw their weight on Sunday behind demands for reform confronting the Arab world's longest-serving dynasty and several thousand demonstrators marched through the streets.
 
Heavy rain may have kept some away, with turnout in the commercial capital Casablanca down on previous protests since February that have authorities concerned about a possible Egypt-style popular uprising.
 
But Sunday, Labour Day, marked the first time some of Morocco's trade unions have joined protests driven by the youth-led February 20 Movement and inspired by grassroots revolts in other parts of the Arab world.
 
They turned out despite a pledge by King Mohammed's government to increase public sector salaries and raise the minimum wage from May 1 -- the latest in a series of handouts from authorities anxious to prevent a spillover of popular revolt from other North African countries.
 
Protests in Tunisia that toppled veteran autocrat Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in January gathered decisive momentum when trade unions got involved in a significant way.
 
Moroccan textile worker Mohamed Maadour complained that his comrades would only get half of the promised 10 percent increase to the minimum wage. "We don't understand why we are being singled out when the textile industry is the country's most lucrative and its biggest employer," he said.
 
Divergent goals
 
But divisions were evident and could yet weaken the call for change, with some unions distancing themselves from a February 20 Movement sit-in in the city.
 
"We are marching because we want to push for a social agenda that has nothing to do with the political agenda of the February 20 Movement," said Abdelhaq Tafnout of SNB, the banking employees union.
 
Only some 1,500 people affiliated with the independent UMT union, the country's largest, explicitly supported the sit-in and UMT's leading figures were absent.
 
The protesters' demands include a reduction in the king's political clout, a crackdown on corruption and the sacking of members of the monarch's inner circle whom they accuse of abuse of power and business malpractice.
 
King Mohammed has appointed a committee to reform the constitution in order to cede more powers, promised to make justice independent and freed some political prisoners.
 
Protesters said they would not be deterred by security fears after a bomb at a cafe in the tourist city of Marrakesh on Thursday killed 15 people, many of them foreign tourists.
 
"We understand that some prominent figures in the 'old' regime will want to use the attacks to stop this movement for change and reform, but they won't be able to," said Youssef Mezzi, an organiser of the February 20 Movement.
 
Protesters carried placards that read, "No to terrorism, yes to reform", and, "Oh Moroccans, the blasts are a charade."

Date created : 2011-05-01

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