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Mauritania Table of Contents


Trade Unions


National Textile Workers Union on parade
Courtesy Embassy of Mauritania, Washington

The Mauritanian Workers Union (Union des Travailleurs Mauritaniens--UTM), created in 1961, was a government-supported federation of all trade unions within the country. Until 1969 the UTM was completely separate from the PPM and the government, although it supported the party and had as many as seven representatives in the National Assembly. Initially, the UTM was conceived as a radical union in a class-oriented society and was pledged to forward the interests of workers as a class. Accordingly, union leadership ruled out integration with the party, as was customary in most other one-party states in subSaharan Africa. Consequently, union leaders were not averse to challenging the state. In May 1968, when news of student and worker demonstrations in France reached Mauritania, iron ore workers at Zourt struck to protest the pay differential, amounting to almost 1,000 percent, between the salaries of West Europeans and Africans. The government called on the army to restore order, a move that resulted in the death of eight workers and injuries to twenty-three.

At the fourth congress of the UTM, held in February 1969, party leaders and UTM leadership proposed incorporating the UTM into the PPM. Several member unions of the UTM denounced both the proposal and UTM leadership, which was described as no longer representing the interests of workers. Subsequently, several unions, including the National Union of Mauritanian Teachers, formally opposed integration with the party and voted to withdraw from the UTM. Under the Directing Committee of Mauritanian Workers, the "Progressive" UTM was formed. The new federation argued that the UTM was now under the control of management and could no longer represent the interests of the working class.

The PPM and the government refused to recognize the new labor federation, arguing that there could be no political activity outside the party. Mauritanian students, on the other hand, supported the new federation and in May 1971 challenged police and army units by demonstrating throughout Mauritania. Workers joined students in protest when miners at Fdrik closed the mines in September and October 1968.

Subsequent union activity under the military was marked by conflict and confusion. In 1983 Haidalla imprisoned UTM secretary general Elkory Ould H'metty for allegedly having used the UTM for political purposes and on behalf of Libyan interests. Taking over UTM leadership was H'metty's former assistant, Beijel Ould Houmeit, who had been a faithful Haidalla supporter. In 1985 H'metty was freed by President Taya. Nevertheless, Houmeit only begrudgingly yielded power to the erstwhile secretary general. From 1984 until mid-1987, the administration of the UTM was paralyzed, and union locals atrophied. In an effort to secure worker cooperation during the period of recession, the government decided to reinvigorate the UTM. In mid-1987 local offices were being reestablished in major urban areas, and a general UTM congress was tentatively planned for late 1987.

Data as of June 1988