In the 1980s, approximately 100,000 full-time workers in the regulated sectors belonged to trade unions. Union membership was highest among white-collar workers, professionals, civil servants, and teachers. All unions except the National Union of Secondary School Teachers of Côte d'Ivoire (Syndicat National des Enseignants du Secondaire de Côte d'Ivoire--SYNESCI) were part of a government-controlled federation, the General Federation of Ivoirian Workers (Union Générale des Travailleurs de Côte d'Ivoire- -UGTCI), which counted approximately 190 affiliates. Its secretary general from its founding until 1984 was Joseph Coffie, a veteran of the PDCI and trusted companion of President Houphouët-Boigny. In 1988 the secretary general was Hyacinthe Adiko Niamkey.
From its inception, the UGTCI saw itself as a participant in development rather than a combatant on behalf of labor. In that role, the UGTCI supported government efforts to promote unity and development, justifying its stance as helping to continue the struggle for independence. The UGTCI did not object to the state's development policies, and its leaders participated in government policy debates, thereby becoming, in effect, instruments of economic development.
Not surprisingly, the UGTCI exercised little political or economic clout. Strikes were legal, but principals first had to complete a lengthy process of negotiation, during which any work stoppage was illegal. Moreover, demands on its members by UGTCI leadership seeking more efficient production counted more than workers' complaints. At the same time, the UGTCI exercised a modicum of autonomy in protests over wages and the pace of Ivoirianization. In response, the guaranteed urban minimum wage had been raised several times since the mid-1970s. However, wages were not keeping pace with inflation.
Wildcat strikes or other unsanctioned job actions were not much more productive. In dealing with job actions, the government first exploited the media to gain sympathy for its position and then confronted strike leaders with overwhelming force. Usually the government softened its position by rehiring most of the workers previously dismissed and by compromising on peripheral matters. Underlying problems remained unresolved or were settled in accordance with government intentions. In 1985, after 16,892 parastatal workers, many of whom were highly paid professionals, staged a job action to protest deep wage cuts, the government threatened to fire all workers who refused to honor the government's deadline and to replace them with unemployed university graduates. Eventually the government fired 342 holdouts. At other times, the government dissolved the refractory union, thus depriving any strike of legitimacy and the union of any recourse.
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