Monday, January 31, 2011

Tunisia a Revolution in Progress

Below is rough translation of a briefing paper on Tunisia issued by the International Commission of the militant trade union Solidaires.

International Commission
Solidarity and Internationalism
January 2011

The tragic death of Mohamed Bouazizi, 17 December last, was the starting point of a wave of struggles unprecedented since fighting for independence. This act symbolized, indeed, all ills Tunisia. He was a young, who like many others, he had no real job prospects and had to settle for a small job to survive.

Millions of Tunisian recognized themselves in him, and especially young people felt this to a greater degree. The event that triggered his action was the seizure of his stock of fruits and vegetables by the police under the pretext he sold them without permission. And perhaps most importantly, the fact that he was publicly humiliated and beaten by authorities when he tried to recover his stock.

Being subjected to such arbitrary practices has been the daily lot of Tunisians for decades. To avoid such practices, it was necessary to take the path of image of the ruling party (the RCD - Constitutional Democratic Rally), to bribe the mafia and conspicuously display the photo of the president.

For years, this system was able to function: the vast majority of the population was terrorized by an organisation whose size exceeded the number of school teachers, informed by a multitude of informers receiving in return a few crumbs. Tens of thousands have had their lives broken by the prison and torture.

The culmination of a cycle of struggle
This single gesture of despair by Mohamed would probably not lead to a revolution if it had not entered in the cycle of struggles begun in the mining area of Gafsa Redeyef in 2008. These symbolise all the flaws of the regime, which could not be seen at the time, present throughout the rest of the country. It finds, however similar ingredients:

Massive unemployment
, caused by the frantic mechanisation of the mining of phosphates, for jobless there was no hope of re-entering the workforce in this region with a mono-industry, which once saw workers flowing into it both from Tunisia and neighbouring countries.

Corruption, with competitive examinations to enter mining rigged by the mafia in power of competitive examinations in mining, was the cause of the massive mobilisation of people, especially youth.

In the struggle against repression, Tunisian trade unionists found themselves elbow to elbow with lawyers and human rights activists in refusing to compromise with the authorities. In the years that followed, several local social explosions took place, but they also remained isolated.

In late December 2010, fear has suddenly changed sides
Very quickly after the gesture of the young Sidi Bouzid, mobilizations were held at the site and in other regions. This movement was marked by several characteristics:

1. The slogans of the demonstrations have evolved very rapidly
Dominated the early emotion and anger, then quickly have expressed social demands:
“Work is a right, work is not charity! " They are combined with democratic claims“Freedom!”, “Interior Ministry, Terrorist Ministry!”.

Gradually, the watchwords have taken a more political character, denouncing the mafia in power: “Gang of thieves! Trabelsi! Bandits! (Trabelsi is the surname of the wife of Ali bin) “No President for Life!” “Police, wake up and join the fight”. All of which are synthesised in the slogans such as “Bread, water, yes, but not Ben Ali, Ben Ali, out!”

There were no Islamist slogans to be heard, unlike the scarecrow stirred for previous 23 years by Ben Alito justify his dictatorship.

2. Multiple sectors of the population entered in the action: unemployed, unionists, lawyers, human rights activists, journalists, feminists, artists, high school and university students etc.

3. These mobilizations have affected the entire country, unlike what in 2008 with that of mining area of Gafsa, and then for other local explosions.

4. For once, the mobilizations were known fairly quickly abroad, some media being referring to Ben Ali as the Ceausescu of Tunisia. Their impact is particularly significant in other Arab countries that suffer the brunt of the financial crisis and the policies of the IMF and the World Bank.

5. Part of the international political establishment has begun to make their prudish distance (USA, European Union). The Sarkozy government and part of the Socialists have persisted until the last day in their support for this plan.

Political forces in Tunisia
The dictator gone, it remains as to how power should be exercised and how politics is to be conducted.
Before the time of Ben Ali, during the time of the two presidents following independence, a single political party, the RCD, consisted of local militias and money. The RCD party: it has been for forty years one-party state, combining the features of the former dictatorships of Eastern Europe and neoliberal policies closely linked to the Western world.

This system has enabled a veritable looting of the country by the family and in-laws of the President. He also permitted the maintenance of a large customer is seeking to enrich themselves, or simply survive by accepting in exchange, singing the praises of the regime or participating in the heavy policing of the rest of the population. All this has not prevented the RCD being, for years the official section of the Socialist International!

In this type of mafia system, the space for other political parties has so far been singularly reduced.

a) The small satellite parties of the Ben Ali regime: their main function was to convince foreigners looking for excuses to support the dictatorship, that pluralism existed. They play no role in the current political debate.

b) The legal opposition agreed periodically to "dialogue" with power, in exchange for some parliamentary seats. Most sought until the end to find arrangements with Ben Ali. After his fall, they then accepted, at least momentarily, the Ministerial positions that have been offered. Found in this Category: Ettajdid Ahmed Brahim (former Tunisian Communist Party who followed a pattern similar to that of its Italian counterpartclosely linked to France through the ATF (Association of Tunisians in France);

  • the FDTL (Democratic Forum for Labour and Liberties) of Ben Jaafar (advisory member of the Socialist International and who will certainly become the official section after the official expulsion of the party of Ben Ali two days after he fled the country);

  • Progessive Democratic Party of Maya Jribi and Najib Chebbi.

  • You can add the PSG, a short period part of the far left. It was very quickly recognized the "new-old" authorities, and defended the government established after the fall Ben Ali.

c) The underground opposition had two main streams:

  • The Islamists have suffered a merciless repression under Ben Ali: 30 000 were imprisoned and often do not stay in Tunisia outside prison but in underground, the militants of al-Nahda and a Salafi current, mainly targets the situation in other countries, particularly Iraq.

    In the actions, Ennahada denies wanting to use violence, and this trend has pronounced publicly (As at a meeting in Paris on January 15) for equal rights between men and women. Under the dictatorship, Ennahda did not hesitate to work within the 18 October Coalition with the forces of the legal secular-left (PDP FDTL), or even a Marxist like PCOT (Tunisian Workers' Communist Party). This current raises fears especially among youth and women, about sincerity of its evolution on secularism and women’s rights.

  • Several groups or networks, who played for years a major role in the struggles against the former regime, particularly in the context of UGTT and UGET [1], have recently regrouped under the name “January 14 Front”. The are for the most part currents with origins in Marxist-Leninist (eg Trotskyist or Arab nationalist left. The old Marxist-Leninist, and for a time President of the Tunisian League of Human Rights, did not participate in this front.

  • “Green Tunisia” of Zitouni was established in 2004, closely linked to the European Green Parties.

A powerful social movement
As often happens in dictatorships is the social movement that has played, in fact, the role of counter power. They included most of those venturing past dozens of years to raise their heads proudly against the dictatorship: unionists, activists of the legal and illegal left, lawyers, students, feminists, artists, Journalists, human rights activists, etc.

A large number had been imprisoned and / or torture, and yet does not renounce the struggle, not hesitating not to openly defy the cops and spies who were following their footsteps. Many knew of long and complex networks which mixed pell-mell political affiliations current or past, family ties, geographic origins, etc..including:

  • Associations for the Defence of Human Rights, resulting in a complex mix between lawyers, trade unionists, former political prisoner, intellectua, members of legal and illegal political organisations: LTDH (Ligue tunisienne des droits de l'Homme - Tunisian League of Human Rights); CNLT ( Conseil national pour les libertés en Tunisie - National Council for Freedoms in Tunisia); AISPP (Association internationale de soutien des prisonniers politiques - International Association for Support of Political Prisoners), Liberté et équité (Freedom and Equality); ALTT (Association de lutte contre la torture en Tunisie - Association of Struggle Against Torture in Tunisia); Amnesty International; etc.

  • Feminist associations, such as l'ATFD (Association tunisienne des femmes démocrates - Tunisian Association of Democratic Women) mainly driven by very secular intellectuals opposed to the Islamists.
  • Journalists and Internet users working through the media relaying propaganda against the regime.
  • Dissident artists, like the famous "Al General", the film associations from the theater world, since 1999 grouped around a platform of cultural action and anti-capitalist alternative.
  • Within this social movement, one returns to the central trade union movement whose structures, activist resources and premises, opponents to Ben Ali often used establish a base for the rest of the social movement.

The Role of Labour
The UGTT, the sole trade union centre, was the origin of the Tunisian national movement time of In Tunisia, everyone claims Hached Ferhat, a founder of Tunisian unionism who was assassinated in 1952 by the far right with the help of colonial French secret service. The UGTT is largely a child of the French CGT (), but a break occurred in the postwar period, following the refusal of the PC and PS to support the claim of independence. The UGTT was then closer to the nationalist movement embodied by Bourguiba, also affiliated with Socialist International. The history is the result of complex interactions between UGTT and the Tunisian State.

Once in power, Bourguiba sought to use the prestige of UGTT to establish its domination, where a perpetual informal struggle occurred over the direction of the UGTT between two great currents:

  • A current bidding for power at times ranging up to a quasi-integration within the state apparatus. It followed a series of bribes, such as parliamentary positions. In return, the confederal leadership called for votes in elections for the party in power, and sought to curb the struggles.
  • A current of resistance to power, controlling some federations such as the powerful federations education, postal and telecommunications as well as some local and regional structures.The premises of these structures were often used as a base for much of social and/or political opposition. This movement played a decisive role in strikes, rallies and protests that resulted in the fall of the dictatorship.
  • In between the two, a range of positions ranging between the two poles.

To give two examples: The secretary of UGTT for the region of Gafsa was simultaneously MP in Ben Ali’s party and boss of companies engaged in subcontracting work for the mining of phosphates. He was personally involved in the shenanigans regarding recruitments in the mines for the benefit of members of his tribe. Faced with popular mobilization against this injustice, it is simply suspended Local trade unionists who were involved in the mobilisation. And to top it all, it was officially supported by the national leadership of the Union Centre, the official in charge of the case was of the same tribe as himself, and presented the popular mobilizations as the work of dangerous extremists! The green light was given and repression against members of his own trade union organization that were imprisoned and some of them tortured. But simultaneously another part of the UGTT, whose unions in Education and Post & Telecommunications [2] took up the cause for Redeyef Gafsa defendants. Finally, the centre was forced to give their positions to the Redeyef unionists n the eve of the trial, including financial support to them and their families.

The Regional Union of Tunis, as it should be, is the main inter-professional structure of the UGTT confederation [3]. Long subservient to power, it had recently switched to being critic, at least part of the regime. It is o wonder that under these circumstances, the 27 December rally in the prestigious square in front of the headquarters of the UGTT earned the Secretary General of the UGTT a public repudiation nominally denouncing the union's general secretary of secondary education union who had spoken at protests and raised hostile slogans against Ben Ali chanted by the demonstrators [4]. A sign of the times was the posting on the Union Centre the December 30 statement by the French Inter-Union clearly denouncing the regime, and supporting the unionists who had protested on December 27 [5].

After a vigorous internal debate, the majority supported the other direction, with a January 4 statement supporting the movement [6]. Then on January 11, made a call giving unions, at the local regional and sectoral level throughout the country to call strikes [7]. Three representatives of the UGTT had been nominated by the General Secretariat to serve in the first government following the fall of Ben Ali. The Administrative Commission of the UGTT on January 18 [8] and on January 21 required the Government’s resignation [9].

The Role of International Solidarity
For many years, exiled Tunisians have patiently participated in construction organizations in solidarity with the struggles for human rights, such as the FTCR or CRDLHT [10]. Refusing to retreat into communalism, resolutely secular, they have tirelessly sought to involve the militants from other countries. Featuring a dual culture, and sometimes a double nationality, and they were indeed aware a part of the fight was played in the former colonial power. Faced the close economic ties, political and financial ties between the haves and politicians from both sides, it was the close economic, political and financial between the haves and politicians from both sides, it was necessary to isolate the regime of Ben Ali with the convergent action of the exploited, oppressed and defenders of human rights in different countries.

In order to circumvent censorship, they have gathered information published documentation, , organized meetings, rallies, demonstrations, etc. They have made many contributions, along with French and Moroccan organisations, the formation of the North African Solidarity Collective which is also involved with Sidi Bouzid Partners. They have helped French unions to get involved in this fight.

French Trade Unionism and Tunisia
The links between French trade unionism and Tunisian trade unionism are old. Given our history recent links of the Trade Union Solidarity are less old. They rely on irregular exchanges some structures as clearly opposed to power since 2002, between of postal and telecommunications and since 2008 with those of education, Redeyef etc. Acceleration occurred recently at the sectoral level. In February 2011, a Tunisian trade unionist working a call centre participates, for example, in a workshop on this during the World Social Forum in Dakar.

This acceleration occurred also between French unions, with the establishment about two years ago, a collective of trade union support for the struggles in Tunisia involving the CGT, CFDT, FSU, UNSA and Solidaires, which FO recently joined [11]. Organizations run by exiles Tunisians have played a major role in the establishment of the French inter-union collective, organized meticulously our trips to Tunisia, restarting every time when necessary. Overall, French Centres, have made four or five trips to Gafsa, along with exciting exchanges in Tunis with various structures of the UGTT, the LTDH, lawyers etc... The welcome of the management of the UGTT Confederation was generally limited to the “bare minimum”. They once even refused to receive the French inter-union, declaring they considered their presence as a hostile act towards the UGTT.

Build the solidarity movement
Tunisia's fate rests fundamentally on the development of popular mobilization within the country. But the Tunisian activists in Tunisia and France, more than ever are in urgent need of solidarity from the French trade union movement. They expect us to increase pressure on the French authorities, who were compromised, until the last day, with Ben Ali. Minister Alliot-Marie even suggesting the French Police aid Ben Ali! [12].

The French government and employers are now possible to ensure that the former regime can continue to exist without the dictator. They are closely linked to the Mafia who plundered the country for decades thanks to the combined pressure of unemployment and repression, they were able to have a qualified workforce at a low price. For them all this must continue.

If Ben Ali's plane was turned back, it was only because the French government was afraid of
It avoids having to respond with extradition requests in the near future. If measures have been announced against capital tied to the Ben Ali regime, it is for the same reason, we act so these measures are effectively implemented. For activists in Tunisia and France to also ensure that the property of Ben Ali in these two countries be returned to the Tunisian people.

The link between our partners is not always the greatest simplicity. The secular left current
for the first time with Ennhada under the collective Sidi Bouzid. This made it more difficult to link with groups of young Tunisians living in France, including collective of students, anxious for autonomy, involving women, hostile or reluctant to with Ennhada. These contradictions are present in the various initiatives of solidarity and also partially overlapping inter-generational questions.

Some emergency measures
Most Tunisian organizations present in France have agreed to jointly promote a number of immediate demands. Several French organizations, including the Trade Union , have decided to support them in their approach. This platform is based on the following:

  • Democratic rights
  • General amnesty and the right to return of all exiles.
  • Immediate implementation of freedom of the press, freedom of association and availability of means of free expression and the free functioning, immediate implementation of freedom of assembly and demonstration.
  • Recognition of all political parties without exception.
  • Dismantling the party-state
  • Restitution of public property abroad captured by the RCD with, for example, the provision of Local Parisian the 36th street in Botzaris Tunisian democratic associations
  • Strict separation of state and the RCD, which involves seizing the premises of the RCD, the end entirely the available the resources of state personnel, vehicles and premises, and the dissolution of the RCD cells.
  • Purging and Repair
  • Arrest, indictment of those responsible for abuses against protesters, trade unionists and political activists.
  • Truly independent investigative commission on abuses and compensating the families of the martyrs of freedom.
  • Freeze the assets of the family and entourage of the dictator Ben Ali, an independent panel on corruption and the implementation procedures for both national and international recovery the stolen property to the Tunisian people
  • Measures for unemployed
  • Implementation of immediate financial measures for the unemployed, particularly unemployed graduates.
  • Women's Rights
  • Preservation and enlargement of acquired rights and freedoms of women, including the CSP (Code of Personal Status)
  • Establishing a new regime
  • A transparent and democratic constitutional process with the establishment of a broad debate for the development of a new constitution ending the anti-democratic presidential system of 1959, the election of a Constituent Assembly and submission to ratification by referendum of the people of this new Constitution.

1 - General Union of Tunisian Students
2 - In 2009, the general union of secondary education had 55 000 members, for a total of 82
000 employees. Rate unionization in post and telecommunications was around 50%.
3 - Greater Tunis has about 3 million inhabitants, for a Tunisian population of 10 million.
4 - Article published in the press on 28 December 2010 and posted on the website of the
5 - Statement of the French inter-union 30 December
6 - UGTT statement of 4 January 2011
7 - UGTT statement of 11 January 2011
8 - UGTT statement of 18 January
9 - UGTT statement of 21 January
10 - Federation of Tunisian citizens of both banks
Committee for the Respect of Human Rights in Tunisia
Tarek Ben Hiba
Mouhieddine Cherbib
Kamel Jendoubi
11 - See for example the press release dated May 20, 2010
See also the statement of January 13, 2011
12 A selection of statements by French political officials is available on

In addition to this newsletter, you can find materials related to international news and material from the International Committee of Solidaires on our website at the following address:

Note rough English translations of the original French statements can be found at


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Revitalising Labour attempts to reflect on efforts to rebuild the labour movement internationally, emphasising the role that left-wing political currents can play in this process. It welcomes contributions on union struggles, internal renewal processes within the labour movement and the struggle against capitalism and imperialism.

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