Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, speaking at the Dr. Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History on April 5, 2008. The event commemorated the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Tunisian Demonstrations and Strikes Mark First Year of National Uprising
Workers and youth demand jobs and improved social conditions
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
On Jan. 14, 2011 the Tunisian longtime ruler, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, fled the country for the monarchy of Saudi Arabia where he has been granted political refuge. The uprising in Tunisia was the first in a series of events that have continued over the last 14 months and has reshaped the debate and struggle throughout various countries in Africa and the Middle East.
Although the forced resignation of Ben Ali was a major victory for the masses in Tunisia, it did not resolve the fundamental contradictions of the growing deprivation of the workers and youth inside the country. Neither did the uprisings resolve the inherently exploitative relationship between Tunisia and the imperialist states which still dictate the terms of its foreign policy towards the West.
Yet the Tunisian people have not given up on the total transformation of their country. In recent weeks a new round of strikes and mass demonstrations has erupted in various regions of the country including the capital of Tunis. On Jan. 17 a strike in the northern farming town of Siliana shut down schools and several roads.
The people in Siliana were protesting against the areas high unemployment rate and poor living conditions. Other demonstrations were held in the northwestern city of Jendouba when protesters halted traffic on a major thoroughfare claiming that the government has completely ignored social and political concerns facing working people.
Also in the north of the country, university students in the city of Manouba have started a hunger strike because they are angry over the banning of women students who wish to wear the niqab (a full-face veil). Students are demanding that the ban be immediately lifted but university officials have so far refused to back down.
In the central region mountain town of Maktar, a general strike erupted on Jan. 13 over the lack of progress since the ouster of the former president last year. Locals in the area chopped down trees and used them to barricade traffic from flowing through the town.
One local vendor in the town, Mounir Louhichi, said that “We’re dying here, there is nothing. We’re worn out by the cold and unemployment. No running water, no city gas despite being near the pipeline running from Algeria to Italy.” (AFP, Jan. 20)
A young English teacher, Ouided Slama, said that “We are rebelling because it is, quite simply, intolerable.” Residents feel that the new government has totally ignored their plight.
“There is no one,” said a young man who drew a large question mark on the door of the local branch of the dominate Islamic Ennahda party which won 40 percent of the vote in the recently held elections. Ennahda and a bloc of left-leaning parties control the new parliament but dissatisfaction still exist as Mounia Laroussi, a school teacher, says “What we want is for the authorities to come see us.” (AFP, Jan. 20)
Bank Workers Demand Resignation of Bosses Amid Threats of a General Strike
In the capital of Tunis, a struggle has been unfolding at the Central Bank where employees have been protesting over working conditions. Demonstrators have demanded the resignation of the Central Bank president and vice-president, Kamel Nabli and Ibrahim Saada.
Although the Deputy Secretary General of the Tunisian Bank Federation, Moaman al-Gharbi, affirmed that the union supported the demonstrations and the demands of the Central Bank workers, they could not endorse the call for the resignation of the executives since it fell outside their jurisdiction. Al-Gharbi says that the demonstrations derive from years of frustration over perceived inefficiency and failure to promote junior employees.
Tunisia-live.net in a Jan. 20 article said that “According to al-Gharbi, the protesters’ demands fall into two categories. The first category constitutes internal demands, including the promotion of qualified employees who have been employed for decades and have yet to be promoted. The workers also expressed discontent with the president’s decision to hire new executives rather than promoting experienced employees.”
In addition to the internal demands, the workers are also concerned about the overall role of the Central Bank in the national development of the country. Al-Gharbi noted that “Financial institutions are the backbone of the economy.”
The union leader went on to say that “Their role (banks) in sustainable development—especially in the interior regions of the country—needs to be specified and emphasized. The workers of the Central Bank do not wish to harm the country’s economy in any way, and will thus not hinder the operation of their institution.”
Amid the escalating actions among the working class inside of Tunisia, the General Labor Union (UGTT) had announced a comprehensive strike set for Jan. 25. However, this call has been rescinded until further notice.
Mongi Abdel-Rahim, spokesman for the UGTT, said that the suspension of the general strike resulted from the resumption of talks between the Minister of Social Affairs and representatives of the offices of the Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali. Abdel-Rahim told Tunisia-Live.net that “the committee is going to be in action from January 25th until March 30th. After March 30th, if we are not satisfied with the outcome, we will resume the general strike.” (January 21)
The 22 Congress of the UGTT was held in December 2011 and a new set of more left-leaning leaders were elected to official positions. These recent developments in Tunisia indicate that there is still a strong need for a broad-based alliance of progressive forces to ensure that the popular aims of the 2010-2011 uprising are not lost but upheld as an inspiration for deeper levels of struggle against neo-colonialism and imperialism.