The unprecedented revolt which began a month ago in Tunisia continues. It started from an ‘everyday’ event, but one which exposes the real state of Tunisian society: a young fruit seller’s stall was confiscated by the police because he had no merchant’s licence. That was basically throwing him on the street, by depriving him of the only way of helping his family, while it obviously meant that the confiscated products ended up in the hands of the police. In a country where justice hardly exists for the poor, the young merchant, who could not bear the idea of becoming a burden for his family, set himself on fire in the public place, in desperate protest. Sometimes, an act like this can trigger a mass movement. Beginning in Sidi Bouzid and other cities of the disadvantaged central and western regions, the revolt spread to the whole country: against this intolerable situation, against the arrogance and corruption of those in power, against a life of misery and the absence of a decent future.
The movement, often initiated by young unemployed graduates -37% of graduates are unemployed 3.5 years after having finished their studies- is now involving all the youth as well as a significant portion of the population, including cities in the North and the seaside tourist areas. Also, the Tunisian revolt is increasingly resonating, in a way or another, in many neighbouring countries. (see our previous article on Algeria: http://www.socialistworld.net/doc/4760)
Repression and politicisation
As always, the Tunisian government has responded with ferocious and indiscriminate repression. Significantly, it has arrested many young bloggers to control information and to silence any dissenting voice. In early January, state forces fired live ammunition on some demonstrations: in Kasserine, for example, police officers and special squadrons fired on demonstrators from the rooftops. Several dozen deaths are now being talked about.
If the disastrous social situation and the lack of prospects for the youth were the first triggers of the movement, now the whole structure of Tunisian society is in question. Economic and political demands are mixing with each other, and the demand for the removal of President Ben Ali is increasingly raised. The movement is taking a mass character, particularly among the youth, and strikes are multiplying in universities and colleges. The government panicked, and ordered the closure of all schools and universities in an attempt to stop the youth strike movements.
The movement is taking an insurrectional character. Although journalists are talking about “riots”, it is mostly government buildings that are targeted. The central trade union, the UGTT, despite the links of some of its leaders with the dictatorship, has been forced to give its support to the movement. Four federations (transport, education, health, ports) even put forward the necessity of a general strike. The lawyers’ strike was followed at 95% and was severely repressed. It is clear that the organisation of a general strike against the government is a necessary step for the continuation of the struggle.
To get rid of this police dictatorship
Tunisia has been held in Ben Ali’s iron fist since his constitutional coup of November 1987. The police, including the “civilian” section, has all the rights, being allowed to stop anyone they want under any pretext. Anger has been brewing for years. Ben Ali’s policy has always served the Tunisian rich and imperialist interests, the French and Italian in particular. Two years ago, Sarkozy even dared to say that “democracy has made great progress under Ben Ali”.
The clan in power is monopolising the country’s wealth, and corruption and cronyism prevail, while the majority of people live in extremely difficult circumstances. The whole political life is under control. The political opposition is, in fact, completely artificial, and the RCD (Ben Ali’s party) is just a machine to deliver seats and careers to those who comply with the wishes of Ben Ali’s clan.
The government is trying to crush the movement. And the ‘measures’ it is proposing are not only insufficient, but also blatant lies. The economic policy coming from the regime serves only the interests of European multinationals, while politicians take bribes in the process. Forty to sixty percent of the workforce is forced to work in the informal sector. Meanwhile, vast free trade zones have been created (Bizerte, Tunis...) where trade union rights do not exist, and where wages are absolutely miserable, for the sole benefit of the multinationals. Infrastructure, notably transport, is inadequate in cities that have seen their population rocket over the past 20 years.
There is obviously no question that the ruling clique would make a single concession in terms of democratic rights. Its position at the head of the state allows it to enrich itself. But it certainly did not realize that this movement is the deepest and most powerful ever known in Tunisia, and that it has a revolutionary potential.
“We don’t want this life anymore”
This revolt must find a way to move forward, because the situation has now changed. Political discussion is spreading, but there is a lack of a strategy and of a mass organisation for the workers, youth, small farmers and poor urban masses. Moreover, it appears that part of the army refused to repress the movement. The need for committees organised in neighbourhoods, universities, colleges and workplaces, and the creation of soldiers’ committees could lay the groundwork for coordinating the movement, and developing a strategy to overthrow the ruling regime.
The vast majority of Tunisians do not want this life anymore, and even if Ben Ali was replaced -he had replaced Bourguiba shortly after the ‘bread riots’ of 1984-, it is the structure of the system itself that must be changed.
Under capitalism, the Tunisian economy will always be in the hands of a handful of corrupt people and multinationals, and the paradise of the big tourist chains will continue to deprive the Tunisian population of a real means of living, and the youth of a real future.
Under Bourguiba, the Tunisian regime has long claimed to be “socialist”, but that was a mask. The prevailing policy was serving the interests of the capitalists, despite a few concessions. The nationalisation of the main means of production, the ports, banks, etc, under the democratic control and management of the workers and the population, would lay the foundation for a truly free and democratic society in Tunisia: a genuinely socialist society. This is the path to be followed by the Tunisian revolution that has just begun! Therefore, there is an urgent need to build an independent party of the working class and the youth to defend this perspective, in Tunisia as in the whole region.