Thousands of workers, unemployed and young people gathered in Tunis, last Sunday, to celebrate the first Mayday since the fall of the dictator, Ben Ali. This is coming at a time of growing frustration at the lack of real social change in the country, at resurfacing remnants of the dictatorship, and at the servile attitude of Essebsi government towards imperialist powers. "Down with dictatorship, down with capital!", "Essebsi, friend of imperialism, take your luggage and get out!", "No fear, no shame, power to the people!", "Workers, you prepare the bread, but you live with the crumbs!" - These were the chants of angry and determined demonstrators in the centre of the capital.
The demonstration in central Tunis was called by Left parties and associations, while the trade union leadership from the UGTT organised a separate rally in the outskirts of the city, 5km away from the centre.
This last initiative was consciously organised by UGTT bureaucrats to avoid a clash with their most militant workers. But this attempt did not prevent Abdessalem Jrad (general secretary of the UGTT) and other rotten and corrupt leaders from being booed by people present at the rally. This was in response to treacherous role the union leaders played during the revolution and after, and for their pretentions now in speaking in the name of the workers and poor, “saluting” a revolution that they had opposed with all their weight.
Demonstrators in central Tunis were mostly radical young people, and were joined by a large and very militant contingent of the Union des Diplômés Chômeurs (UDC - Union of Unemployed Graduates), who chanted ‘Work, Dignity and Freedom’, which was one of the first popular slogans heard at the beginning of the Tunisian revolution, last December. There are plenty of reasons to do so, as the number of unemployed has actually increased since the 14 January, and no serious plan to combat unemployment is on offer from the current regime. One unemployed demonstrator told us, “This is the day for celebrating workers but also those without work. We need to stay all together.”
The march, which gathered around 5,000, passed the hated Interior Ministry, still protected by army units and police, chanting, ‘Dégage!’ (‘Get out!’). Many people are very conscious that the so-called ’dismantling’ of the political police, announced by the Essebsi government, is not effective, as this measure has only affected 200 police officers! This sentiment is reinforced by the recent replacement of the Interior Minister by a close Ben Ali associate, and by reports attesting that the ’old methods’ of the police continue, with arbitrary arrests, beatings and tortures of activists and young people still occurring, though to a lesser degree than in the past. Early in the morning of May Day, police in a car attempted to arrest two left activists who were distributing leaflets on the Avenue Bourguiba. Their arrest was only prevented by the intervention of many other people who at the scene.
"We want another revolution"
"We want another revolution"; "The people want to topple the government of Beji Caid Essebsi"; "Yes, we will die, but after uprooting oppression" – these were slogans on large banners throughout the May Day march. The demonstrators were particularly enthused when they saw garbage collectors applauding the march.
Two weeks ago, Tunisian garbage collectors successfully ended a national, one week-strike, winning wage increase and permanent contracts. This has served as an example of how militant working class actions can defeat the attempts of the ruling class to reverse the revolutionary gains, and can open the way for real change. As young people said at the end of the successful May Day demonstration, "In the name of the worker, we will continue this revolution".