Tunisia: Students and lawyers join protests against repressive regime

Message of solidarity from Joe Higgins MEP to Tunisian trade unionists, socialists and democracy activists

Clashes between protesters and police over unemployment, the high cost of living and the repressive regime of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, are reportedly spreading across Tunisia, with the latest protests in the city of Thala.

Despite the regime’s crude attempts to stop reporting, including blocking facebook and blogs, protests are reported to have taken place in high schools, following the re-start of schools after the holiday break this week. Demonstrations planned for 3 January by the students in Tunis were blocked by police.

Last week, lawyers joined protests but were attacked by police. Lawyers once again protested on Monday at the main courthouse in Tunis. The Tunisian Bar Association announced a “general strike” for next Thursday in protest over the police attacks.

The protests began in Sidi Bouzid town, last December, after a young graduate, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire when police stopped him selling from a street stall. This triggered country-wide demonstrations against poverty, unemployment and a lack of democratic rights.

Below we publish a message of solidarity, sent last week, from Joe Higgins, Socialist Party (CWI Ireland) Member of European Parliament (MEP), to Tunisian trade unionists, socialists and democracy activists.


Dear Comrades and Friends,

I have followed with great interest the mass protests taking place in Tunisia over the last week. I applaud the courageous action of youth, trade unionists, socialists and thousands of working people in taking to the streets to protest against mass unemployment, falling living standards and a lack of basic democratic rights. Your mass revolt against such a repressive regime is an inspiring example to working people and youth everywhere.

The conditions in which the people of Tunisia forced to live are deplorable, with the great majority of Tunisians face rising inflation and high unemployment while the corrupt ruling elite flaunts its wealth. Even the US, which supports the Tunisian dictatorship, in a cable released by Wikileaks, described the family of President Zine el Abindine Ben Alias a “quasi mafia” and the Tunisian regime as a “police state”.

The fact that unemployed graduate, Mohammad Bouazizi, set himself alight after police confiscated the fruit and vegetables he was trying to sell in Sidi Bouzid town – sparking the recent protests – and that another young man committed suicide by throwing himself onto a high-voltage cables in protest at unemployment, speaks volumes about the deep sense of frustration and even desperation felt by many Tunisians. From other examples in history, we can see that a social explosion is inherent in this situation and can quickly become a mass movement against the continued rule of the regime.

I salute your courage in the face of systematic state repression that sees any dissent suppressed and tortured used routinely. Despite the regime’s attempts to stop journalists covering the last few days of protests, it is reported in Europe that police repression led to the deaths of two protesters, at least. I strongly condemn this and the regime’s other attempts to crush growing opposition, including attacks against thousands of workers outside the offices of the Tunisian General Union of Labour, in Tunis, and police attempts to stop a demonstration by the Tunisian General Confederation of Labour, in Gafsa.

The problems facing working people are inter-linked on a global level: the dramatic fall in tourist revenue in Tunisia is linked to the economic and social crisis in Europe and governments’ attempts to make workers pay for the crisis of the capitalist system with savage austerity measures. This is causing a sharp decline in living standards and large-scale job losses throughout Europe, not least in Ireland, and a subsequent collapse in tourism. A solution to the deep problems facing working people in Europe, Tunisia, North Africa and everywhere requires united workers’ action and solidarity across all borders.

Call for 26 January mass demonstration

I learnt from my CWI comrades in Lebanon that a call has been made for a huge protest demonstration, in Tunis, on 26 January 2011, and for solidarity protests and lobbies of Tunisian embassies in the run-up to this important event. I fully support this call and I and the CWI will do all we can to bring this issue to the attention of the workers’ movement in Europe and further afield. I pledge to highlight your fight for democratic rights, including the right to organise, assemble and protest, and to form independent unions. I support your struggles for jobs and against the regime’s disastrous privatisation programme and the ending of state subsidies for food.

Despite President Zine el Abindine Ben Alias’s reputation for iron rule over two decades, I believe that the mass action you and thousands of others have taken, so far, has already shaken the regime, leading to government ‘pledges’ to create new jobs and the sacking of some ministers. I fully support your continuing efforts to employ the traditional methods of mass struggle of the workers’ movement, including mass protests, strikes and general strikes. I am confident that such mass struggles will also bring to the fore the need for the working people and youth of Tunisia to have a party that represents their class interests, not that of the corrupt ruling elite, and for a genuine democracy – a government based on the needs of the working class and poor, the mass of society.

Please let me know what other action I and the CWI can take to aid you at this crucial time.

Yours in struggle, Joe Higgins, MEP

Socialist Party (CWI Ireland)

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