Tunisia: “We need a clean trade union, which really represents the working class”

Interview with Ghassen Kamarti, by CWI reporter in Tunis

On Thursday night, Prime Minister, Ghannouchi, announced a government reshuffle, with the change of 12 ministerial posts. This is presented as a definite concession to what the movement in the streets is demanding. What do you really think about this?

“I think people in the streets are completely right to remain determined and to continue the struggle against this new government. One thing that this government reshuffle has shown is that this government is being forced to make changes again and again because it is under mass pressure from below, with people continuing to demonstrate and strike on a daily basis. Some voices coming from the present ruling elite say we are going too far, that we are too ‘demanding’ and that we need to leave this government to do its job. I strongly object to this. It is the people’s revolution which has done the job so far, and we need to continue this job, which means fighting until we have a government which genuinely represents the revolutionary movement.”

So why do you think this government doesn’t respond to the demands and expectations of the revolution?

“Well, already when you look at the Prime Minister himself, Ghannouchi, he is completely linked to the old regime. He can cry on television as long as he wants, pretending he was a victim and so on, but I don’t believe that! He remains rooted as a RCD supporter and all his political life has served the dictatorship. Part of the media are still under the control of the RCD, and leading a campaign consisting of rehabilitating Ghannouchi as ‘honest’ and ‘competent’, etc. But this is just manipulation. The real people, the ones who are in the streets, know that, and they just want the old regime to disappear once and for all. This government is only representing itself and is not representative in any way of the revolution’s ideals.”

The struggle for political change is one aspect of this revolution. But the economic and social questions are also an integral part of the reasons which sparked the revolt in the first place. The revolution had as its starting point the question of unemployment, misery, the absence of a future for young people, etc. What do you think are the measures necessary to bring fundamental change on that level?

“There is an absolute need to nationalise all the big companies, and to start with all the ones which belonged to Ben Ali’s mafia. This obviously does not mean putting them in the hands of the present State bureaucracy and ministries, but for them to pass into the hands of the workers, the unemployed, the people who need them. We need to take control over the national wealth and to distribute it to satisfy the needs of everybody. This is not impossible, this is not a dream, the revolution has made such an aim very close to realization, and it is absolutely necessary that the revolution goes in that direction.

“But first of all, we need to clean up the trade unions to have them as credible instruments to fight for these goals. If it is possible, during Ben Ali’s era, the leadership of the UGTT had been transformed into an instrument which is even less credible than the institutions of the dictatorship’s State itself! For the near future, we need a clean trade union, which really represents the working class and the poor social layers of society, real trade unionists and left activists.”

We hear a lot at the moment that there is an urgent need to restart the economy, that workers should go back to work now that the “revolution is finished”, etc. What do you think of the wave of strikes that have erupted in a number of sectors?

“It doesn’t make any sense to the workers to go back to work while all their problems are still unresolved. It is not a coincidence that the Minister of Development and International Cooperation has declared recently that, while staying at his post, he would not plan any economic program except in case of emergency, that there is a need to stop the economic policy of the previous regime and to freeze the process of liberalisation as long as the Tunisian people have not decided democratically what kind of economy they want. He even declared that strikes are legitimate. Obviously, he is firmly in the camp of those who think – and who say – that workers should go back to work, to avoid "economic growth being in jeopardy", and so on. But people know that the economic growth of the past period has only been beneficial for the small elite. What this minister said, however, was an expression of the fact that the mass of people are fed up with the economy as it is run today. And this is expressed in all the strikes developing, with important social demands on their banners.”

What do you think of the role of French and American governments in relation to the revolutionary process in Tunisia?

“This is disgraceful, but not surprising. It makes people really angry to see how the Western governments try to distort and exploit the revolution for their own advantage. They try by any means to impose the ‘change’ they want, to preserve their system of political control and economic extortion. For me this is a hold-up! They want to freeze the revolutionary process into what they dare to call a “democracy”. Obviously, I’m for democracy and democratic rights. But first of all, that’s not the end of it; secondly, their notion of democracy is unsound, as their support for Ben Ali’s regime has shown for many years; and finally, even if we had democracy of a ’Western-type’, in my opinion this is not real democracy. We want a fair democracy, involving all the poor and working people, globally.”

How do you see the next developments of the revolution here in Tunisia?

“It is going to continue, that’s for sure. Even if there are low ebbs, it will continue. Even people who have illusions in the present government will realize, through experience, what it really means. People will continue to struggle, but the movement needs to get more organised.”

The Tunisian revolution is having repercussions all over the Arab world, not least in Egypt. If you had a message to say to all young people, workers and popular masses fighting in other countries, what would you say?

“They should be determined, at all costs. Like us, they have nothing to lose. They should get organised, go into the streets, take back what has been stolen from them, and bring down the institutions responsible for this theft. They also need to take back control over their trade unions and their organisations. And if such organisations don’t exist, they need to create them, to create the structures that will assist them in their movement, and protect them against their enemies. A precedent has been set up, and I am very optimistic that this will open a new era of changes. The final victory will not be tomorrow in the Arab world, but by getting determined and having clear political objectives, there is nothing that will be able to stop us.“

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January 2011