Tunisia:New upsurge of revolution

Protests against government biggest since January 14

As we post this report, we have received news from Tunis of “a new wave of the revolution”. On a ‘Day of Anger’, there are now the biggest mass protests in Tunisia since those which ousted the hated president, Ben Ali, on January 14.

Secondary school students are on the streets en masse and the Kasbah area is “black with people”. Determination to “protect the revolution” and bring down Ghannouchi is everywhere! “He may have to go today!”

During the month since the overthrow of Ben Ali, the Tunisian revolution has been almost ‘overshadowed’ by the titanic mass movement of Egyptian workers and youth, and by the heroic uprising of their Libyan neighbours. But the struggle here against what is largely seen as a government of usurpers continues, despite all the efforts being made by the present rulers and their diverse relay teams to impose a different version of the story.

The fact that the Tunisian mass movement is being emulated in the whole region is giving new energy to workers and youth to keep up the fight in their own country. Also, an unprecedented wave of solidarity with the neighbouring revolts has appeared on Tunisia’s streets. This is graphically expressed by the hundreds mobilising in different parts of the country in support of the Libyan struggle against the Khadafi regime.

Unthinkable only a few months ago, demonstrations, sit-ins and strikes have become an integral part of the Tunisian social landscape. All these protests are taking place in the context of widespread mistrust and anger against Mohamed Ghannouchi’s provisional government. The weak authority of the ‘official’ state is illustrated by the fact that these continuing protests are taking place in spite of the noisy threats from the Interior Ministry, calling on citizens to “respect the state of emergency”, which supposedly bans gatherings of more than three people in public places!

This situation is getting on the nerves of the Tunisian bosses, who say, through one of their mouthpieces: “We are seeing everything nowadays. Workers who get rid of officials they don’t like, citizens who do not recognise any authority in court decisions and even a government which is not even capable of saying ‘no’ to the streets.”

The old regime is still in place

This amount of freedom has only been imposed by the masses’ revolutionary struggle. Yet political and economic power remains in the hands of the same ruling elite. Fundamentally, this self-proclaimed government, recomposed from the ashes of the dictatorship, is only there to assure the continuity of the capitalist state machine. Far from dismantling the apparatus of the dictatorship, the government is, in practice, relying on its remnants to try and keep a semblance of control over the situation. The examples are numerous.

All members of the present parliament, as well as of the regional councils, have been selected by the former regime, while the constitution, on which Ghannouchi is pretending to base his “legality”, is the constitution of the dictatorship. The political police, by whom a CWI activist has been recently attacked, is still in place and according to some testimonies, many political prisoners are still in jail despite the claims of a supposed ‘amnesty’. On Wednesday, an ‘Organisation of Struggle Against Torture’ was created, highlighting the continuing use of such practices in the present period. Relatives of martyrs of the revolution have also denounced the fact that the presumed assassins of their children are, “not only still in functioning, but have even received promotion”. The censorship and obstructive methods of dealing with information in the mainstream media was publicly pointed out recently by a journalist of the national television, denouncing the pressures, lies, intimidations and marginalisation she has been facing because she wanted to “report sincerely on the deep and most pressing problems of the Tunisian people”.

However, the masses who rose up in their millions only some weeks ago, are scrutinising all the measures of this government with close eyes, and have decided not to accept any stealing of their revolution. The episode of the nomination of the new regional governors, in the beginning of February, was very significant in this regard. The list of the new governors appointed by the government to replace the previous ones was composed of 19 RCD members out of 24! Rapidly, this provocation caused massive outrage and protests all over the country. Some of these governors were not able to start their term of office and had to leave their positions under the protection of the army. Forced to retreat, the government then established a new list of governors in agreement with the UGTT trade union.

New occupation of the Kasbah

Last Sunday, tens of thousands walked along Tunis’ streets in a demonstration ‘for the protection of the revolution’, under shouts of “Gouvernement Ghannouchi, degage (resign)!”, “Enough of lies and masquerades!”, “Get out, all you who want to abort our revolution!”… The demonstration was supposed to be much bigger, but the armed forces prevented buses and cars flooding in from several parts of the country’s interior regions from entering the city.

Braving the attempts by the army to disperse them by firing into the air, the demonstrators were able to reoccupy the Kasbah, where the Prime Minister’s office is. Army units had been guarding it since it had been cleared of the previous occupation at the end of last month. They are demanding the resignation of the transitional government of Ghannouchi, and intend to stay there until this demand is met. They put forward demands such as the democratic election of a Constituent Assembly, the effective dissolution of the RCD and the dissolution of both parliamentary chambers.

In the revolutionary process, the mass of workers, young people and poor are learning very quickly. Past illusions in the ‘benevolent’ and protective role of the army have been replaced by a much more defiant attitude. “Where is Rachid Ammar and his promises of protecting the revolution?” young demonstrators were shouting. This refers to General Ammar whose relative popularity had been used by the regime to get him to try and evacuate the occupiers during the first sit-down protest at the Kasbah.

Imperialist masters

The end of French interference in the country is also part of the demands and slogans of demonstrators. On Saturday, a 500-strong demonstration took place in front of the French embassy, with the aim of getting rid of the new French ambassador, Boris Boillon. He started his mandate by insulting journalists who dared to ask him questions related to the attitude of Sarkozy’s government towards Ben Ali’s regime. The response of the masses was rapid: “Boillon, degage! (Get out, Boillon!)”.

The recent days have seen a ceaseless round of visits from French officials and politicians in Tunisia. But the masses have not forgotten the past attitude of all these hypocritical Philistines, who, after having displayed support for Ben Ali’s rotten system for years, are trying now to strengthen French imperialism’s position in the ‘new Tunisia’.

A new sort of struggle is now appearing on Tunisian soil – between rival imperialist powers, mainly France and the United States, attempting to reinforce their control over the Tunisian economy. Both countries have already announced the visits of delegations of businessmen from their respective countries to benefit from the new ‘opportunities’ of exploiting the Tunisian market (the Ben Ali-Trabelsi mafia ruled over 40% of the Tunisian economy…). In order to attract those foreign investors, Ghannouchi’s government is engaged in a campaign to desperately try and stop the strikes that have erupted in many sectors and to restore capitalist order in the workplaces and in the factories.

Trade Unions

For this dirty job, the government can rely on the disgraceful role played by the UGTT bureaucrats. Since the revolution, the UGTT bureaucracy, the executive committee in particular, has not stopped presenting itself as the ultimate warder of the rotten regime (forced, though, into some notable sharp reversals because of its militant base). On the 8th of February, the executive committee of the trade union concluded an agreement with the government “to work to restore security, dealing with anti-revolutionary forces who are trying to destabilise people, hampering the normal functioning of the institutions, and negatively influencing the social climate”.

For people who did not understand properly what that meant, Abdessalem Jerad, General Secretary of the UGTT, made it clear one week later in an interview. He accused the RCD of being behind the strikes and social unrest, calling the federations of the different sectors to stop the strikes and demands because of this, and declaring that disciplinary sanctions would be adopted against trade unionists who do not follow those instructions.

This anti-strike campaign is beating its drums in all the official media. Workers who are fighting for their rights and social aspirations – who refuse to “produce first and demand afterwards” – are increasingly being targeted as enemies and traitors of the “noble causes of the revolution”. Whatever the poverty wages, precarious work, endless temporary contracts, high cost of living, mass unemployment, ‘economic freedom’ must not be put in jeopardy (the freedom for a handful of capitalists to exploit a cheap and docile workforce). It is quite ironic that it is precisely the people who have allowed and assisted the mafia to loot the economy for years who are now accusing the strikers of “leading the economy into collapse”.

“I do not have a magic wand”, says Ghannouchi, trying to play down the potential of the social volcano on which he is sitting. And this is at a time when all newspapers and media outlets are reporting daily on the huge fortunes, assets and companies of the former ruling families. Tunisian workers and poor have not seen one dinar of all this. One glaring example of what is happening:- On 24 February, the French multinational Vivendi announced its intention to explore the possibility of buying 25% of the shares of the telecom company ‘Tunisiana’ that belongs to “Zitouna Holdings”, whose owner is Sakher El Materi, Ben Ali’s son-in-law. This is what it is all about: the visits of French and American officials are taking place in a race against time to get their hands on the mafia’s fortunes, like vultures on a dead body.

An elementary measure to secure the public interest would be to restore immediately all this wealth to the Tunisian people, by putting all the companies and assets of the mafia under public ownership. No to imperialist thieves and predators taking over! Let the Tunisian people decide their own future! Immediate restitution of all the mafia’s wealth into the hands of the poor, the workers, peasants and young people, to let them benefit from it!

‘Council for the Protection of the Revolution’

A group of twenty eight different opposition political parties and organisations has signed a common statement calling for the establishment of a ‘National Council for the Protection of the Revolution’. It includes the Islamic party Ennahda, the UGTT and the ‘January 14th Front’ – a common platform of about ten left and nationalist organisations.

The provisional government is claiming that such a body has no legitimacy. This is blatant hypocrisy from a government which is itself completely illegitimate! However, as with every good lie, there is an element of truth in it. Instead of seeing such a ‘Council for the Protection of the Revolution’ as something which is democratically built and organised from below, through a network of revolutionary and workers’ committees that could ultimately replace the present government, this is more of a self-proclaimed institution.

De facto it would include non-elected people from all these political parties. Moreover, and more importantly, they consider this council not as an alternative to the present counter-revolutionary government, but as a sort of complement to it that would ‘control’ its activities! This is what Khalil Zaouia, from the Democratic Forum for Labour and Liberties (FDTL) has said: “It will give the new government its legitimacy”! The representatives of this initiative are even planning to request the interim president, Foued Mebazaa, to issue a decree to endorse its establishment.

From the point of view of the ‘January 14th Front’, which had put on its banner the organisation of the resistance against Ghannouchi’s government, this is a profound step backwards. In practice, this means an acceptance of the present government’s existence, and gives dangerous illusions that the counter-revolution can be ‘tamed’ so easily from the top by a bunch of wise politicians.

For a genuinely elected constituent assembly. For a revolutionary government of workers, peasants and poor

The CWI supports the demand for the election of a Revolutionary Constituent Assembly, that can draft a new constitution and decide the country’s future. But for these elections to be truly democratic, no trust should be put in any of the old regime’s figures to organise them. They must be under the democratic supervision of local revolutionary committees of workers, poor and young people.

The idea of a government standing clearly for the interests of the poor and working people is instinctively present in the movement, some raising the idea of “people power”. But such a power cannot simply be declared. It must be built from below.

Towards this end, the local popular and revolutionary committees need to be spread and reinforced everywhere. These committees need to be coordinated at every level, and to establish strong links between themselves to avoid isolation or dissolution by the repressive apparatus, which is what the ‘official’ state will inevitably try to do at a later stage in order to restore its authority.

Above all, similar committees need to be organised in a systematic way – in the companies, the administrations and factories, to provide the working class all its weight and strength in the situation. Flying pickets of striking workers could also be organised to assist and protect the sit-down protest of the youth at the Kasbah in Tunis. Similar initiatives are vital, especially since the regime is trying everything to break the unity between the unemployed youth and workers who go on strike. Yet, in many companies, the reduction of working hours is part of the workers’ demands – an important and essential measure to provide jobs for the unemployed.

The official newspaper of the regime, ‘La Presse’, was asking recently: “Can we reasonably ask bosses to leave their companies? If they do, who is going to provide jobs and wages?” Actually, many bosses are now warning of possible job losses, or of relocation elsewhere. Those companies should be taken over and put under the democratic control and management of workers’ committees.

Other companies have been forced to concede wage increases because of strike action. But, as always, and especially in the present period of intense competition and world economic crisis, the capitalists will try to take back from the workers with the right hand what they have been forced to give with its left, and even more. There is no future whatsoever for the majority of people under a capitalist system. This is the real obstacle. It will have to be overthrown and replaced by a rational, democratically-planned economy.

The revolutionary potential of the masses is undoubtedly still alive. However, the absence of a genuine revolutionary party, with a clear policy, independent from the regime and from its capitalist supporters, and arguing for the socialist case in a coherent and consistent manner, makes all the tasks ahead much more complicated.

The left and trade union activists need to discuss the need to link up individual strikes, occupations and walk-outs into nationwide general strike action with demonstrations in every city, town and village. It was the strike action in Sfax and Gafsa and also in Tunis from 12 to 14 January that was decisive in getting Ben Ali to flee the country.

Generalised strike action would be a means to unite the revolutionary masses in a powerful response against the government, the bosses, and their propaganda. The building of strong elected organising committees in the workplaces is vital and also amongst the youth and poor in the neighbourhoods and countryside. Linking them up on a regional and national level would create the instruments for creating a government of the workers and poor.

Particularly crucial in any upsurge of the revolution are elected committees in the armed forces and the police. Large swathes of the army and police can and must be convinced to be on the side of the workers and youth, but they must have control in their hands through elected committees. They should be able to refuse orders to attack demonstrations and strikes and insist on the right to remove reactionary officers. They would also need to link up with the committees of the workers and youth.

None of the problems posed by the revolution has been fundamentally solved yet; a mass mobilisation of the entire working class and the poor, to take political and economic power out of the hands of the capitalist regime and its state machine, will be necessary.

Down with Gannouchi and all ministers of the RCD, whatever name they use today!

A united struggle of workers, youth, poor and soldiers to remove them!

For a government of the people making the revolution – of the youth and their committees, the UGTT and its fighters and genuine anti-capitalist left groups!

Workers, youth and poor, complete the revolution with your own independent forces!

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February 2011