Tunisia: Trade Unions Under Attack by Government, Islamists

Workers Vanguard

The following article is translated from Le Bolchévik No. 199 (March 2012), newspaper of the Ligue Trotskyste de France, section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist).

The so-called “Arab Spring,” hailed by social democrats, is turning into a nightmare for workers, and particularly for the Tunisian workers who were at the forefront of last year’s struggle to overthrow the Ben Ali police dictatorship. As the economic crisis continues to worsen, Tunisian workers are fighting to defend their meager gains against the Tunisian capitalists and the imperialists, who seek to take advantage of the recession to escalate their attacks.

A major four-day strike by sanitation and other municipal workers that began on February 20 was attacked jointly by Islamist thugs and cops. Offices of the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT) federation were attacked, not only provincial offices but also the headquarters in Tunis. Across the street from the police station in the Casbah, the mausoleum of Farhat Hached—founder of the UGTT and a hero of the struggle for independence who was murdered by the French colonialists in 1952—was desecrated. A mass demonstration called by the UGTT on February 25 against these anti-union attacks itself ended in bloody police repression (L’Humanité, 27 February). Down with the attacks against the UGTT! Victory to the sanitation workers struggle! For workers defense groups to repel attacks by Islamist thugs against union activists and unveiled women!

One year after the uprising against Ben Ali, it is essential to draw the political lessons in order to move forward. The rise of Islamism throughout the region, the threats against women, the continuing subjugation to imperialism, the immiseration of peasants and workers and rising unemployment—all this shows that the aspirations of the Tunisian masses to democracy, the emancipation of women and the eradication of urban and rural poverty will not be satisfied without overturning the capitalist order and establishing a workers and peasants government. The working class is the only class with the social power, in struggle against the bourgeoisie and its Islamists, to overthrow capitalism and establish its own state.

This is the Trotskyist program of permanent revolution, which was validated by the Russian Revolution of October 1917. That revolution placed the working class in power for the first time. Workers must take power in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere and spread the revolution to France and other imperialist centers. To achieve this, it is necessary to build revolutionary workers parties that will link the struggle for socialist federations of North Africa and the Near East to the struggle for proletarian revolution in the imperialist countries.

With this perspective, we wrote last February that the Tunisian working class needed its own organs of power: strike committees, factory committees and, ultimately, soviets [workers’ councils]. This call was counterposed to the bourgeois-democratic perspective of the entire left, including the Communist Party of Tunisian Workers (PCOT, originally Maoist), which channeled the uprising toward the election of a constituent assembly—a bourgeois parliamentary body—leading to the current situation.

Now the Islamists dare to openly attack a prominent union like the UGTT that played such a key role in the fall of the Ben Ali regime. Nevertheless, in our solidarity with the Tunisian workers, we reaffirm our denunciation of last March of the UGTT’s joining the “National Council to Safeguard the Revolution.” This council was a nationalist, class-collaborationist body encompassing reformists and bourgeois formations including Ennahda, a reactionary Islamist party. The small, left-reformist Tunisian working-class organizations (the PCOT and the League of the Workers Left [LGO] associated with the French New Anti-Capitalist Party of Olivier Besancenot) also participated in this bloc. We wrote: “By tying the workers to their class enemy, the union bureaucrats and the reformists are paving the way to bloody defeat for the workers and oppressed. Break with class collaboration!” (Le Bolchévik No. 195, March 2011).

The UGTT, PCOT and LGO thus created a supposed revolutionary pedigree for the Islamists, even though the Islamists played no role in the uprising against Ben Ali and did not conceal their reactionary intentions—particularly against women’s rights. Nor did they hide the support lavished upon them by the imperialists, who were eager to restore capitalist order. The fraudulent certificate of “revolutionary” merit granted by the left to Ennahda greatly helped the Islamists win the elections a few months later, amid massive abstention.

Now Ennahda spokesman Walid Bennani has the nerve to accuse workers in struggle of being “anti-revolutionary forces, trying to ensure that difficulties persist” (www.lapresse.tn, 27 February). But the union bureaucrats have learned nothing from their previous betrayals because they cannot envision any framework other than the oppressive capitalist system. (Besides, the UGTT leadership supported Ben Ali almost to the end.) Sami Tahri, spokesman for the UGTT, said that “it is in the best interests of the country for Ennahda and UGTT to cooperate and work together. As a union we have to have a partner with whom we can negotiate, especially since at this stage we must address issues such as employment, economic development, skyrocketing prices, etc.” (ibid.). In ceding political independence of the working class, the union bureaucrats and the reformist organizations are leading Tunisian women and workers straight to disaster. There must be a fight in the unions to replace the treacherous bureaucrats with a revolutionary leadership!

In France, class solidarity with Tunisian workers requires fighting for class independence, against the capitalist parties and their reformist agents in the workers movement, and for the overthrow of the French capitalist imperialist order, which is sponsoring Tunisia’s new Islamic “coalition” regime. The millions of people of Maghrebian (North African) origin in France, concentrated in the proletariat and the most oppressed layers of the population, form a living link between the countries of North Africa and France in the struggle for socialist revolution. A proletarian revolution in Tunisia would immediately have a huge impact in France, and vice versa. We struggle to forge revolutionary internationalist parties to lead the working class to power on both sides of the Mediterranean. Down with the attacks against the UGTT by the Islamists and the government! For permanent revolution throughout North Africa!

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