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Tunisia: the protests continue

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This article, written by the comrades of Marxy.com, the Arab website of the IMT, gives a full account of the development of the Tunisian uprising, its roots, the hypocrisy of imperialism, and discusses the methods of struggle and the programme needed to take it to a victorious conclusion.

The earthquake!

uprising_tunisiaFor the fourth week straight, Tunisia is continuing to witness a popular mass movement. The uprising began in the region of Sidi Bouzid in the center of western Tunisia on December 17th, in solidarity with young Muhammad Bouazizi, who set himself on fire in protest against the confiscation of his fruit stand. Since then, the movement has spread like wildfire to the rest of the cities and regions of Tunisia, and raised multiple demands, first among them the right to work and liberty. These protests have included setting fire to a number of government buildings, as well as the headquarters of the governing party and police stations. The movement has acted as a pole of attraction for various groups in society dissatisfied with the existing system: the unemployed, political and human rights activists, trade unionists, students, professors and lawyers. This proves the seriousness of the movement and its enormous potential.

How similar this glorious mass intifada is to an earthquake! For it has remained as it is, preparing its arrival slowly and silently over decades of apparent calm, and then it exploded. The epicentre was the town of Sidi Bouzid, but its aftershocks, which will open the door to the fall of all the crumbling castles of tyranny, spread rapidly to many other areas.

The repression was unable to stop the movement. On the contrary: the more intense the repression became, the more the popular anger flared up and fresh layers joined the movement and its struggle evolved. In the city of Haffouz (in the province of Sidi Bouzid), students from several campuses organized a demonstration which was joined by many unemployed youth, teachers and workers, and started from the headquarters of the local labour union to reach the headquarters of the government of the department. The protesters demanded the right to work, the equitable distribution of wealth, and general freedom. They also raised slogans in solidarity with the people of Sidi Bouzid and Tala. Reports indicate that demonstrators attacked an office of the forces of repression in the “Al-Saeeda” area in the “Al-Riqab” department in southern Tunisia (37 km from the town of Sidi Bouzid), and the authorities responded by firing live rounds, wounding at least five people.

As protests escalated on Friday, January 7th, the teachers joined the strike call following the earlier strike call issued by the lawyers. The website of the Tunisian Communist Workers’ Party (Alternative albadil.org/) published a report about the spreading of the protests to Al-Hareesah, Al-Kal’a Al-Khusba and Tajeryoun in Kaf province. It also reported protesters in the city of Makthar (in the north-west, 160 km from Tunis, the capital) blocking the main streets of the city with tyres and rocks and continuing confrontations with the police. The demonstrators also set fire to the city hall and destroyed the adjacent building, a government registrar, as well as a number of other government offices.

The city of Boruiz (in the north-western province of Siliana) also saw protests break out on the initiative of the students of secondary and preparatory schools, during which there were clashes between the protesters and the forces of repression who attacked them. There were intense clashes on the night of Thursday the 6th of January, between the unemployed youth and the security forces that used tear gas grenades and rubber bullets. This drove the demonstrators to burn tires and set fire to the mayor’s office, the building of the ruling party, a branch of the peasants’ union, a part of the city hall, and one financial institution, as well as to deface the November 7th monument. A crowd of unemployed youth continues to occupy the provincial headquarters, demanding their right to work. The same thing was experienced in the city of Kairouan, which is considered one of the most important Tunisian cities (about 160 km from Tunis), where protests broke out at the initiative of the students and teachers at the Aqaba institute in Kairouan.

Protests also spread to Sousse province (70 km south of the capital, and 300 km north of Sfax), where in the city of Enfidha the students from the secondary and preparatory schools came out to the street last Friday morning to support the people of Sidi Bouzid and the city of Tala, and trade union sources stated that major security reinforcements had arrived from Sousse to control the situation.

In the province of Jendouba (far north-west, 200 km north of Tunis), in the border city of Ghardimaou, a mass rally was organized with the participation of the students of the Youth institute and the Ghardimaou institute and the other preparatory schools. The procession witnessed the intervention of the police forces, and the students responded by pelting them with rocks. Trade union sources reported that the security forces used tear gas grenades against the protesters.

In the city of Bou Salem, students from the Shareh Al-Bi’a institute came out in a demonstration after the strike that the teachers carried out on Friday morning, which brought out a significant section of Shareh Al-Bi’a. Students from the Bou Salem secondary school, however, were banned from leaving their school, with the gates of the institute being locked.

In the province of Kasserine (in the center of western Tunisia, at a distance of about 228 km from the capital) a student protest which began from the city’s schools took over the streets and turned into clashes between the police (who used their batons and tear gas grenades) and the unemployed youth and students. Eye-witnesses said that in the city of Fériana a massive march was held on Friday morning which took over the streets of the city, punctuated by confrontations with the forces of repression, with the demonstrators burning the offices of the ruling party and the municipality.

The working class city of Sfax (275 km south of Tunis) also witnessed a mass march which began from the Ali Al-Nouri preparatory school and went to the Mustafa Al-Fourati secondary academy before ending at the at the Abul Hasan Alakhmi Biskra institute, despite the road blocks set up by the forces of repression.

In the city of Jebeniana, for the fifth consecutive day, there have been clashes between students of the January 18 academy and the forces of repression that are surrounding the campus to prevent the students from coming out onto the street, but the latter have failed in attempts to storm the school and arrest student activists.

According to a statement of the Union of Communist Youth of Tunisia, on the 7th of January:

“Many colleges in the capital Tunis and other cities have witnessed, since the return to classes on Monday, January 3rd, a series of movements in solidarity with the social movement in Sidi Bouzid and elsewhere in the country, coming from the General Union of Tunisian Students through the general assemblies, slogans and red symbols graffitied on the walls, and protests in front of the center of the “campus security” which have led to clashes with the political police in more than one location, the most serious of which is the clash at the April 9 college in the capital and in the arts college in Sousse beginning on the 4th of January.

“The police faced down every outbreak of the movement with total brutality - using tear gas and batons and all manner of abuse from which no one was spared amongst the students, faculty and staff. As happened in the arts college in Sousse, where after the blind police repression, amongst the number of wounded we are told of Wael Nawar, Munther Aqiq, Iman Malih, Qais Al-Bazzouzi and Mourad Ben Jeddom who had to be taken to the emergency room, where they continued to be surrounded in the confines of the hospital, despite the presence of many civil society activists who were there to break the siege around them.

“On the other hand, the police arrested some freedom fighters, amongst them a union leader of the General Union of Tunisian Students, Wael Nawar whom police violence left with a broken leg and who was abducted from his house on the morning of January 6. He was held in custody in the police station where he was once again subjected to beatings and torture before being referred quickly to be tried without the knowledge of his family and lawyer on multiple charges. Some of the charges date back to two old cases that have been following him for a while, now plastered with new charges against the backdrop of the latest developments.”

It is worth remembering that these latest developments are not isolated, neither at the domestic nor regional level. From the point of view of the domestic situation, this intifada comes in the context of a mighty rise of conflict in the class struggle in Tunisia. The country has experienced a series of outbreaks of heroic struggles over the past three years, which faced violent repression, the most notable of which was an uprising in the mining area of Gafsa which broke out spontaneously against the results of a skill test required to obtain a job in one of the big companies and developed to become a protest against corruption and the lack of job opportunities. And these protests continued for many months through rallies, sit-ins and strikes, during which two were struck dead and an unspecified number were wounded as a result of barbaric repression, in addition to dozens of arrested who are facing unjust sentences after sham trials.

And in August 2010 the situation exploded again in the south-east in protest against the closure of the “Ras Al-Jadeer” commercial border crossing which is shared with Libya. There were violent clashes in “Bin Qurdan” during those protests which resulted in many injuries amongst the demonstrators and the repressive apparatus arrested more than 150 people.

At the regional level, specifically in the Maghreb region, these movements follow the overwhelming mass struggle of the working class and toiling masses in Morocco and Western Sahara and Algeria.

Tunisia and the Maghreb region as a whole have entered the stage of revolutionary storms. These movements in which the leading role is being played by the unemployed youth, the teachers and students, are an anticipation of the rising of the workers which Tunisia and the region in general will experience sooner or later. The movements of the youth are an accurate barometer of the extent of the pressures which are building up in the depths of society. The winds of change have begun to blow the leaves of the mighty tree: the unemployed youth, the students and the teachers, and it will inevitably shake the roots: the working class. The time has come where the old mole of the revolution which has been digging underground for decades shall pop his head up, and the whole world will leap to their feet and shout with joy: “well dug old mole!”

Forms of the struggle

The movement broke out, as we noted above, against the backdrop of the young Bouazizi lighting himself on fire, and this incident was followed by the attempts of other youths to commit suicide themselves, in separate regions of Tunisia. This tragic incident is evidence of the extent of the frustration and discontent that is accumulating in the depths of the youth, because of the reality of terrible poverty, unemployment, exploitation, and of being gagged for decades by a blood sucking ruling layer. Just as it is also evidence of the barbarism of the capitalist system which imposes on young people miserable and unbearable conditions, pushing them to prefer death by drowning in the sea in a desperate attempt to escape to Europe, or suicide, or drowning in the swamp of crime and drug addiction.

And when they rise up for their political rights, the dictatorial regime does not hesitate from firing live rounds at the chests and backs of the protesters, and many victims have fallen so that the system of private property and capitalist exploitation is defended.

To the families of these youth, who committed suicide in despair and in protest, and to the Tunisian working class in general, we extend our deepest condolences on the deaths of these martyrs for freedom! We regret losing them in such a way. What a heavy loss that some of the best, most educated and qualified youth of the region, are pushed to resort to suicide!

We understand the motives that drove these youth to this method of protest, and we place full responsibility for this on the system of oppression, the dictatorship of the capitalist system. However, we do not think this is the correct method for protest and struggle. While we oppose these forms of protest, we do so because we consider them not conducive to the goal of overthrowing the capitalist system and eliminating hunger and unemployment.

The struggle against unemployment, poverty and oppression requires of us, the workers and youth, to organize our ranks in revolutionary workers’ parties. To organize our struggles through democratically elected workers’ councils and popular councils. And to organize in the trade unions to fight a revolutionary class struggle through general strikes and armed uprising and other forms of popular revolutionary struggle in order to bring down the capitalist system which is responsible for all we suffer from exploitation, unemployment and oppression.

The position of imperialism

The imperialist powers considered the Tunisian dictatorial regime to be their star pupil, and this is why they never stopped praising it as “a model for the region and beyond” as David Walsh, Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs in the Bush administration, put it (Al-Horria). And it wasn’t so long ago - November 2010 - that the current American ambassador noted the excellent relations between Tunisia and the United States of America (Tribune Mediatique). And in the same vein, Newsweek issued a study which ranked Tunisia first place on the continent of Africa as a part of its list of the “100 best countries in the world”!

This is why the imperialists have never stopped giving support and everything required for the suppression of the Tunisian people and the perpetuation of its slavery to domestic and foreign capital. Even when the popular mass uprising broke out beginning from the area of Sidi Bouzid and it was met with fierce repression by the dictatorial regime, resulting so far in the killing of two martyrs and an unknown number of wounded and arrested, the imperialist powers preferred to cynically stand by for more than two weeks in the hope that the dictator would be able to crush his people. The French foreign ministry, in its regular press conference on Friday, used the phrase “we are watching the situation closely” when referring to developments in Algeria, whereas no comment was forthcoming on the situation in Tunisia. And when two bloggers and activists who were arrested on Thursday, France has refrained from asking publicly for their release. (Now! Lebanon)

But the intifada continued despite the repression, if it wasn’t even lit further aflame by that very repression. And so imperialism changed its stance in the same way that a snake changes its skin. And so American imperialism manoeuvred yet again: “the US State Department summoned the Tunisian ambassador in Washington and expressed concern about the handling of the protests by the Tunisian authorities … and the restrictions on freedoms.” (Al-Jazeera)

But the workers and youth of Tunis must be sceptical of these hypocritical pronouncements. Imperialism is the main ally of all the dictatorships in the region, it provides them with the weapons they kill us with, and it encourages them to remain perched on us. It is our enemy, not our friend, it is the primary enemy for the peoples of the whole world: in Iraq, Palestine, Venezuela and everywhere, and so we must not place any confidence in these lies, we must not be fooled by these reactionary manoeuvres. We must fight the attempts to sow illusions amongst our ranks, especially the illusion that we can rely on imperialist powers and their international institutions to stop the repression. An end to the repression can only come from our revolutionary struggle, the workers, the poor, and the youth, to bring down the regimes of oppression and exploitation, the agents of imperialism.

On the other hand it is our duty to orient towards the working class across the whole world, by issuing a call, for all those who share with us the reality of oppression and an interest in a better tomorrow, to stand with us and come out in solidarity with our struggle. Already signs are appearing and growing of a labour solidarity movement supporting our struggle, and it will gradually gain strength. No reliance on imperialism - yes to internationalist workers’ solidarity!

The task of revolutionary worker activists

In order that these heroic struggles and heavy sacrifices are not be in vain, the militant activists, workers and revolutionaries need to organize themselves. The trade unionists and revolutionary working class activists need to put forward within the movement a transitional program springing from the most burning demands of the masses and expanding their horizons continuously by connecting them to the goal of elimination the root of injustice and oppression: the dictatorship of capital.

Recently, comrade Hamma Al-Hammami, the spokesman for the Tunisian Communist Workers’ Party, in a speech that he published on youtube, said the following about the movement and its demands and perspectives:

“the masses want freedom, they do not want the shuffling around of ministers, they want freedom, freedom of association, freedom to protest, freedom of assembly, freedom of expression; they want to put an end to injustice, they want respect and dignity… The unemployed want action against unemployment, they want unemployment compensation, they want free treatment, they want free public transportation. People want concrete action against the high cost of living. They want to improve wages and income.”

And this is correct! These demands and other democratic demands, “participation in the planning of the economy and the struggle against corruption, etc…” are what should be condensed, developed, and brought together in a program of struggle.

Of course we must raise the banner of a people’s trial for all those responsible for the killings and repression against the revolutionary masses, and all those responsible for plundering the wealth of the country, beginning with the criminal Ben Ali and the Mafia gang that surrounds him.

We must propose a program of struggle for the right to a job for all (women and men), work which is decent, stable and appropriate to the skills and training of the worker. No more precarious and limited contract labour, yes to permanent, stable and appropriate job contracts. Reduction of the work week to 35 hours, without loss of pay. And faced with the layoffs and corporate restructuring, working hours should be divided amongst all the workers without loss of pay! The demand should be raised for unemployment subsidy which is equal to the minimum wage, until a job appropriate to their qualifications and skills is provided. With social security and free public transportation provided for unemployed workers.

We must put forward the demand of raising the minimum wage, at the national level and in all sectors, without exception, with the imposition of the sliding scale of wages whereby wages rise in proportion to any increase in prices. And the elimination of wage discrimination on the basis of sex or age: same work, same pay! And limit the wages of state officials so that any official – anyone – is paid no more than the average workers’ wage.

We must raise the demand for the overthrow of the dictatorial capitalist system and its replacement with a system of workers’ democracy, based on the nationalization of the most important companies, placing them under the control and management of the democratically elected workers’ and popular councils. Expropriate the expropriators!

This is how the mass intifada can be given a clear way forward, and we can ensure that the sacrifices were not in vain. This is how the Tunisian working class can avenge its martyrs and build its own system, where all the unemployment, exploitation, oppression, hunger and nightmares will be things of the past!

Editorial Board of Marxy.com – the Arab website of the International Marxist Tendency
Saturday, January 8th, 2011

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