Tunisia has been in the news lately for the wide spread protests. There is an important side of all of this that isn’t being covered by the media and at ILRF we think it’s necessary to look at moments like this with a critical eye towards the impact of labor.
Photo to the right is anti-government demonstrations during the 2010–2011 Tunisian uprising. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Caravane_de_la_lib%C3%A9ration_4.jpg
The recent instability across North Africa started with a street vendor named Mohamed Bouaziz. Bouaziz was a street vendor who was constantly harassed by local police officers. On December 17th, 2010, Bouaziz was beaten and spat upon by a female police officer. Frustrated with the way he was treated, Bouaziz went to the local government office to file a formal complaint. The government refused to grant him an audience. Therefore he threatened the government that he would burn himself to death if they did not listen. Unfortunately, the government did not take him seriously enough, Bouaziz doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire. Ultimately according to Bouaziz’s sister, Bouaziz killed himself not because of the poverty but because the humiliation he suffered day in and out.
The story of Bouaziz resonated with people across Tunisia. While Bouaziz has a powerful story, there is even more to be told. Workers across Tunisia have taken part in the protests to demand dignity on the job. As the protests continue, even security forces have joined the demonstrations to demand for better trade union rights. Various international organizations such as the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) have come out and shown their support for the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) and the Tunisian people for their courage in demanding greater equality, social justice, political freedom and democracy. The UGTT has shown their support for the new interim government, however has not participated in it. The UGTT is seen as a democratizing force behind the protests, demanding that UGTT has representation under the new government’s commission for “examining political reform and corruption”.
On January 26, 2011, the UGTT issued the following statement:
1 - Strongly condemns the acts of vandalism which targeted the headquarters of the UGTT in some areas. These acts remind the trade unionists, activists and workers of the events of January 26, 1978. These practices will only strengthen the resistance of the unions and their willingness to fight. This will not change their decision to continue their struggle and guide protesters in accordance with the claims of the civil and political society, and all the population.
2 – Thanks all those who defended the UGTT and all those who struggled to support the historical position of the Central trade union, based on the commitment to the principles of the revolution and on the composition of a government that serves the revolution, a government that breaks completely with the old regime, works with transparency and credibility to build a better future, based on strengthening public and private freedoms, democracy and Human Rights.
3 - Thanks all the associations, the non-governmental organizations and the political parties and sensitivities for supporting the decisions of the UGTT and its governing structures that, despite differences of opinion and appreciation on their performance, form a protective shield for militants and activists and remain vigilan to defend the Central trade union and a united front against all attempts to ransack the offices of the UGTT and to undermine its unity.
4 - Warns against the violent turn that characterizes the situation and other acts perpetrated by militias who want to sow disorder and prevent people from showing their protest peacefully, and with responsibility. The Executive Bureau calls all trade unionists and workers to save the companies and production sites and condemns any attempt to destroy the achievements of the population.
5 - Calls the President of the Republic to listen carefully to the demands of the people and the UGTT which expresses, in this crucial period, the willingness to interact with all the ideas that are consistent with the decisions of the leading structures of the Central trade union.
The International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) supports the UGTT for demanding greater equality for workers. For more details on ILRF’s mission to give workers a voice, please visit our Freedom at Work campaign.
For more information and up to date information about the events occurring in Tunisia, click here.