Since the 14th of January and the departure of Ben Ali, the movement of protest is still active. A Committee for the Protection of the Revolution was formed in response to ongoing protests, which draws together at least 28 separate organizations including the General Union of Tunisian Workers, the Islamic party An-Nahda and leftist movements. This dynamic coalition has strengthened the hand of protesters who staged sit-ins in Kasbah Square in front of the prime minister’s office, forcing the resignation of two cabinets viewed as too closely affiliated with the Ben Ali regime. In the same time, the Committee for the Protection of the Revolution has been quite absent on any socio economic issues.
What is the result of the Revolution until today?
The balance sheet is contrasted for many revolutionaries; on one side achievements on political freedoms and the dismantling of Ben Ali’s regime are undeniable and successful. There has been the legalization of previously banned political parties and the decision to elect a Constitutional Assembly to write a new Constitution. Ben Ali and many of his ex partners have been sued.
Political parties, which most of them did not participate in the movement of protest, were freed by the revolution. Nevertheless there is still some issues for some parties, the Tunisian government has actually refused in March to legalize five parties, including three Islamists, believing that such parties are not based on democratic principles.
The three Islamist parties are Hizb-et-Tahrir (Liberation Party), As-Salam (Peace) and the Tunisian Sunni party. The other two parties are the “Free Democratic People’s Party” and “Liberal Democratic Party of Tunisia.”
Their applications were rejected because these parties were in opposition to the Organic Law on the organization of political parties, according to the Minister of Interior.
According to the Tunisian Constitution, a political party cannot base its principles or its program on religious, linguistic, racial, sexual or regional. It must also undertake to renounce all forms of violence, bigotry and discrimination, which most of them did. Hizb-et-Tahrir defended itself from advocating violence or terrorism, while adding it has not ruled out the use of “rebellion and civil disobedience for the establishment of an Islamic state.” “Islam is the solution” is their watchword, while opposing equality between man and woman.
On the other side socio economic rights have not gained momentum yet and are notably opposed by conservative and imperialist forces, while not being put forward by others.
The role of financial and foreign institutions in Tunisia
Neo liberal policies in Tunisia started on a small scale since 1985 through the imposition on the country of a structural economic adjustment program of the IMF and the WB. The UGTT actually rejected the program and the state therefore cracked down on the union.
It was nevertheless the arrival to power in 1987 of Ben Ali, with the seizure of political institutions that allowed the control of Tunisia by Financial institutions and the implementation on a large scale of neo liberal policies.
In the 1990s, neo liberal policies were once again strengthened by the signature of different agreements such as the GATT and with the European Union (EU), this latter being considered for many as a colonial agreement for Tunisians. This was particularly the case with Foreign Direct Investments in Tunisia from multinationals companies which were exonerated of paying taxes for period of 10 years, even renewable if the company changed status.
In addition the reform of the labour code in the 1990s was made at the expense of the workers. For example, the model of temporary contract which began in 1995-1996, as a result of the reform of the labour code comes with miserable salaries and no social security. Many businesses, and even public departments, including hospitals, high schools and universities, no longer hire staff directly for cleaning and other services.
It should be reminded as well that the European Union supported the authoritarian regime of Ben Ali all these years.
The 14th of January Revolution did get rid of Ben Ali, but not of the rest of the world capitalist neo liberal dictator system. These economic agreements have not yet been challenged by the revolution, in a similar way which Ben Ali was.
The agreements with the EU have been a way to implement neo liberal policies on Tunisia and open its markets to European companies. In addition the European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso on Tuesday 13 April promised Tunisia €140 million of extra EU aid if the new government takes “strong and clear action” to prevent its citizens from leaving for Europe and take back the thousands that have already made it to Italy. He said the EU was willing to give an extra €140 million in economic aid to the country, on top of the existing €257 million for 2011-2013, if the government stepped up its efforts to stem irregular migration.
Tunisia is today facing a severe economic crisis with rising unemployment, poverty rates and inflation. The sectors most affected by the near-paralysis of economic activity since late December are tourism, transport, phosphates exportation and public sector. It is in this atmosphere that any socio economic demands from social actors are opposed and labelled as counter revolutionary by many forces and Medias in the country.
Most of the new and old political parties limit their demands to the reform of the institutions and bourgeois rights, while socio economic rights are not discussed and even put aside. The leader of the Nahda political party, Rached Ghannouchi, actually said in a meeting that demands for higher salary are counter revolutionary in this period of time.
The overwhelming majority of the parties have no social or economic programmes. There is a lot of political rhetoric, but in terms of development models, there is almost nothing. They have been preoccupied with slogans about freedom which is necessary, but it’s not sufficient.
Most of the political parties are also not challenging economic agreements signed with the EU, the IMF and the WB, on the opposite they are urged and keen to respect them. Even the leadership of the UGTT is not loudly and officially requesting to review all these agreements which impoverished the society and the workers as a whole.
On the other side the unions of bosses are asking for economic reparations due to the Revolution and their demands are being received as totally normal.
The struggles of unemployed and employed at the local level continued actually until the formation of the Committee for the Protection of the Revolution. Since then, they paused. The structure of this committee includes various classes, including liberal and conservative forces. The paralysis of the social front is actually a big problem for the future of the Tunisian revolution. There will be no political democracy without social justice, and there will be no social justice without redistribution of wealth and a break with the neo liberal policies imposed by international financial and economic institutions such as IMF, WB, WTO, etc… This includes the cancellation of the debt of the dictatorship which amounts to 1.12 trillion dinars (557 million Euros) and has to be paid between April and September, at the expense of course of employment and urgent social spending.
The PCOT (Parti Communiste Ouvrier Tunisien), led by the historical opponent Hamma Hammani, is openly in favour and promoting of a moratorium on the foreign debt in order to avoid paying in April 410 million on 577 million Euros for the repayment of the external debt. The PCOT also suggested reducing the budget of the Ministry of Interior which is four times that of Justice. The party also reminded the government of the necessity of the revision of prices of certain food products, which was announced by the ex-President and has not been implemented. The PCOT is also in favour of cancelling the debt of small farmers and make urgent decisions on the electrification of shallow wells in the rural regions, especially in Sidi Bouzid.
The PCOT also argued that the country’s most important resources like water, electricity, phosphate, Trole, cement, etc… should be nationalized and not in the hands of a handful of private nationals or foreign investors.
Finally, it wants to address to the government and resolve issues of land ownership and land distribution.
The leadership of the UGTT is on its side very passive and not suggesting any crucial socio economic initiatives or supporting the workers in their struggle throughout the country. The base of workers in the UGTT are very critical towards it and are organising on their own.
It is imperative for Tunisians to link the democratic revolution to the social revolution, because otherwise history has shown that when you separate the two, the counter-revolutionary forces eventually prevail.
The most combative unions today should boost the mobilization and organization of workers including unemployed people to ensure that their aspirations and demands are not abandoned by the Committee for the Protection of the Revolution, on behalf of an exclusive focus on political reforms.
Because in this case, the risk is high that a large proportion of the population believes that the revolution brought them nothing and turns to other forces. It is also the responsibility of anti-capitalist forces to offer a political program that links together social and democratic aspirations of the people. Only the construction of a power from below, which involves the mobilization and organization of the exploited can give substance to such a prospect. The bases of each union should put this as a priority in their agenda in order to enhance the experiences of labour groups and popular committees that brought the revolution so far ahead.
In addition to this, the lack of organisation and mobilisation of progressive forces could lead to the arrival or return of conservative forces, because although Ben Ali’s party the Constitutional Democratic Rally (CDR) was officially dissolved, it has now been resurrected into a handful of separate political parties. The new arrangements make the Islamist Al-Nahda and the CDRist parties, the most well-organised and funded parties. These are the parties most likely to benefit in any future elections. This is why the PCOT wants to postpone the elections of the Constitutional Assembly in order to have deeper debates among the society on crucial questions such as freedom, social and economic issues and political system.
These forces want to prevent any fundamental change from occurring as a consequence of the revolutionary movement, and wish to do everything possible to sustain and reproduce the same fundamental socio-economic order, but one with minor changes. They seek to balance the interests of the ruling class that they represent, and the interests of imperialism to which it is inextricably linked whilst holding the masses in check with democratic and constitutional manoeuvres.
In conclusion, the revolutionary process must continue and be permanent in Tunisia in order to achieve the democratic and social rights of the people. Real and true Freedom without work or a decent socio economic situation is not possible. Months after the revolution that brought down 23 years of authoritarian rule, the struggle in Tunisia is far from over. We should remind everyone it was combined years of state oppression, poverty and unemployment that really inspired people to protest.
This is why the notion of permanent revolution to achieve democratic and social rights is needed and important to understand the continuation of the protest movement in Tunisia