May Day: An international celebration of solidarity
The revolutionary processes in the Middle East and North Africa are continuing despite the difficulties and the national and international attempts to limit the objectives of the peoples of the region whether on democratic and socio economic issues. The importance of the workers’ struggle in the uprisings is often neglected, while the depth of the social question and its impact on the outbreak of revolutions is certainly the most overshadowed dimension by Western media and even in the Arab world. These popular uprisings, arising out of the financial crisis and economic crisis, are indeed also a revolt against the neoliberal policies imposed by authoritarian regimes, and encouraged by international financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB).
Neoliberal policies imposed on these populations were used to dismantle and increasingly weaken the public services in these countries, including the elimination of subsidies, especially for basic necessities, while accelerating the privatization process, often in favor of the ruling and bourgeois classes linked to the regime.
These neoliberal policies have impoverished the societies as a whole, particularly affecting the students and the workers. These two groups are now leading the protests.
In Tunisia, the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) has often been a driving force of the opposition against the authoritarian regimes. In 2008 it was members of the UGTT who were at the source of the uprising of miners in the region of Gafsa. They supported the movement for over a year.
In Egypt, the country experienced the largest social movement since the Second World War in the year 2000’s with strikes and occupations in various sectors of the society. Strikes in Mahala el Kubra’s industries in 2008 gathered workers and activists and was presented by many as a rehearsal for 2011. These events also showed the strength of the labor movement despite the crackdown by security forces.
The unions and workers movements played an important role in the revolutions, particularly in Tunisia and Egypt. The general strike was proclaimed on January 11 in Tunisia and the days of general strikes conducted throughout Egypt were decisive to bring down the dictators of these countries.
In Egypt, in January 2012, over 300 independent unions were formed and gathered over two million workers since the fall of Mubarak. The role of the workers in the revolutions has been demonstrated by the continuous occupations of workplaces and strikes movements, and their participation in number of other demonstrations. Several companies have been nationalized and are back in the hands of the state following strikes and occupations by workers.
In Tunisia, the UGTT activism on social and democratic issues has been under attack by the government led by the El Nahda movement. This latter actually repeated several times since the fall of Ben Ali that socio economic demands are at this point of time counter revolutionaries Nahda also accused the UGTT to be the cause for the country’s economic crisis because of its activism.
On February 25, more than 4,000 members of Tunisia’s main trade union UGTT marched through the center of the capital to denounce the Islamist-led government. The UGTT demonstrated against the government to denounce several attacks on its offices around the country and the dumping of rubbish outside the headquarters of the Union heardquarters in Tunis, which it blamed on members of El Nahda. Police fired tear gas to disperse the protest after it exceeded its time limit.
This followed weeks of unprecedented escalation in statements and governmental initiatives, which El Nahda is leading, aiming to demonize the opposition as well as attempts to criminalize protest movements.
In Egypt, the workers have also been attacked by the ruling elite; especially the military and the Muslim Brotherhood. The Security Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has in fact implemented laws criminalizing strikes, protests, demonstrations and occupations that affect the economy. The Muslim Brotherhood movement supported these laws.
This degradation of living standards of the majority, coupled with political repression, led to an era of protests, often concerning economic issues, from 2002. In May 2006 hundreds of workers of the Public Building Company held a demonstration in Damascus, clashing with security forces, while taxi drivers in Aleppo went on strike.
Successful campaigns of general strikes and civil disobedience in Syria during the period December 2011 paralyzing large parts of the country also shows the activism of the working class and the exploited who are indeed the heart of the Syrian revolution. For this reason, the dictatorship has laid off more than 85,000 workers from January 2011 to February 2012, and closed 187 factories (according to official figures), to break the dynamics of protest.
The labor movement in Bahrain was a spearhead against the dictatorship of the regime, while many unionists were sentenced to long prison terms for their active participation in the protest movement. On March 14 2012, in the capital Manama, Saudi troops supplemented by security forces in Bahrain, intervened to suppress the popular movement. As late as last November, nearly 3000 workers in the public and private sectors had been dismissed because of their participation in the uprising. Heads of various unions have been the target of the regime and imprisoned. The determination of workers in Bahrain have not diminished and continues to this day.
May 1st should remind us all about the internationalist character of this celebration and therefore our solidarity with our comrades in the revolutionary process! This celebration is now more than current with neo liberal attacks against the workers all over the world. This day reminds us of the role of the working class in defense of a progressive society and not subservient to the profit!
Long live the permanent revolution!