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Vol. 76/No. 47      December 24, 2012

Tunisian unions strike, answer
attacks from pro-gov’t Islamists
Over the past few months there have been growing tensions in Tunisia between labor unions and other workers’ organizations on one side and the Ennahda-led government and reactionary forces that support it on the other.

Ennahda is an Islamist formation brought to power in the October 2011 elections held after the overthrow of the Zine El Abidine Ben Ali dictatorship earlier that year.

These tensions came to the fore recently when the Tunisian General Union of Labor called a general strike for Dec. 13 in this North African country of some 10 million. The call was withdrawn Dec. 11 following an agreement between the government and the UGTT, whose content has not yet been made public.

The UGTT, the country’s main trade union federation with some 500,000 members, issued the strike call in response to a Dec. 4 assault by goons from the League for the Defense of the Revolution on a union march assembling in front of the labor federation’s offices in the capital city of Tunis.

The Islamist attackers, wielding clubs and knives, shouted “the people want the assassination of the union,” witnesses said, according to an Associated Press story. The thugs pursued fleeing demonstrators into the building, breaking windows. Some 10 people were injured, according to AP.

The assault was part of “a series of attacks against trade unionists and UGTT offices,” Ghassen Ksibi, UGTT press secretary, said in a Dec. 10 phone interview from Tunis. Ksibi said these actions included burning down the UGTT office in Jendouba in June.

The League for the Defense of the Revolution is closely associated with Ennahda, which denounced the assault on the unionists.

The UGTT demanded that the attackers be arrested and the League for the Defense of the Revolution be banned.

The Dec. 4 attack came in the wake of several days of social protests, clashes with cops and a general strike in Siliana, a farming town located some 80 miles southwest of Tunis. The Siliana actions were triggered by general discontent in face of the lack of progress since the overthrow of the dictatorship in January 2011, especially in the impoverished areas of the country. Official unemployment stands at about 18 percent in Tunisia today.

The Siliana protests were organized by the local UGTT around demands for regional economic development, dismissal of the regional governor and release of political prisoners arrested earlier this year.

Cops shot demonstrators with birdshot and tear gas, injuring more than 300 people. The strike was called off after the governor was replaced by his deputy.

One-day general strikes shut down the regions of Sidi Bouzid, Kasserine, Gafsa and Sfax Dec. 6, in anticipation of the Dec. 13 UGTT strike.
Related articles:
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S. African farmworkers’ strikes end, but wages fight is not over
Bosses ‘didn’t want union,’ close mine after worker killed
Factory fires in S. Asia show need for union in safety fight  
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