Highlights from some of the contributions at the MENA Solidarity Network meeting at the World Social Forum in Tunis on 27 March. Between 40 and 50 people attended the meeting, including activists from Turkey, Germany, Spain, Tunisia, Bahrain, Egypt and many other countries. Thanks to Anna Livingstone for taking notes and chairing the session.
Mohammed Sghaier (UGTT, Kasserine region)
“It was very helpful for me to have the chance to meet comrades in the UK and to talk about trade unions in a poor area like my hometown of Kasserine. The Tunisian Revolution was a social uprising, and the process which started in November 2011 is continuing because the demands have not much been realized. The IMF is dictating economic policy and people are unhappy because there is no social justice, jobs or freedom. Some people think trade unions should keep out of politics but we believe that trade unions must be involved in politics so we don’t have another dictatorship and so that we can oppose the capitalists. Unity is needed to win the struggle against dictatorship and implement policies in favour of ordinary people.
Trades unions are not only there to increase wages and improve conditions of work but also find a solution for the Palestinian problem. Progressive trades unionists need to take up issues like civil wars, slavery in Mauritania, the situation in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and parts of Africa. This should be at the heart of the trade unions.”
Mokhtar Ben Hafsa (ATTAC Tunisia)
“The revolution is a continuing process – not an event which started and finished at a particular time. After the dictator fled on 14 January we had hopes for change, but the slogans of the revolution about jobs freedom and dignity and independence were not enacted. After the revolution, all eyes were on us: the eyes of the revolutionaries who supported us, but also the eyes of the financial institutions. The government has continued with the same neo-liberal policies as before. This is why yesterday on the march you heard people say they wanted a change because they feel no change yet.
Debt is continuing and unemployment is worse than ever: before the revolution we had half a million out of work, now there are a million.
The Tunisian government is preparing a neoliberal programme designed by the IMF. When the IMF intervenes it means we are in a crisis and things have gone out of control. With the Islamists in charge it feels as if a counter-revolution is taking place. We’ve had fascist militias frightening women artists and some political parties, as well as attacking the trade unions.
Revolutionaries need patience, however. There is hope because the struggle is not only from trade unions, political parties and organisation, but from ordinary workers and farmers. Ordinary people north and south are in struggle. Many workers strike even without a trades union so the revolution continues and needs to develop an international aspect. We are now seeing strikes and social movements against capitalism in Europe, even in Greece and Cyprus. We send solidarity to civil servants in England are striking against budget cuts as we are all facing the same enemy and have the same goal.”
Kambiz Boomla (BMA-Unite and MENA Solidarity)
“We want to bring the lessons of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions to Britain. Doctors in Egypt took national strike action to defend the pay of hospital workers. Our task after that was to bring the message from their struggle to the trade unions in Britain – so we raised the issue at the annual conference of the British Medical Association. This year we’ve focussed on building solidarity among healthworkers in Britain for our colleagues in Bahrain who’ve faced torture and imprisonment. MENA Solidarity has also linked up other groups of workers, including railworkers and teachers who have visited Egypt and hosted visits from Tunisian and Egyptian colleagues.
Doaa Basuni (Revolutionary Socialists, Egypt)
There are a lot of lies that the army, the Islamists and the feloul (remnants of the old ruling party) have been spreading to try and stop the revolution. One of these is the idea that workers’ strikes are something completely new to society. They portray the strikes as being about workers’ ‘sectional’ interests, and only for the benefit of a small number of people. This is completely wrong.
In Mahalla there were strikes in 2008, at the same time as the Tunisian miners rose up. This was the first time we saw Mubarak’s portrait torn down. The strikes were against Mubarak’s neo-liberal policies, and mainly targeted privatisation and economic reforms. The regime spread the world that the revolution was about the problems of middle-class young people, but on 25th and 28th January 2011 the popular movement was on the streets and the first man to be killed was a worker in Suez. There were more than 56 strikes in the 48 hours preceding the fall of Mubarak, especially in Suez.
The military council knew how dangerous the strikes were for the regime, and introduced a law to ban the strikes. Port workers and petrol workers were particularly targeted for arrest.
Candidates in the presidential elections didn’t prioritise the demands of the people. The Muslim Brotherhood said the strikes didn’t benefit the Egyptian revolution. They have adopted the same neo-liberal policies as Mubarak. People quickly saw through the myths they were peddling. We had more than 1000 strikes done in the first 100 days of Mohamed Morsi’s reign. We won’t be able to win a minimum wage or other demands unless we have another social revolution to realize demands of the people. The left needs to build real links with workers’ strikes. We need a real revolutionary party which takes the workers’ side.