Tunisia is experiencing a summer of struggles and mass worker mobilizations that draws on the lessons of the January 2018 movements while raising new challenges.
On the sixth day, a strike of transport workers in Sfax began, which in only two days extended to the railroad and merchant navy. On the 11th, the strike -already a general one- in the Sfax port, extended to all Tunisian ports.
On the 19th, local general strikes were called in Enfidha, Hajeb el Ayoun and Tataouine, where the protests became so widespread and the confrontation with the state so open, that the police were unable to secure control of the city on the second day of protests and on the 22nd the government sent in the army. The slogans called for jobs and protested against the rampant pauperization and precarization.
In Enfihda the trade unions tried to quell the situation by calling for a new strike on July 6 and 7. However, not even this could stop the general movement. The end of the month saw strikes by day labourers and agricultural technicians in the region of Béja, a two-day strike of health workers and another of oil workers in the fields of Nawara and Al Waha. Even civil servants, from Monastir to Médenine are joining the strikes. And the highlight: a railway strike, which continues to this day, outside the control of the unions, a “wildcat strike”.
The lessons of 2018… and the new ones to be drawn
The current movement clearly surpasses the scope of the January 2018 mobilizations. Those were still “popular”, that is, they united the workers with the petty bourgeoisie in an indistinguishable whole of “citizens’ demands” peppered with national flags. Despite the workers’ efforts to make their demands heard, the absence of their own massive organization around the workplaces and working-class neighborhoods condemned them to lead the way in the face of repression despite the fact that they were lagging behind in their demands. The great lesson then was that mobilizing as “citizens” only leads to more of the same. Only by fighting as workers can we fight against unemployment, closures, widespread precarization and mass impoverishment.
This new wave of struggles, clearly inserts itself in a worldwide trend: they are fighting as workers and there are open assemblies in dozens of squares and industrial and service facilities all over the country. But this is not enough either. And it is not enough because although the need to extend the struggles has been recognized by the majority of the workers from very early on, the way to extend it is still conditioned by the trade unions. The lessons of the struggles of these months in Tunisia are the same as those of less than a year ago in Argentina:
The extension of strikes and mobilizations is the right way: assembly by assembly, from one company or service to the next and from one province to another. Its opposite is the false “extension” of the sector-based strikes. Even if we were to reach such a national general strike, sector by sector, that is, adding the control of the trade union apparatus sector by sector, the best it would serve is what all the trade union general strikes have served up to now: massive processions, expressions of discontent and… nothing, everyone goes back home. If we don’t want to end up like this, in Chubut, Argentina or anywhere else, we have to get rid of the trade union’s tutelage, organize assemblies, elect committees, take the struggle into our own hands and extend it by the same means, that is, genuinely.
It is not just a question of “methods” or control of such and such bureaucrats. It is that to fight under the trade union’s banner is to accept, as in Nissan or Navantia in Spain, that jobs and the most basic living conditions must be made dependent on companies making a profit one by one; on each individual capital invested being profitable. To subordinate struggles to this idea, which is in the global credo of the trade unions, is to stifle these struggles before they can get anywhere. Capital would like to function in this way, to simply close down troubled or underperforming companies and concentrate on what is most profitable for it. And the unions, with their “profit first” logic, help to make that happen… if we bite. Capital forms an interconnected whole. The extent of the struggles, when it escapes the game of the negotiating tables and the sector-wide agreements, challenges capital as a whole, preventing it from passing the buck. Every advance in the struggles passes through there.
In Tunisia, the workers have a lot at stake: to move forward with the struggles is to impose the satisfaction of human needs, to let Tunisian capital impose its own needs is to accept falling down a slope leading to the misery of the great majority and feeding the tensions towards war. Today, analysts and chancelleries in Europe and America wonder how Tunisia has managed to stay out of the spiral of chaos set in motion by the war in Libya. Especially when the government coalition is based on forces and alliances that are savagely bombing each other just a few tens of kilometers away. The two old powers that dominated the country, Turkey and France, but also the US – which wants to send military advisors – and Greece, are trying to push the Tunisian ruling class towards their own imperialist interests. As the imperialist tensions sharpen, and it looks like they will do so, the more important will be the advancement of the struggles of the workers, the only material force capable of stopping the drift towards war.