Tunisia: Interview with UGTT Deputy Secretary General Hacine El Abassi

On January 14, 2011, Ben Ali, the Tunisian dictator, was forced to flee the country as a result of the revolutionary mobilizations of an entire people.

No sooner had Ben Ali fled than all the reactionary forces -- both inside Tunisia and on a world scale -- rushed to form a government of national unity structured around Ben Ali's party, the RDC, but also incorporating liberal "opponents" to the old regime. Key to this attempt to put a halt to the revolution under way in Tunisia, and to rescue the old regime, was the effort to co-opt the leadership of the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT) trade union federation into joining the government of national unity.

Initially the UGTT accepted this proposal from Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi. But as soon as it was announced that three representatives of the UGTT had joined the government, a revolt took place at all levels of the UGTT federation against this decision. The UGTT had been a backbone of the revolution; its local and regional leaders and activists were central leaders of the revolution, its headquarters had been used widely as the organizing centers and launching pads for the mass mobilizations.

Under huge pressure from the members and officers of the union federation, the National Administrative Council of the UGTT convened an emergency meeting 12 hours after its initial decision and voted a resolution announcing that it was withdrawing its representatives from the national unity government and from all elected positions on a national, regional level and local level.

This opened a new chapter in the unfolding Tunisian Revolution.

We are publishing below an interview with Hacine El Abassi, Deputy Secretary General of the UGTT. it is reprinted from the Jan. 26, 2011, issue of Informations Ouvrieres, the weekly newspaper of the Independent Workers Party (POI) of France. The interview was conducted on January 24 by the Informations Ouvrieres correspondent in Tunisia. -- Alan Benjamin

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INTERVIEW with Hacine El Abassi, Deputy Secretary General of the UGTT:

"If there is no other way to get the Ghannouchi government to step down, we will call a general strike."

Question: What is the position of the UGTT in the current political situation?

Response: I remind you that on January 18, the UGTT adopted a resolution that states:

"Considering that the coalition government does not correspond to our ideas, that it does not express the demands we have put forward and that it does not represent the aspirations of the people and workers, [the UGTT] decides to withdraw our representatives from the coalition government; to have our elected union officials resign from the National Assembly, from the Assembly of the Council, and from the local councils; and to suspend the participation of the UGTT in the Economic and Social Council."

The UGTT also demanded, "[t]he dissolution of the RCD ... and the rejection of any foreign intervention in the internal affairs of our people, as they were the ones who overthrew a president that repress[ed] the people; the people therefore should be the ones to determine their destiny without outside interference."

The trade union federation also called for the "nationalization" of the Ben Ali clan's property, that is, the takeover by the Republic of Tunisia of a large portion of the economy. In this vein, the UGTT called for a "Constituent Assembly through free and fair elections that reflect the will of the people."

It is in this sense that the Secretary General of the UGTT and three members of the National Executive Committee, of which I am one, will meet tomorrow [Tuesday, Jan. 25 -- Ed.] with the political forces that want to end the RCD regime and its government. The goal is to discuss with them the conditions for the formation of a Government of Public Salvation, as per the January 18 resolution adopted by the UGTT's National Administrative Council.

The UGTT will play its role as a catalyst until a solution is found that is consistent with the interests of the people and their revolution. It will help ensure that opposition political parties will become part of the Government of National Public Salvation, constituting thereby a transitional political alternative to the RCD government, which has been rejected by the Tunisian people.

The only goal we pursue is the fulfillment of the goals of our revolution.

The UGTT will play its role to help gather and unite all opposition political forces in this direction. On this basis, we will be an obstacle to all internal and external enemies, who are able to weave their webs only to the extent that they are in our midst and are still willing to collaborate with our enemies.

Question: What are the objectives of the Tunisian revolution?

Response: Economic development, democracy, social justice, and a constitution. The first spark that will indicate that our country has changed course is the development of the interior regions, regions that have been totally abandoned by the RCD regime.

During 2010, we had undertaken an economic study of the Sidi Bouzid region and had warned the government of the risk of social explosion because of the alarming unemployment rate and the total lack of economic projects and job prospects. Development projects were implemented only along the coast.

Numerous studies show that the Ben Ali government's policy of privatization since he came to power has been responsible for the destruction of the economy.

They did not even know how to administer their own privatization policies. Workers in many privatized sectors are now demanding the nationalization of their companies. I cite, as an example, the public transport company, Tunis Air -- and there are many others.

In the face of the failure of the privatization policies, we had demanded a halt to the process to see if the privatized enterprises were functioning or not. We have always demanded a halt to privatization and the conservation of our companies as public enterprises.

Today, we ask that all of our companies are restored to the State because they must serve the objective of development and employment in our country. More specifically, we are calling for the the restoration of all privatized public enterprises into the hands of the State. This is imperative.

The French people have suffered for many years from this damaging privatization policy, dictated by the European Union (unemployment, the dismantling of public enterprises, the blows to social rights, etc.)

We are aware of this situation and know the harmful social effects that privatizations are causing in Europe as well. In each of our union battles against privatization, the government told us: "Even Europe is compelled to privatize."

The union federation in basic education has called today [January 24] for an indefinite strike. The strike has been followed massively, according to the reports we have received. But faced with the deafness of Ghannouchi and the RCD government, what can be done?

For our part, we will use all legal means to ensure that the demands of the Tunisian people are carried out -- for the departure of the Ghannouchi government and the dissolution of the RCD. Strikes are taking place in many sectors, as are marches and demonstrations.

If there is no other way to get the Ghannouchi government to step down, we will call a general strike. But we believe that the pressure of the street and that of workers in their workplaces, schools, etc. is in the process of making the government tremble.

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