On June 16, workers across Tunisia took to the streets to protest President Kais Syed’s plan to rewrite the constitution and cut vital subsidies that keep wheat and bread affordable for workers. Prices for wheat and grain on world markets have risen sharply due to rampant speculation and now the war between NATO and Russia in Ukraine, which has prevented Russia and Ukraine from exporting their wheat.

A week before the strike, Tunisian Finance Minister Sichem Bougdiri said spending on wheat subsidies would rise by 1 billion dinars this year to 4.2 billion dinars (1.3 billion euros). She said that was 3.5 per cent of Tunisia’s gross domestic product (GDP) and the equivalent of the annual budget of the health and labor ministries. Echoing the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which is calling for “stricter containment of wage costs” and “more targeted use of subsidies”, Bugdiri called for “a gradual review of subsidies for basic goods, but without their complete elimination”.

In January 2021, ten years after a revolutionary uprising by the Tunisian working class toppled President Zine El Abedine Ben Ali, the youth of Tunisia and across the country protested against the lack of democratic rights and the then rapidly rising food prices.

“People are starving. They want revenge on the state. I won’t lie about it, they want another revolution,” a Tunisian youth told the press, while his friend said, “The police don’t dare come here. Even the Tunisian media do not come here. Nobody listens to what we say.”

A merchant who brought food from the countryside to Tunisia said: “Everyone I spoke to [in the villages] was angry. These are all age groups. Even kids as young as 10 get angry. … I see families of up to 10 who cannot afford [the food prices]. They don’t even have 200 millimeters for a baguette.”

This year, inflation and, in particular, the explosion in food prices is happening around the world, accelerated by the war between NATO and Russia. As the IMF and Said administration work to starve Tunisian workers by slashing government subsidies that have so far kept speculation in global grain markets from making bread unaffordable, anger and opposition in the working class are reaching explosive levels.

The bureaucracy of the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT), a longtime backbone of the Ben Ali regime who now works closely with Said and the international banks, has seen fit to call a one-day strike on June 16. The working class reacted en masse. On June 16, airports, public transport, post offices, energy companies, ports, wheat, fuel and phosphate monopolies and other businesses closed. 96.2 percent of UGT members took part in the strike.

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