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.
“We have low wages, and prices are rising … but meanwhile, [Kais Saïed] very stubborn. He makes decisions alone, without consulting us,” UGTT spokesman Naza Zuhein told AP at a march of striking workers in Tunisia, stressing that life in Tunisia had “become impossible.”
“We, as citizens, as state employees, bear most of the costs of the state debt,” complained another worker next to Zuhain.
While Said has remained dead silent about the strike, refusing to make any public statements, his government is visibly spooked by growing anger within the working class. Mezri Haddad, an associate of Said who was also a close supporter of Ben Ali before his regime was overthrown by the workers, denounced the strike as an act of treason: “The decision of the UGTT to launch a general strike is an anti-national action that is in the nature of treason and a threat to national security.” Haddad said.
Despite the growing panic in Said’s administration, American and global financial firms are stressing that they must work closely with the UGTT bureaucracy as it is their only hope to introduce starvation conditions without provoking another working-class uprising. Ratings agency Fitch wrote: “Political and economic reform without the support of UGTT would be a difficult task.”
In reality, the last decade has convincingly shown the bankruptcy of the Tunisian bourgeoisie and the TUGT, their inability to establish a democratic regime that broke the rule of imperialism in Tunisia, and the continuing discontent among the workers and youth. Qais Said is an example of this political bankruptcy. Initially presented as an anti-corruption candidate, he suspended parliament last year and is seeking absolute power over Tunisia.
Now even more than in 2011, when the uprising in Tunisia sparked the revolutionary struggle in Egypt that toppled President Hosni Mubarak, the political crisis in Tunisia is directly linked to world conditions and international class struggle. After a decade of reckless money printing by major central banks to bail out the banks of the super-rich, prices are skyrocketing around the world. And the war between NATO and Russia in Ukraine is sowing the seeds of a terrible famine in North Africa and around the world.
Africa as a whole depends on Russia and Ukraine for 44 percent of its wheat, while Tunisia specifically depends on Ukraine for more than 70 percent of its wheat. However, with Washington threatening to confiscate Russian dollar assets in international banks and Ukraine has mined its ports blocked by Russian warships, Tunisia and African countries are unable to import much-needed grain and food.
These conditions are causing an increase in strikes and protests by workers demanding higher wages and protection from rising prices, not only in Tunisia, but throughout the world. On Monday, one-day nationwide strikes will take place in the public sector in Morocco and Belgium, after a one-day strike yesterday in Italy. Spanish steelworkers, postmen and French truckers are on strike, as are airline and airport workers across Europe.
The nascent struggle between the working class and the Said regime and its associates in the WGTU bureaucracy has vital lessons for workers not only in Tunisia but around the world. The failure of the 2011 uprising in Tunisia to achieve its goals was not due to the inability of the working class to fight back. He fought hard, but he did not have the revolutionary internationalist perspective and leadership that would enable him to take power in his own hands after the overthrow of Ben Ali.
In Tunisia, it is increasingly recognized that Said’s attempt to establish a one-man dictatorship is linked to deep-seated economic problems related to social inequality.
“This strike is the culmination of the collective failure of ten successive governments, the TUTT, the IMF and Tunisia’s international partners. The transition to democracy was not accompanied by any changes in the economic structure of the country,” said Denison University economics professor Fadhel Kaboub. arabic news.
This confirms the assessment made by the International Committee of the Fourth International in connection with the revolution that broke out in Tunisia in 2011. The decisive issue, he explained, was to make the revolutionary struggle in Tunisia part of the international struggle of the working class for socialism and to destroy the capitalist system. This required above all, wrote the ICFI, the building of a Trotskyist revolutionary leadership in the working class:
“Weak and dependent, bound by innumerable threads to foreign imperialism and local feudal forces, the bourgeoisie of countries like Tunisia is a thousand times more afraid and hostile to the revolutionary force of the working class than to imperialism. … Without the development of a revolutionary leadership, another authoritarian regime will inevitably be established to replace Ben Ali’s.”
The emerging struggle of the Tunisian and international working class against inflation and the danger of world war gives this statement a new political meaning.