“Workers Have No Choice But to Strike”
[Note: Following is an interview conducted by Informations Ouvrières with Mr. Hacine El Abassi, Secretary General of the UGTT trade union federation of Tunisia, on the situation in Tunisia after the announcement of the postponement of the October 2011 elections to the Constituent Assembly.]
QUESTION: For the union leader that you are, what is your assessment of the political situation after the declaration of Prime Minister Caid Essebsi that the strikes and demonstrations must stop?
HACINE EL ABASSI: We would like nothing more than to end the strikes and demonstrations. But what else should workers do when their demands are not met and when businesses, or even the State, renege on signed agreements, as was the case with Tunis Air, where workers won the consolidation of all subsidiary businesses after the collapse of Tunis Air?
Judges, like the bailiffs, have been on strike for three days because the interim president of the republic has passed a law that violates their status. What should they do? End the strike because the prime minister has asked for it?
Despite all the negotiations and warnings that we have adopted to prevent the deterioration and worsening of the situation, the government continues down the same path.
As a result, workers — and it is their right — have no other choice to defend themselves but to declare a strike or protest. Another example: Agents and employees of the Monastir Airport have been on strike for six weeks to protect their jobs and their workplace; the airport. They are opposed to the Turkish company, which is operating Monastir Airport, like it operates the Enfidha Airport.
QUESTION: After the G8 meeting, attended by the Tunisian prime minister, it was made public that the IMF is lending $25 billion to the Tunisian government. The UGTT, during a meeting of its administrative commission, adopted a position calling for an end to the debt and one that questions repayment of some of that debt.
HACINE EL ABASSI: Indeed, the UGTT does not support payment of debt tainted by corruption. Therefore, a careful examination of all elements of the debt must be done so that Tunisia does not pay for the corruption. As for the loan incurred by the recent Caid Essebsi government, we say clearly that it is not the responsibility of a provisional government to tie up the future of the country and increase the burden of its debt.
It will be up to the government formed by the Constituent Assembly to apply the guidance in economic matters as dictated by the Constituent Assembly.
QUESTION: What is now the position of the UGTT concerning the Constituent Assembly?
HACINE EL ABASSI: The debate is open throughout the UGTT regarding the elections to the Constituent Assembly. The UGTT’s administrative commission will meet especially on this subject in July to adopt the position most likely to be the UGTT’s within the Constituent Assembly.
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TUNISIA: RECENT UPDATES
— June 21, 2011 protests at the Tataouine Regional Hospital against the firing of a doctor and a trade unionist. The local committee for the protection of the revolution has protested against these firings and those who are behind them, especially given the health situation that requires not only maintaining the doctor, but the recruitment of medical specialists.
— June 22 general strike at the Zarzis Regional Hospital, calling for the hiring of more health workers and adequate resources.
— Sit-in protest against the prime minister’s visit to Sfax for the opening of the International Fair. Hundreds of citizens gathered in Sfax at the entrance to the fair. They demanded the resignation of the prime minister with shouts of “No to shame! No to shame! After the revolution, there is colonization!,” Sovereignty is in the hands of the people,” “Cowards! Cowards, you are the servants of the United States!,” “Essebsi, agent of the United States and Israel!”
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“The Status Quo Benefits a Minority”
Editorial of “Fraternité,” No. 27, June 15-30, 2011
By LOUISA HANOUNE (*)
After his meeting with the government body tasked by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to conduct consultations on political reforms, Zohra Drif Bitat, vice president of the Algerian Senate, proposed to the president of the republic that a transitional government be appointed, charged with preparing elections; namely the election of a Constituent Assembly by Nov. 1, 2011 and early parliamentary elections before January 2012.
This is, indeed, the political solution capable of producing a real break with the one-party system and creating positive solutions to the social-revolutionary process that is underway in Algeria — a process of continued workers’ mobilizations in which workers in different sectors, organized by their unions, have been able to successfully impose their demands through strikes and negotiations.
Postal workers, for example, were able to win a 30 percent wage increase and a revision of their wage scale. The railway workers also waged strikes that succeeded in winning their demands. Meanwhile, dozens of strikes have taken place across the country, with popular mobilizations, to demand social housing and the improvement of living conditions.
Yes, a sovereign Constituent Assembly is the political solution. Solutions are needed. At this very moment, the resident doctors’ strike is in deadlock, and the midwives are threatening to strike because the health minister has turned his back on commitments made regarding a revised wage scale following negotiations with the midwives’ union. At the time, the secretary general of the National Union of Midwives (UGTA) had declared, “Victories wrested through struggle are revolutionary.”
And these contradictions are not only limited to the social sphere.
On the economic front, while reaffirming that the government will not back down on the 51/ 49 ownership rule, the Minister of Industry nonetheless ceded 100 percent of the Alver glass factory to the French Saint-Gobain corporation. …
Also, at the same time that the government has renegotiated the Association Agreement with the European Union (EU) to delay the tariff schedule so as to protect domestic production, the president of the National People’s Assembly has proposed to convene in short order a special session of the parliament to advocate for membership of Algeria in the World Trade Organization.
It is very significant that the government denounced the drastic conditions that the EU and the U.S. government want to impose on our country for entry into the WTO. …
We now understand why the president of the National People’s Assembly and the general secretary of his party, both supporters of the status quo, oppose the election of a Sovereign Constituent Assembly. The status quo has served the interests of a minority, who have profited greatly from the plan of structural adjustment and the national tragedy.
Indeed, such a Sovereign Constituent Assembly, beyond including and codifying the nation’s social and democratic guarantees, would clearly establish in the Constitution the nation’s sovereignty over all political and economic matters.
A true political reform that would restore the voice to the people would not only block the road to electoral fraud, it would also highlight the slogan, “Where did you get that?” in such a way that the fortunes gained through embezzlement and the looting of the nation’s assets would be expropriated by the people.
(*) Louisa Hanoune is the president and spokesperson of the Workers Party of Algeria (PT). Fraternité is the biweekly newspaper published by the Workers Party of Algeria.
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“There Have Been 12 Million Job Applications Presented to the Government since the Jan. 25 Revolution”
From Our Correspondent
The Egyptian government announced Saturday June 25 that it would not apply for loans to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. It must be said that in anticipation of repayment of these loans, in early June it presented a draft budget for 2011-2012 that provided for a reduction in public spending.
But the demands of Egyptian workers are more pressing than ever. Strikes and protests have been held for months in the private and public sectors. But the great powers do not intend to give up helping the army, which has held power since the fall of Mubarak.
They want to maintain the regime, defend the privatizations and not let go of the open market cap. The granting of billion of dollars in aid to Egypt by the G8 nations has no other purpose. Barack Obama announced May 9 the “conversion” of a billion dollars of Egyptian debt to the United States and the granting of loan guaranties for up to another billion dollars.
A delegation of elected officials led by U.S. Senators John Kerry (Democrat) and John McCain (Republican) and American business leaders, among them the CEO of General Electric, arrived in Cairo this weekend. They met with the president of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, the minister of finance and the deputy governor of the Central Bank of Egypt.
To explain his visit, John Kerry stated: “It is the right of American taxpayers to ensure that any assistance to foreign countries is properly used.” He added: “We are like the IMF and the World Bank when conducting business… they must show the money is being spent wisely.”
For his part, General Electric’s CEO, Jeff Immelt, said: “We do not need to be convinced of the business opportunities in Egypt. The question is how quickly.”
For American capital, time is short; it must get down to business.
To reduce the pressure on the state budget, the minister of finance announced June 14 that the government will not offer jobs to new graduates, but will attempt instead to provide more opportunities in the private sector and in civilian organizations. However, a law dating from the late 1960s requires the Egyptian state to provide employment for new graduates.
According to the ministry, “there were 12 million job applications to the government since the Jan. 25 revolution.”
The expectation of Egyptian workers is huge! The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces anticipated that Egyptians will elect new representatives in September, who will be responsible for drafting a new constitution.
The prime minister has spoken about the idea of postponing the vote to allow all political parties to organize themselves. But as we approach the deadline, a political issue has stirred the Egyptians political class, including all parties, coalitions and groups, without exception.
Some say that the new constitution should be drafted by a board of experts before the elections. Others, including the Muslim Brotherhood, are for keeping the timetable set out by the army: Elections first, writing the constitution afterward. The debate is in full swing; everyone has his opinion.
The newspapers devote pages and forums to the subject. Polls and surveys have followed. The online site of the daily Al Ahram revealed that 45.82 percent of the people are choosing another response, stating that: “The constitution should be drafted by a Constituent Assembly that reflects the aspirations of all sections of the nation.”
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Egypt: Continued Strikes in the Public Sector
* The Zagazig railway workers:
In Zagazig, a town north of Cairo, hundreds of railway workers went on strike last week. The army and security forces quickly ended it in the name of a “return to stability.” Railway workers are demanding payment of overtime and higher wages. Some hardly earn more than 500 pounds ($84) per month. The government in June raised the minimum wages of its employees to 700 pounds. It’s still 200 pounds below a minimum and is far from enough to raise a family.
* The officers and engineers of the state’s power stations:
Engineering salaries are so low and the number of hours they work so great that many of them take unpaid leave to work for companies in the Gulf countries.
Employees of the Egyptian state’s four main power stations have demonstrated several times since April for improved wages and to demand the resignation of some corrupt officials. In mid-June, fearing that the resistance would result in power outages, the army sent troops to the Oyoun Moussa power plant, which feeds the Sinai.
* Mansoura University Hospital:
500 Mansoura University Hospital caregivers demonstrated June 21 to get their premiums. Using the pretext of a lack of money, the director of the hospital refused. Five employees were brought before the military prosecutor and detained four days. The employees of the hospital organized a sit-in and demanded the release of their colleagues. The general independent union of health professionals threatened to extend the resistance throughout the health sector in the governorship. The military governor ended the situation by freeing the detained employees.
* The workers of the Suez Canal Authority: Twelfth day of the strike:
About 850 workers of two Suez Canal companies in the city of Ismailia intensified their resistance during the 12th day of the strike by demanding the resignation of the president of the Suez Canal, Ahmed Fadel.
Workers from five other companies have the same demands. On June 20, Suez and Ismailia workers blocked main roads. The workers requested the inclusion of 40 percent of premiums in the basic wage — which would have a significant impact on their meager pensions — a seven percent wage increase and an increase in the premium meal.
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