Statement from Mohamed Sghaier Saihi, local leader of the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT):
Tunisia has seen waves of strikes and protests against the policies of the Islamist Ennahdha Party in recent months. In the Kasserine region, for example we saw general strikes in Majel Bel Abbès two months ago, in Thala three weeks ago, in Laayoun two weeks ago, in Sbiba last Tuesday and in Hassi Frid last week. There are almost every week demonstrations and sit-ins in Kasserine and different local areas.
The strikes are co-ordinated by leaders of the UGTT trade union federation. I am general secretary of the regional secondary school teachers’ union, which is affiliated to the UGTT, and a member of the regional executive committee of the UGTT in Kasserine province. The UGTT has 19000 members in the region across different economic sectors, and every four years they elect a nine-member regional executive which in turn elects a general secretary. Almost all of the 4000 teachers across 65 schools (preparatory schools and secondary schools) are members of the UGTT.The UGTT played a critical role in the 2011 revolution. We led all the demonstrations, distributed the leaflets, proposed the chants and organised the mobilising meetings for the masses at which we encouraged them to stand firm. We denounced the fraud and corruption of the old regime. We were the vanguard of the revolutionary process which began long before 26 December 2010, and which put an end to one of the most repressive dictatorships.Now we are leading the struggle again. We believe that the revolution is a long way from being achieved, and we are continuing our battle for a genuine democratic transition. We want to stop our country from returning to dictatorship, this time a more totalitarian, religious dictatorship. The progressive gains we have made must be safeguarded and consolidated. We believe that the current government cannot meet the needs of the revolution, because its religious doctrine is contrary to the principles of democracy. Ennahdha is a liberal Islamist party, supported by the White House, and its peformance during its first term in office has been terrible.
Today, the strikes across our region are demanding employment for the jobless and regional development. They have also called on the government to bring the snipers who shot protesters during the revolution to trial and to provide medical care for the wounded of the revolution and compensation for the martyrs’ families. Kasserine’s rate of unemployment is 30%, compared to a national rate of 14%. During the rule of Bourguiba and Ben Ali, Kasserine, as well as many other regions of the interior, was totally neglected. The inhabitants feel frustrated and are claiming their rights as they were the main revolutionary force which deposed the dictator.All groups of workers and all citizens took part in the strikes. Civil society associations also brought their help. During the last general strike in Sbiba (a town 50 miles from Kasserine) all the inhabitants organized a demonstration .They chanted slogans against the Ennahdha-led government accusing them of inability to solve the problems of the country such as unemployment, lack of security, and of attempting to dominate the institutions of the state.Trade unionists in Kasserine are co-ordinating with neighbouring areas such as Gafsa and Sidi Bouzid to make common plans for the next few months before the elections. What we fear most is that that Ennahdha will win the elections and we feel that would be a catastrophe. We would want to convince our members not to vote for Ennahdha.
The mining region of Kasserine was central in the first phase of the Tunisian Revolution last year. Sadly, the elections brought the Islamists (fascists and conservatives) to power bringing the situation back to the starting point to some extent.