Union Playing Big Role in Tunisian Transition to Democracy

Union Playing Big Role in Tunisian Transition to Democracy

After months of mediation, participants in Tunisia’s National Dialogue selected a caretaker prime minister just a few days before the third anniversary of the country’s revolution—the spark that started the series of 2011 uprisings known as the Arab Spring.

The National Dialogue is an attempt to bring an end to a political crisis in Tunisia and put the country back on the path to stable democracy.

Houcine Abbassi, general secretary of the Tunisian Labor Federation (Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail, UGTT), acting as spokesperson for the National Dialogue, announced that an agreement had been reached between the ruling Islamist government and opposition parties. Minister of Industry Mehdi Jomaa was nominated to head the Tunisian government until a new constitution could be voted upon and implemented. Jomaa will be responsible for overseeing elections, slated to take place in the upcoming months.

Abbassi and the UGTT have widely been seen as a key force in shoring up Tunisia’s transition to democracy. Despite political assassinations, violence and economic insecurity, the union brokered a solution between government and diverse opposition forces. As the interim cabinet forms, the UGTT has laid out expectations that cabinet will be nonpartisan and will adhere to the National Dialogue roadmap for transition announced in October.

10 Injured in Violent Attack on Tunisian Trade Union

Ten people were injured today after they were attacked by a mob of men wielding knives, sticks and rocks at the Tunisian Labor Federation (Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail UGTT) in the capital, Tunis.

As trade unionists held an overnight vigil to commemorate the 1952 assassination of Farhat Hached, UGTT founder and first general secretary, hundreds attacked the union’s offices, injuring participants, including two members of UGTT’s executive board. The attack was captured on amateur video.

“Today’s attack perpetrated against the UGTT is a second assassination of Farhat Hached,” said UGTT General Secretary Hassine Abassi, speaking on Shems FM, the UGTT radio station.

“The UGTT was never attacked like this during the time of (former presidents) Ben Ali or Bourguiba. We hold the current government responsible for this violence.”

Following the attacks, thousands of union members and supporters, including Solidarity Center staff, gathered in the city center and marched to Hached’s tomb to stand in solidarity with those injured and to denounce violence in a democratic society that respects values of equality and social justice.

UGTT’s offices were attacked in October, and union members and supporters rushed to barricade the doors. No one was injured. In June, the three regional UGTT office were damaged after being firebombed.

Hached was brutally murdered by a colonialist militia, a key event in Tunisia’s passage to independence.

The UGTT was recently honored by the AFL-CIO and received the George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award for its fundamental role in supporting and sustaining the democratic uprising that took place in Tunisia in 2011.

Union Members Stave off Attack on Tunisian Trade Union

The offices of the Tunisian Labor Federation (Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail, UGTT) in Tunis, Tunisia, were attacked at 8:45 a.m. today by up to 200 people wielding rocks and bottles. Union supporters, including a  Solidarity Center staff member, rushed to the scene and barricaded entry to the offices. Ever since last year’s elections, the UGTT has been repeatedly targeted with vicious attacks from groups hostile to the union. Firebomb attacks during the night of June 11-12 damaged three UGTT offices in Bousalam, Bengarden and Jendouba.

As the attackers “tried to force their way into the building, they threw rocks and bottles,” said Mohamed Najjari, a member of the UGTT’s tourism workers federation. “I’m glad no one was hurt.”

After being pushed back from the union office, the attackers rallied in a nearby square, periodically sending someone to harangue the assembled UGTT activists. By then, the riot police had arrived and no further violence erupted.

The UGTT was recently honored by the AFL-CIO and received the George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award for its fundamental role in supporting and sustaining the democratic uprising that took place in Tunisia in 2011.

Watch a Youtube video covering this morning’s violence.

‘Arab Spring’ Leaders Receive AFL-CIO Human Rights Award

Yesterday, Hassine Abassi, Gerneral Secretary, Tunisian General Union of Labor (UGTT) and S. Salman Jaddar Al Mahfoodh, General Secretary, General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU), received the 2012 George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award on behalf of their respective labor movements, as emblematic of the labor movements across the Middle East working to preserve democracy, justice and freedom during a ceremony at the AFL-CIO’s headquarters in Washington.

At the ceremony, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka recognized the labor movements throughout the Arab region for their ongoing role in the struggle for democracy:

“I’m proud to honor the brave working people of Bahrain and Tunisia, who transformed a wave of protests into the mass movement of democracy and economic equality that has come to be known as the Arab Spring. Unionists are a leading voice against corruption, for women’s rights and for a robust democracy with the rights of working people at its core… Their courage inspires us, and we at the AFL-CIO have been proud to join the unions of Tunisia and Bahrain in this struggle. We will use every available channel to pursue the fundamental human rights that they so courageously champion. And we will not stop until you’ve achieved the goals you want and need,” said Trumka.

“This award is recognition of the revolution for freedom and dignity in Tunisia, and it is confirmation of strong global labor solidarity. While we take pride in being recognized, we feel a growing responsibility to continue our common struggle for freedom and democracy with strong will and determination,” Hassine Abassi,  General Secretary of the UGTT.

Said S. Salman Jaddar Al Mahfoodh: “This award does not only belong to the GBFTU, but first and foremost, it belongs to the more than 4,000 Bahraini workers and unionists who have been suffering from unjust firings and the consequences of expressing their opinions. It also belongs to the Bahraini people, who are still struggling for freedom, democracy and social justice.”

In addition to the award recipients, President Trumka also recognized union activists from Egypt, Algeria and Morocco who mobilized thousands in their own countries to carry forward a message of social justice.

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