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(en) France, Alternative Libertaire AL #279 - 1978: Red Thursday in Tunisia (fr, it, pt) [machine translation]
Mon, 5 Feb 2018 08:55:53 +0200
The date of January 26, 1978 has remained and will remain long engraved in the Tunisian
memory. This " Black Thursday " was the first general strike in the history of the
working class of independent Tunisia. ---- January 26, 1978 marks the deepest break
between the two social and political pillars that constituted the modern Tunisian state,
namely the party of the Neo-Destour converted in 1962 into " Destourist Socialist Party "
(PSD, constitutionalist) and the the main union center, the Tunisian General Labor Union
(UGTT). ---- Since its foundation, the UGTT has maintained privileged relations with the
party of the national bourgeoisie who pleaded for independence against the French
colonization installed since 1881 in the form of protectorate. The UGTT, which was formed
from birth as a national anti-colonial force, rather than a simple trade union, was in the
1950s and 1960s the main support for Bourguiba's party in its conquest of power. It was
his major force to dismiss his political rivals, first those of the same party, then
Communists, Pan-Arab nationalists and the " new left ", especially Maoist, which emerged
in particular from the student movement (May 68) .
Between 1954 and 1962, the power of Bourguiba can not assert itself without the decisive
support of the UGTT in its national congress of 1955. The then Secretary General, Habib
Achour, is the same who signs in January 1978 the decision of the general strike a few
months after leaving the political office of the ruling party under pressure from the
strong independentist tendencies within the trade union structures.
The state and its union
Under the influence of the UGTT program itself, Bourguiba's party adopted during the 1960s
an economic policy called " Bourguiba socialism ".», A kind of state-building pushed to
the extreme, where everyone puts himself at the service of an increasingly authoritarian
and repressive state boss. The state seizes everything and takes care of everything,
lands, businesses and public services. Patriarchal arbitrariness reigns and total control
suffocates economic and social life. The symbol of this stage, Ahmed Ben Salah, who
combined 4 ministries alone between 1961 and 1969, was a former secretary general of the
UGTT. Faced with the revolts of the peasantry, petty trade, manufacturers and big owners
united against the State. The latter only has the UGTT to support him. A liberal turning
point in 1970, assisted by the United States, and especially by the European Community,
was established under the leadership of liberal Hedi Nouira, appointed Prime Minister. In
the wake, the social breakage is brutal.
On the other hand, since the end of the 1960s and with the rapid and condensed development
of public education, a qualified workforce has arrived massively on the labor market. The
number of members of the UGTT rose from 40,000 in 1970 to 550,000 in 1977. A new
generation of trade unions more politicized and more open to ideas left and extreme left
is injected by the student movement and high school student.
The trend towards independence from the state and the ruling party, democracy and the
class struggle are developing unevenly within the basic structures and some intermediate
structures especially in the most important ones. federations of the public sector
(education, post and telecommunications, transport, health, railway and public transport),
and private such as factories of textiles, appliances, and electronics, stepping stones of
a radical opposition known as " Union Left ".
Leak in front of the government
The student movement preceded the labor movement in dissent. The student congress of Korba
in 1971 was broken by the police intervention because the left took the rudder of the
organization before the Destouriens.
Since then, the student movement has been in an open struggle against the vigilantes and
the police who surround the universities almost continuously. Several militants of the
left are tortured, imprisoned, or sought by the Burgundian regime. Some will even spend
long years in prison.
At that time the UGTT leadership, headed by Habib Achour, supports the police in this
repression and unreservedly supports the government of Hedi Nouira. Worse, the same
management rejects most of the strikes started by its own union members. The
strikebreakers, members of the UGTT militias, make the law in some companies and attack
their colleagues. Several strikes are denounced as illegal or savage.
The senior executives of the UGTT who then sit on the governing bodies of the ruling party
and / or parliament, begin to be embarrassed and even discredited by their colleagues
because of their inability to deal with this radicalization within their organization.
According to official sources, there were 150 strikes in 1972, 301 in 1975, 373 in 1976
and 452 strikes in 1977. However, the government began a real war against the poor,
limiting labor rights to a minimum and opening the door to insecurity. and massive misery.
The big price hike announced in 1977 sparked a new wave of strikes and confrontations. The
government is developing more and more its network of militias, called " professional
cells ", within companies. Armed with sticks, chains and iron bars provided by the
party-state, they engage in clashes with strikers and protesters.
Around Bourguiba, different actors share and compete for power increasingly in crisis. The
state of health of the " supreme fighter " has been aggravated since 1969. But he
continues to reign through his family and his collaborators. The secret clan war exploded,
especially in 1977. Habib Achour, UGTT's secretary-general, takes part in the
pseudo-liberal clan of Bourguiba's wife, Wassila Ben Ammar, who embodies a " soft path "
to social conflict. The head of government Nouira is part of the " hard wing ". The UGTT
leadership is increasingly targeted by a fierce campaign, especially following Achour's
visit to Libya and his agreement with Gaddafi on behalf of Tunisian workers in Libya
shortly thereafter. that Nouira has achieved the end of the project of union of Tunisia
The strike is repressed in the blood
On January 4, 1978, the UGTT-affiliated Federation of Agriculture called for a strike. The
event provokes a clash in front of the headquarters of the union center between the
strikers and the police forces. The question of police provocations is discussed at the
UGTT national council on January 8th. Criticism of the government's drift is clear and
resolute. The council forced Habib Achour and Kheireddine Salhi to step down from the
ruling party. On January 20, the central committee of the ruling party denounced a "
deviation " from the union leadership regarding the principles of internal democracy and
the dictates of its secretary general. On January 24, Abderrazak Ghourbel, secretary
general of the UGTT of Sfax, second largest Tunisian city, is arrested.
New clashes are taking place between trade unionists in the region and police forces. The
next day, the headquarters of the UGTT is surrounded by police who prevent nearly 200
leaders and trade union leaders from leaving. The general strike is announced in the day
for the next day, January 26. Several local trade unions in different regions are then
invested by the militias of power and trade unionists are attacked and arrested. It is in
an atmosphere of terror and provocation that trade unionists organize themselves to
succeed in this strike. The police block the arteries of the cities and scatters
everywhere. Intimidation is on the increase, as are preventive arrests. The UGTT is, this
time, with the student and high school demonstrations.
The call for a pacifist general strike could not be respected because the government and
its henchmen do everything to push for violence and thus legitimize the repression.
Clashes in the streets, barricades, looting and fires are spreading in all cities. The
army intervenes, by order of Bourguiba, and fires on the crowd in Tunis, killing more than
400 people and injuring more than 1500 others, according to independent estimates.
Hundreds of trade unionists or other protesters are arrested, tortured and imprisoned. The
same evening Bourguiba announces the state of siege and the curfew for three months, thus
smothering this first act of union independence.
Despite the efforts of the government of Mohamed Mzali, named in April 1980 to make
Tunisians forget their uprising of January 1978, it remains in the memories. This attempt
at appeasement was itself a continuation of another January 26, that of the year 1980. A
pan-Arab nationalist commando financed and trained by Gaddafi provoked a small war trying
to seize the city of Gafsa known by its tradition of rebellion. But the insurgents have
failed and many of them are executed. Nevertheless, they aroused sympathy among the
popular strata who hoped to take advantage of it to get rid of the dictatorial regime.
December 27, 1983, following the announcement of an even more disastrous step of
procedures dictated by the IMF, including the increase of 70 % of the price of bread, an
insurrection is spreading in the Tunisian south and other regions of " deep Tunisia ".
On January 3, 1984 the contagion affects the big popular cities of Tunis and once again
the confrontation is bloody. The government went to the end in its police and military
repression: 143 dead, more than 1000 wounded and 800 arrests .
In 2011, it was again in January that the revolution overthrew Ben Ali, who was one of the
leaders of the security services on January 26, 1978. The revolutionary process unleashed
between December 17, 2010 and January 14, 2011, certainly has been diverted to a real
social regression, compensated by a mock parliamentary democracy. But nothing is played
yet. In the meantime, the janiers continue to haunt the dictators of Tunisia.
Mohamed Amami (AL Gard)
 According to Jeune Afrique No. 1201 of 11 January 1984.
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