Oussama, an activist of the LGO (Workers’ Left League) in Tunisia, spoke to Solidarity in September about the 23 October election for a Constituent Assembly in Tunisia. It follows the fall on 14 January this year of the old dictatorship of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
The “High Instance” [a sort of government advisory council] has declared that political publicity is forbidden — posters, TV, etc.
The law has created some ridiculous situations. The other day two activists of the PCOT [Worker-Communist Party, a group looking to the late Albanian leader Enver Hoxha] were painting “PCOT” on a wall. They were arrested. In front of the courthouse there was a poster for another political party!
The PCOT mobilised and they were released. Generally, when someone paints on a wall, they get arrested, but those who spend millions of dinars on advertising don’t get arrested.
The LGO has been refused its visa to participate in the elections, and so our candidates will stand as “independents”. The LGO was said to have a political programme too similar to that of the [liberal, pro-capitalist] PDP, and so, under the categories of Ben Ali’s [the old regime’s] law, to be illegitimate. But we are a Marxist, Trotskyist party!
ATTAC, the campaign against Tunisia’s debt, is run by a member of our Political Bureau. ATTAC was refused the right to hold a demonstration straight after the refusal of a visa for the LGO.
Everyone is saying, “wait for the Constituent Assembly”. We are saying that the Assembly will not sort out all the social problems. Of course the democratic rights we have won are a real achievement — but we will have to wait and see how real and solid they turn out to be.
Mainstream political parties say that they will fight corruption. But the real problem is the whole system which, with or without democracy, reproduces the same inequalities everywhere.
There is a sort of democracy here, but there are plenty of completely undemocratic practices going on.
The Islamists [the Nahda party] remind me of the practices of the Nazi party. They take over clubs. For example, the sport club in my neighbourhood has been taken over by the Islamists. If you don’t agree with them, they declare you an enemy of Islam and they start hassling you.
Recently an independent leftwing lawyer, Abdel Aziz Mzoughi, was beaten up because he criticised them.
The electoral system does not allow anyone to get an absolute majority. Nahda are saying that they have the right to win a majority nevertheless.
They are a right-wing conservative capitalist party.
They were disappointed by the visit of the Turkish prime minister because he said in a speech that secularism is the only guarantee of freedom.
As for the radical left, our perspectives for these elections are not good. Public opinion is not very political, so there is a perception that the leftwing activists are troublemakers.
We have to provide an active opposition within the Assembly. We have to make sure that people mobilise for their rights. Even if we make the nicest constitution in the world on paper, we need to fight for our rights.
Insofar as there are local revolutionary committees still, there are all sorts within them. Some are controlled by counter-revolutionaries like the Islamists or ex-members of the RCD [Ben Ali’s party]. A militia called Hammam-lif, which works for Nahda, runs some of these committees.
The UGTT [the main union federation] has been less visible. It is competing with new unions which have arrived on the scene — the CGTT and the UTT. Some strikes take place mainly as demonstrations of the relative strength of the different unions and a means of establishing their authority.
In recent negotiations, capitalists and the government said that they wanted to negotiate only with the UGTT.
In the elections, I think the UGTT will tend to support independent trade union candidates rather than other lists.
I find that having a plurality of trade unions, like the plurality of political parties, is only a good thing. But the leader of the UTT is known to have a very bad, pro-Ben Ali past. How can someone like that claim to be able to represent people?
It risks dividing workers into several organisations, but it’s important to remove the monopoly of a single union centre.
The leaders of the official union centre also have a bad past, and we should remember that it was the regional union offices, not the union centre, which led the revolution.
The 14 January Front [a left coalition formed after 14 January] has fallen apart. The Democratic Patriots and the National Labour Party have withdrawn because they want to be present on all the electoral lists. Each component party wanted to have its own independent propaganda and profile.
How to recompose a working-class pole in politics? I think it will take place via the trade unions, including the new ones. But we will have to see after the elections to get an idea of where the real weight lies.
Workers are dispersed! Some are in the Islamist and liberal parties. It is difficult to speak clearly of a unified working-class politics. In order to constitute that it will be a labour of some years
The revolutionary process is ongoing. We will have to make sure that we are there, visible, defending the interests of the mass of workers and making the difference between ourselves and the other political parties clear to workers.
What complicates the picture is that most political parties take up in a vague way the “left-wing” slogans that have been raised by the left in universities for nearly ten years.
Even capitalists speak of redistribution of wealth, and Islamists speak of secularism. The language of the revolution is being debased.