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Tunisia: Protesters demand real democracy and social change
Interview with CWI reporter in Tunis
Two weeks ago a powerful revolt of the Tunisian masses swept away the dictator, President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, after decades of autocratic rule, growing joblessness and high food prices.
A new 'national unity' government was formed, including key ministerial positions for the former Ben Ali loyalists. Workers were outraged by this development.
On 21 January, a big demonstration took place in the capital, Tunis. Jubilant and confident protesters demanded the resignation of the 'interim' regime which totally lacks legitimacy and authority. The trade union federation (UGTT) council was meeting and demonstrators urged them to call a general strike. A new upturn in the struggle appears to be developing.
Elizabeth Clarke from socialistworld.net spoke to a CWI reporter in Tunis who gave the following picture of the unfolding developments in the country.
"I HEARD more gunfire today (20 January) and there were army helicopters overhead. Looting and burning of cars has continued. There are militias linked to the former Ben Ali presidential guard still around and people are still organising committees of defence.
The new 'national unity' government of prime minister Mohammed Ghannouchi is already in trouble and may have difficulty surviving. Under huge pressure from below, it has to make one concession after another.
All UGTT [Union Générale des Travailleurs Tunisiens] ministers have left the government because of protests against their involvement from within the union itself.
The prime minister, Gannouchi, resigned from the RCD, the party of the former dictator, Ben Ali. The RCD central committee is being dissolved and all the government ministers have to leave the party of the old regime.
There have been three days of demonstrations throughout Tunisia. Protesters demand: 'We don't want this government!' 'It has no legitimacy!' 'RCD get out!'
Social demands are also being raised, as well as political demands. In Sidi Ouzid, where the movement started, before Christmas, protesters demanded: 'We want jobs, improvement of our social conditions!' and 'Share the wealth of Ben Ali!'
The government may be forced to nationalise all assets of the Ben Ali ruling family, perhaps with the intention of privatising them at a later stage.
In the public companies owned by the government, workers are saying they want rid of management. In the departments of national insurance, national security, agriculture and banking, many managers are being swept away.
Workers' control is a vital issue. If this spread to the nationalised industries and services, combined with workers' management, it would lay the basis to start the socialist reconstruction of society, based on democratic planning of the economy in the interests of all.
Only four days ago, state TV was dominated by Ben Ali's clique but now, under the control of journalists, it provides a constant coverage of demonstrations, talks about the 'revolution' and 'the will of the people' etc.
Generally thousands are taking part in the main protests each day. At least 2,000 took part today (20 January) in Tunis but more take part in towns like Gafsa. Here the demonstrations are more radical and working class in character. The UGTT is prominent on protests and the main organised force.
The UGTT needs to be democratised and the leaders linked to former Ben Ali regime should be immediately removed.
The mass movement is spreading, with committees being set up everywhere. These include: 'Committees for the dissolution of the RCD (Ben Ali's party)' and 'Committees for the defence of the neighbourhoods'.
Many people have trust in the army, which is seen as being apart from the Ben Ali regime. But some regard the army as having played a reactionary role, helping Ben Ali to escape.
Last Tuesday's demonstration in Tunis was attacked with teargas by police. At today's demonstrations, soldiers were to the fore, with police staying further away because they will enrage the demonstrators.
The regime is trying to avoid violent clashes and attempting to get wider support for their masquerade of 'democracy'.
Raids on supermarkets have lessened. (Many were looted and burned.) But considerable panic buying is going on, as people are uncertain about the future.
People are very clear about what they don't want - the Ben Ali dictatorship or its remnants - and demand real democratic rights and a real representative government.
Our socialist demands for a government representing the revolutionary aspirations of the working class and poor get a warm reception.
Instead of attempts to make a deal between elements of the old regime and pro-capitalist opposition leaders, we talk of the need for free and fully democratic elections to a revolutionary constituent assembly, where representatives of the workers and poor could decide the country's future.
We back full democratic rights; including freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press and for an immediate end to the state of emergency.
We call for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners in Tunisia. There should be working class courts set up to judge all the criminals, assassins and torturers who are still free or even occupying leading positions in the state apparatus.
This revolution still has a lot of life in it!"