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Public Workers Strike in Tunisia, Signaling National Crisis

Public Workers Strike in Tunisia, Signaling National Crisis

A public sector strike at the national level in Tunisia is ready to paralyze land and air transport and other vital activities on Thursday with the Nation of North Africa, which is already amid a deteriorated economic crisis.

The powerful general union of Tunisia (UGTT) announced the strike, which was expected to include 159 state companies based on pressing social and economic demands. The union demands salary increases and protests the planned economic reforms of the Government.

The purchasing power of Tunisian citizens has eroded since the beginning of the year amid increasing prices, high unemployment and generalized poverty. The war in Ukraine has exacerbated the financial squeeze.

President Kais Saied’s Government presented plans last week to reduce its mass public salary bill and said it would progressively reduce energy and food subsidies from next year. The Government said it would replace subsidies with cash brochures for low-income families.

In July 2021, Saied abruptly dismissed the Government and assumed radical powers. While his critics accused him of organizing a coup d’etat, Saied said that he had acted in response to generalized economic and social discontent.

Many are worried that Thursday’s strike could seriously affect an already fragile economy and feed a tense political situation. An increasingly isolated Saied has directed the country only for ten months, ruling by decree, while key western allies have raised concerns about the democratic setback.

A meeting between the Government and the UGTT was held on Tuesday but did not reach an agreement.

Hundreds of union members filled the Congress Palace in Tunisia at a weekend UGTT meeting before Thursday’s strike, stirring national flags and singing popular songs. The hearing cheered when the president of the Union, Noureddine Tabboubi, took the stage, promising to oppose the government’s economic reforms.

Public Workers Strike in Tunisia, Signaling National Crisis

Tabboubi told The Associated Press after the meeting that Thursday’s strike was a necessary response to the high inflation rate of Tunisia, which according to the Statistics Institute, reached 7.8% in May, and to the high costs of life that intensified with the recent decision of the central banks of increasing interest rates.

The Chief of the Union said that the strike could trigger a “social explosion” that was “normal and inevitable.”

A key issue for the Saied Government is the urgent need for the country to ensure a new loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the fourth loan for Tunisia in a decade.

Before the negotiations that have stagnated for months, the IMF demanded that the economic reforms of the Institute of Tunisia, including the reduction of the subsidies on which many impoverished Tunisians depend.

The IMF spokesman, Gerry Rice, welcomed the economic reforms proposed by Tunisia and said the discussions with the authorities advanced.

But the union leader Tabboubi accused the Government of wanting to “sell the country and impoverish the population” by imposing changes dictated by the IMF.

“The country needs leaders who show wisdom and who do the reason prevail and a national project that joins and does not divide; Avoid insults and confrontation,” he said.

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The UGTT has so far refused to participate in the “National Dialogue” proposed by Saied. – A key step on your route map outside the political crisis of Tunisia. Imagine changing the post-revolutionary constitution of Tunisia. Tabubi justified the decision on Saturday, saying that the process “was not transparent.”

The union leader said Thursday’s strike was not political action but “based solely on the social demands of working classes.”

However, Youssef Cherif, a political analyst, says that although UGTT leaders have been careful to characterize the strike as purely economic, the strike has a political message and implications.

“Politically, if the strike is successful, this is a sign for the president that the UGTT is powerful and that cannot be overlooked, who is an important player who cannot be ignored,” Cherif said in a telephone interview.

The analyst said that the strike could increase doubts between external observers such as the IMF and the World Bank that Tunisia can overcome its political and economic crisis.

“This is happening in the heart of summer,” Cherif said. “Economically, tourism will interrupt travellers who enter and leave the country, close many comforts and public transport, creating resentment among the general population.”

Source: AP News

Public Workers Strike in Tunisia, Signaling National Crisis

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