Because she publicly supported the protesters and accused the president of attacking representative workers’ organisations, the head of Europe’s largest trade union confederation, Esther Lynch, was expelled from Tunisia. One more step in the showdown between Kaïs Saïed and the UGTT.
Between the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) and President Kaïs Saïed, nothing is going well. The situation has not changed in substance, but in practice the escalation is notable. Latest incident: the general secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), Esther Lynch, was judged persona non grata by the presidency, which ordered her expulsion, following her speech at a demonstration organized in Sfax, February 18, 2023.
Expressing the solidarity of 45 million European workers with the UGTT, which is in open crisis with the executive, Lynch declared that “any attack made against a union will have an influence on all the bodies concerned. Unions are part of the solution, not part of the problem”. Before addressing the power directly: “Negotiate but do not attack! Respect the workers, respect the work they do and respect their legitimate representative, the UGTT! Then to conclude: “I am here in Tunisia to tell President Saïed: the whole world sees what you are doing, immediately stop your attacks on the unions. »
Series of Events
Remarks deemed inconsiderate and seen as external interference in the affairs of the country. Already overwhelmed by the initiatives of the Tunisian trade union centre, the presidency therefore quickly published a press release inviting the European official to leave Tunisian territory within 24 hours because of an attack on the country’s sovereignty.
“A decision that does not honor Tunisia”, comments Sami Tahri, deputy general secretary of the UGTT. Which will be able to take advantage of the incident to give an international dimension to its standoff with Kaïs Saïed. As for the president, he can once again brandish the populist argument of sovereignty and foreign interference, which has become recurrent in his speech. An argument fueled by rumors regularly evoking suspicions of conspiracy, which resonate with an opinion that believes that Tunisians are misunderstood and maintained in a position of vassalage by foreign powers.
For the time being, the incident involving Esther Lynch obscures somewhat the series of demonstrations organized in all regions of the country according to a schedule announced at the end of January, and which should conclude in Tunis on March 11. Rallies during which the central gives voice to its essential demands: rejection of the conditions required by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for the granting to Tunisia of a loan of 1.9 billion dollars, refusal in particular of the lifting of subsidies on basic products and energy, and imperative application by the government of the agreements resulting from the social negotiations of previous years.
Two New Targets
Between a tone that is hardening and a situation that is becoming sclerotic, the current dispute between Kaïs Saïed and the UGTT is reminiscent of the one that opposed the president to Rached Ghannouchi, president of the Assembly and of the Ennahdha party, until ‘to the taking over of all powers on July 25, 2021. After eliminating the body that fights against corruption and then that in charge of the constitutionality of laws, sidelining the parties, making civil society inaudible and carried out an overhaul of the Superior Council of the Judiciary (CSM), Kaïs Saïed now has two new targets: the central trade union, which is resisting the attacks and showing that its historical roots are solid, and the media, which are not yielding to the pressure exerted to limit freedom of expression.
Faced with journalists, the recent decree 54 which wants to hunt for false information which it makes a case of attack on state security is regularly used. Some media bosses, like Nizar Bahloul of Business News, or journalists have already been heard in this context. As for the unions, they are also under pressure even if the right to strike and the freedom of expression remain protected by the constitution. Several activists from the transport union were arrested following the sectoral strike which hampered motorway traffic at the end of January.
A standoff waged on two fronts, to which we can add a series of police custody of personalities accused of undermining national security and the dismissal of many magistrates, who have still not been reinstated despite the decision to this effect of the administrative court, but also the conflict with the lawyers: 14 of them still to be heard for having attacked the police station of Menzel Jemil (North) after the incredible arrest of the leader of Ennahdha, Noureddine Bhiri at the end of December 2021 .
This article is originally published on jeuneafrique.com