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Countryreport Tunisia

170130 Country report Tunisia

REPORT on the situation of the workers in TUNISIA, Presentation for the gathering of the 2nd mine workers conference, IMC in India


I. Presentation
The country Tunisia is part of the Arabic Maghreb in North Africa and has around 12 million inhabitants. Tunisia is preferably known for its major touristic landscapes.

The Tunisian economy builds mostly on its agricultural and mining sector and phosphate is the only mineral wealth of the country.

In the south west of the country in Gafsa social dramas have occurred, from the beginning of the French occupation in 1881, when the colonial rulers wrested the landholdings from the farmers and forced them to work in mining and exploited them under slave rulership in inhuman ways and did not treat them as workers who have their dignity and rights. Since the occupation of the country the colonial ruler has only thought of his profit for the lowest possible price. Following this he could destroy the economical, social and ecological sector of the mining region.
Therefore the history of the militant stance of the workers in mining is part of the history of the struggle of our people for their rights, and this struggle is part of the national struggle for national and social freedom.

The trade-union movement has experienced a period of inactivity since 1956, after the rulers had won them over under the pretext of austerity policy. The intensifying of the "development plans" of these unpopular policies lasted over 18 long years (from 1956 to 1973). During this whole time the workers have only endured even more misery, hardship and worsening of their health situation and their job security.

Near the end of the 1970s the policy of mining undergound and its replacement with surface mining was begun due to the high overhead and mostly the human costs. No day passed without dead or wounded. Furthermore there was a weak work organization, which was not based on the organization of the working hours for a fixed wage, as well as the total lack of rights and rules for job promotion and production. This neither respected the value nor the abilities of the workers.

Working conditions
Fact is, the worker was reduced to loading a number of wagons with a shovel until the end of his daily work. This practice was an inheritance of colonial times and was continued by the new administration in connection with consecutively following tyrannic regimes in service of the interest of the world monopolies. This is tyranny in its worst manifestation.

The consecutively following governments, as well as their phosphate company Gafsa (CPG) have continued the overexploitation of the underground riches and the blatant aggression against the natural environment brutally, to fulfill their obligations to the European Union and the WTO. This led to quantitative and qualitative changes in the mining methods, so that the worsening of the ecological reality doubled. Phosphate contains a certain measure of radioactive minerals, mostly uranium, which spreads fast in the environment and hits the workers and population to a great extent, mostly the 12000 workers of the phosphate sector (6000 permanently employed and 6000 from the supply firms). Due to the bad working conditions, the lack of hygienic and security measures, the personnel is afflicted by deadly vocational illnesses (asthma, allergies on eyes and skin, osteoporosis as well as cancer diseases appear commonly in this region).

From the beginning of the structural reform program of 1985 the state gave up its social role and left it to the phosphate company of Gafsa which is racked by corruption in the administration and in finances and which made the work place a privilege instead of a right. This way the company could not subdue the wrath of the tribes and clans with their policy of work place distribution, nepotism and bribery, and they ignored the vulnerable and marginalized. This led to a doubling of the tension and brought the situation in the cities and villages of the mining region to explosion. The popular uprising was called out and lasted for nearly 6 months (the uprising in the mining region 2008). Many wounded fell as martyrs and hundreds of juvenile unemployed and trade unionists were incarcerated with an unjust punishment of 10 years of jail; this revolt was the first nail in the coffin of general Ben Ali.

The revolt of the 17th of December 2010 until 14th of January 2011 took place without the core of the regime having changed. One corrupt regime followed the next in power and all adhered to the anti-patriotic development plan, which ignored the needs and demands of the big majority of the Tunisian people for a life in dignity, and all went on to serve the interests of the worldwide imperialists and its local agents.