ITUC debates Egypt and Tunisia
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) General Council is meeting in Brussels this week for its annual meeting. As you can imagine, there’s an enormously long agenda, but this afternoon we’ve received a report from the ITUC Middle East Director, Mustapha Tlili, about his visit to Tunis and his contacts with the UGTT in Tunisia and the new trade union movement in Egypt. An ILO delegation arrived in Tunis this afternoon. Unions will need to play a key role in ensuring that the people’s interests are reflected in the eventual settlement, but with militias loyal to the old regimes active in both countries, the unions also face direct, violent attacks.
In Tunisia, the UGTT offices have been attacked again today. They need to deal with those attacks, with the need to build a new Tunisia, and also address potentially unrealistic expectations from ordinary Tunisians. A similar picture may emerge in Egypt. Unions around the world have a lot of experience of dealing with regimes in transition – and it was no surprise that Solidarnosc and the union in Guinea intervened in the debate to emphasise the issue of poverty, as well as democracy, and the need to insist on an end to impunity for the violence of the ruling regimes.
As well as the need for promotion of civil society in building new democracies, we know that bodies like the EU need to provide the resources needed to smooth the path (the European Commission is already identifying funds to help run elections.) But of course we also need to guard against external intervention that would be fundamentally unhelpful. The Italian unions warned that their government wanted Tunisian unions to stop demonstrating so that Italian companies operating in Tunisia could continue their business undisturbed! And there are justifiable concerns that western governments propped up the authoritarian regimes that are currently being toppled by popular uprisings. That is being emphasised, for example, by a COSATU-supported solidarity march this Friday in South Africa.