Several thousand Tunisian trade unionists demonstrated on Saturday, notably in Sfax in the center-east of the country, to protest against the arrest of one of their leaders, as well as against the deterioration of the economic situation. “Tunisia is not for sale” or “no to the abolition of subsidies”, chanted the demonstrators in Sfax, an important economic metropolis and historic bastion of Tunisian trade unionism. Some waved bread sticks in protest against the soaring cost of living.
At the call of the powerful central trade union UGTT, other demonstrations took place in other cities such as Kairouan (center) Nabeul (north-east) or Tozeur (south). “The government has failed to put the country on the path of economic and social reform. All he managed to do was attack the union,” lamented Othman Jallouli, a leader of the UGTT in a speech in Sfax. “Today, any trade unionist can be fired simply for expressing an opinion,” he said.
A trial on February 23
Coming to bring “solidarity on the part of 45 million workers in Europe”, the General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation, Esther Lynch, also addressed the crowd in Sfax. “We say to governments: hands off our unions, free our leaders,” she said.
The demonstrators were protesting in particular against the arrest at the end of January of Anis Kaabi, responsible for the highways branch of the UGTT. He is in pre-trial detention pending a trial set for February 23, for having launched a strike on tolls and caused financial losses to the public company Tunisie Autoroutes. The UGTT, which considers itself “targeted” by Tunisian President Kais Saied, had announced for the next few weeks sit-ins and rallies against the policy of the Head of State, which should culminate in a march in Tunis the 11th of March.