Evils of Casualisation: Airtel will not be allowed to enslave Nigerians

Press Conference by Comrade Abdulwahed Omar, the President of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) held on Tuesday 4th October 2011, at Labour House, Abuja

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) welcomes you to this press conference which is primarily to expose the evils of casualising permanent work, and the decision by the Airtel Management to enslave Nigerians on the 51st independence anniversary of our country.

As you know, Airtel took over the GSM Service Provider Zain. The company employed a handful of workers and decided to turn almost all the permanent jobs in the company into casual work.

Rather than employ staff to work in the company, Airtel contracted out the permanent jobs to two Indian companies; Spanco Channel BPO Limited and Tech Mehindra. Since these two parasitic companies cannot do the job, they in turn hired three Nigerian companies; HR Index, C.C. SNL and Bezeleel to hire Nigerians for the Airtel jobs.

Airtel then seconded hundreds of its staff inherited from Zain to these third party companies. Some of these staff had worked for seven years! It is under this exploitative arrangement the Nigerian staff were made to work; some of them without letters of appointment and identity cards, and non with a Condition of Service. These categories of workers were also denied all rights they were entitled to as Airtel staff or are supposed to benefit as staff.

Under such unbearable working conditions, the workers went on strike in July 2011 to demand for basic rights including the right to unionise and payment of incentives paid by Airtel to staff.

The NLC and its affiliate union, the National Union of Posts and Telecommunication Employees (NUPTE) intervened to protect the workers against the power of the transnational Company, Airtel, and its quite powerful collaborators in government who were threatening the workers.

On Wednesday, 27th July. 2011 the Airtel Network signed a three-point agreement with the NLC and NUPTE which was witnessed by a mutually agreed mediator, Bamidele Aturu Esq. The agreement signed by Airtel Director, Paul Usoro, SAN, and Jubril Saba, its Human Resources Manager stated clearly that the “Outstanding Third Quarter, 2010 and First Quarter 2011 Incentive Scheme “…shall be paid across board to all call centre/shop employees on modalities to be worked out by the management of Airtel on or before the 31st day of August, 2011 in consultation with the workers representatives”.

The agreement also provided that no worker will be victimized as a result of the industrial action and that the Mediator will be allowed to “resolve all outstanding industrial relations issues among the stakeholders as soon as practicable”.

Unfortunately, the Airtel Management has not implemented this agreement despite spirited efforts by the NLC, and advice by the Mediator.

To circumvent implementing this agreement, to avoid paying the workers their entitlement and to punish them for joining a union, the Airtel Management in collaboration with its parasitic partners offered the workers impossible conditions if they are to retain their jobs. They asked the workers to accept :

1. 60 per cent pay cut

2. Reduction of leave from thirty-six (36) days to six (6) days

3. A working week of six days (8 hours/day shift = 48 hours/week)

When the workers refused, Airtel decided that its Call Centres and other places these staff work should be closed and new staff recruited. When on September 30, 2011, on the eve of our country’s independence anniversary, the staff reported for work, they were shocked to find their offices shut.

Since Airtel and its partners in the enslavement of Nigerians decided to close the offices, the NLC will ensure they remain shut. The Labour Movement will not allow Airtel to do business in Nigeria if it denies workers their fundamental human rights including that of unionization which is guaranteed under Section 40 of the Nigerian Constitution.

The NLC advises Airtel Network and its collaborators to return to the negotiation table and allow the Mediator it approved, to resolve all matters otherwise, it will face with industrial actions by the NLC and its affiliates.

It is inconceivable that a company like Airtel which made over 50 per cent of its first year $17billion revenue from Nigeria alone, will seek to place Nigerians on less than half salary and deny them basic rights. This advice to Airtel, also serves as notice to all other local and foreign companies that are enslaving Nigerians that the days of exploitation are at an end.

The NLC calls on the Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity to wake up to its duties and defend Nigerians against naked exploitation and injustice by companies like Airtel. Congress also calls on the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan to protect, defend and advance the interests of the Nigerian working people rather than allow them to be enslaved in their country by unscrupulous employers and business interests.

While workers intend to resolve these matters through peaceful dialogue and collective bargaining, the acts and actions of the employers will determine Labour’s appropriate reaction.

Thank you.

Courtesy: http://www.nlcng.org/search_details.php?id=293

Egypt: A permanent revolution?

Ray Bush, Ahram Online

Finally, it seems, and only after being pushed hard by permanent demonstrations, Egypt’s generals have indicated a procedure for promoting serious constitutional reforms as a first step towards the possibility of democratic deepening. The development of a new constitution will be delayed until a new parliament that can debate it. The appointment of a legal committee to assemble proposed reforms to be put to a referendum is clearly significant. But why has it taken so long, and why has this committee not been part of a more clearly defined new interim government? The continued presence of members of the old regime raises concerns about just how serious the military is in ridding the country of the economic elite that has destroyed Egyptian livelihoods for the last 30 years. How long does it take to get rid of the detritus of cronyism and enable the entry of democrats to Egyptian national politics?

This may not be the time to be curmudgeonly – and it is not my wish to be so. My recent experience at the biggest party I have ever attended, in Midan Tahrir, two weeks ago was exhilarating and joyful, full with expectation and real hope. It has been more than twenty years since I began visiting and studying Egypt’s political economy. I have often made annual pilgrimages to Cairo’s wonderfully vibrant, yet repressive and challenging city and I have witnessed attempts to transform the countryside by destroying benefits Nasser gave tenants and other smallholders, as the NDP decided instead to return land to land owning allies. Many of the landed elites were in the corrupt parliament so voting for rural (diss) possession was easy. if tenants have been impoverished, nouveau riche; mostly young and assertive investors have taken advantage of cheap (and corrupt) land ‘sales’, free water for high value and low nutritious food stuff for export rather than the promotion of local food security. The destruction of Egypt’s environment by agribusiness stripping the country’s valuable top soils became de rigour. Yet these processes among many other, have been contradictory in there outcomes. After most of my visits I would usually feel that Egypt would be unable to stay the same for more than 24 hours, and yet simultaneously I would have the feeling that the country would remain the same for a great many more years. Conflict, inequality and injustice were so evident alongside demonstrations of enormously opulent wealth, and struggles for economic and political transformation have always been evident.

The 25 January revolution has changed political life for good. Things will never be the same, even if the military seem unable or unwilling to properly gauge the mood of the country and ensure more swiftly a complete exorcism of the ancien regime. There is a revolution underway and it is a process that will go beyond the removal of Husni Mubarak from office. After 30 years of social and political stagnation that systematised brutal repression of rights and people’s dignity, and which helped to sustain intense poverty and the manipulation of religious prejudice, there is now a chance to promote an ambitious and transparent ‘root and branch’ reform programme. 25 January opened a dam of pent up resentment and frustration. That could easily have been funnelled into violence and envy, counter brutality and revenge yet that was only evident when NDP thugs entered the fray as the robber baron regime tried to cling to power. The revolutionaries, from all walks of Egyptian life, young and old, middle class, small farmers and destitute, workers and elderly demonstrated confident self controlled maturity of protest. Continued protest until remnants of the old guard are thrown away remains necessary and should receive not only local support, amid an understandable irritation by a few, that the ‘normal’ life of tourist trade and small business is disrupted. But these demonstrations need also international solidarity and support. The buzzards of the EU, UK and US are circling, and many have landed to establish an understanding of just what has been happening in the country of such geostrategic importance and historical ‘stability’. Caught out by the splendour of revolution Egypt’s allies in the international community have been busy playing ‘catch up’. This applies especially to the US. Why is Washington’s intelligence in the region so poor and outmoded and why couldn’t the (relatively) new broom in the White House grasp the nettle of real democratic transition rather than elevate concern with stability and defence of its Israeli ally. Tel Aviv is challenged by democracy on its door step and the US will have trouble in its historical strategy of determining the outcome of political transition without being seen to do so.

The revolution will have lots to say about Egypt’s regional presence. It will live with an Israeli neighbour that is peaceful and democratic, that respects Arab citizens of the Jewish state and abides by international law including complete withdrawal from Palestinian territory occupied since 1967. The revolution can legitimately question why the Camp David agreement benefitted Israel financially and militarily more than Egypt and the revolution can certainly question why Mubarak’s regime became the jailor of the Gazan concentration camp.

Domestically the agenda is long. Already people have shown greater respect for each other than was much in evidence with Mubarak’s bestial regime. The revolution demands a more open and democratic public sphere of mutual respect, this agenda has been driven by all demonstrators not only the youth that has so captured media imagery. Without doubt the youth demand and deserve a respect that is at odds with a moribund age set of deference (unearned), which helped structure a non-participatory political culture and at its worst was captured by the patronising stupidity of Mubarak and Omar Suleiman during the height of the revolution. High on the agenda is clearly the establishment of a rule of law, habeas corpus and the removal of systemic torture from Egypt’s landscape of law and (dis)order. This will not happen immediately as the chain of command in all police stations will need recasting in customs that will simply not be understood by many force commanders. The rights debate will need more than just a new minister. The idea of inherent human rights, that people are innocent until due process has found them guilty of whatever they may be charged with and the complete judicial and civilian oversight of the police, will be just a beginning but one that is essential to safeguard revolutionary gains. If the police needs reform, new training, skills and knowledge as well as raised salaries for rank and file officers, (reducing the incentive for bribery and links with local gangs) the security services needs closure. Security services are important in all democracies to ensure that legitimate opposition does not become converted to military insurgency. But security and police forces will need to internalise that they operate to defend the Egyptian people, not the Egyptian regime. Only when the forces of law and order are so reformed will it be likely that political opposition emerges free from infiltration and dirty tricks and mutual respect unifies people with a security agency that defends all Egyptians. There is thus no role for the aml dowla or muhabarat in the new Egypt and the sooner this is affirmed the better. After all it was the awful actions of these forces over more than a generation that partly drove the unprecedented mobilisation to Tahrir.

Of course Egypt’s revolution will only be successful and more easily defended if it can link the tremendous struggle over rights and representation with economic growth that provides jobs. Egypt’s economy has grown by about 5 per cent in real terms each year since 1980. It is the ambition of all developing countries to achieve such a level of growth especially where it outstrips the increase in population. Yet sustained economic growth singularly failed to deliver employment and poverty reduction. The NDP robber barons were successful in rewarding themselves – real estate, land, cement and steel, and of course the military too – after all didn’t the military get its ‘toys for the boys’ to a value of $1.3 billion per annum from the US as well as guarantees for its own enormous business ventures in land, real estate and manufacturing? But urban and rural poverty – the abjection of the majority of Egyptians from the wealth that they have produced is the biggest indictment of the last thirty years. At best Egypt has developed but Egyptians have not! Unemployment levels might be as high as 50%; food inflation of 20 percent accelerates poverty and child hunger and bread riots around the bakeries of Cairo in 2008, were an early indicator of tipping points to come.

It’s no longer popular to talk about ‘class’ in the Middle East (or anywhere else perhaps) the working class or the peasantry or fellahin, but it is these social classes that produce Egypt’s wealth. The financial and service sectors may have grown in the last thirty years but the wealth generated from speculation remained in the hands of the economic elite and not with the country at large. The NDP not only ignored structural impediments to growth, namely the high dependence upon rent – from Suez, labour remittances and oil and gas, it ensured that its cronies would benefit from kickbacks from contracts linked to construction and land deals often in the rentier sectors. And revenue that accrued from such skulduggery was used only for conspicuous consumption or more real estate construction that the vast majority of Egyptians could not even dream of occupying. It is one thing to say that market capitalism and economic liberalisation has given Egypt the greatest opportunity to boost livelihoods and well being – the mantra of Gamal Mubarak especially after Ahmed Nazif’s administration in 2004. It is quite another to evidence how the market economy has ensured the trickle down of growth rather than the funnelling up of wealth to the already mega rich.

If and when the dust begins to settle down around the political transition it is in the economic arena of sustained economic growth with justice that the revolution may stand or fall on. More than 40% of Egyptians live on less than $2 a day. It is probably much higher than that and possibly even as high as 80% in some rural areas – that would make Egyptians poorer than Zimbabweans – not a comparison many would immediately consider. But this is the depth to which the NDP and the Mubarak tribe took the country. The way they set thugs on Egyptians and destroyed their own party offices suggests there was also an orchestrated plan to ‘burn Cairo’ legitimising perhaps a more aggressive military intervention to defend the country.

It is going to take great care to dig Egypt out of the pit of economic crisis and to do so with justice and equality. The first step will require Egyptians to see that there is indeed a crisis and to construct a genuinely national participatory political system. World Bank and other international agency love affairs with headline growth figures veil inequality, uneven development and has accelerated social unrest. The long term crisis began with economic reform in 1991, (1987 in the countryside) – reform heralded by the international community that fostered robber baron capitalism. The medium term crisis lies in the pivotal working class and trade union unrest that has provided strong roots for the revolution. More than a million workers and their families have been involved in industrial actions since 2004 and the Mahalla revolt in 2006 involving 28,000 workers was a clear signal to all but the most illiberal government that kefaya (enough) really was kefaya. The vibrancy of worker unrest and the challenge to confront 19th century working conditions has not been lost on the fellahin. It is likely that at least, 300 farmers have been killed in 2010 with 1500 injured and 1700 arrested following rural struggles over access to land, boundary demarcations, struggles against dispossession and other disputes with land owners and police. The politicisation of land is at a level greater than any time since Nasser and it is an issue the future minister of agriculture will have to address with care and attention to redressing rural poverty and how it has been sustained by dispossession of small holders and accumulation by land owners.

Addressing all these themes will depend on the revolution being sustained, on the coalition of youth continuing to broaden their excellent and profound grasp of the realities underpinning wealth and inequality and building links between urban workers and rural small holders. This will require permanent revolution, permanent dissatisfaction with the status quo and of course vigilance against counter revolution. It will also need to be underpinned by a new system of education in Egypt that values not only the core principles of literacy and numeracy, and their delivery in the classroom without violence or sexual harassment. The revolution has begun to legitimise the importance of challenging all information and to question everything that is presented especially by government. That will need to continue as debate about an election, its timing and planning and organisation will no doubt dominate the next 6 months.

Ray Bush is Professor of African Studies and Development Politics, University of Leeds, UK and Author of Economic Crisis and the Politics of Reform in Egypt (Westview 1999) editor of Counter Revolution in Egypt’s Countryside (Zed Books 2002). His most recent book is Poverty and Neoliberalism. Persistence and Reproduction in the Global South (Pluto Press 2007).

An Arab 1848: Despots Totter and Fall

Tariq Ali, Counterpunch

He can’t stay any longer because the military has declared that they will not shoot their own people. This excludes a Tiananmen Square option. Were the Generals (who have so far sustained this regime) to go back on their word it would divide the army, opening up a vista of civil war. Nobody wants that at the moment, not even the Israelis who would like their American friends to keep their point man in Cairo for as long as possible. But this, too, is impossible.

So, will Mubarak go this weekend or the next? Washington wants an ‘orderly transition’, but the hands of Suleiman the Spook (or Sheikh Al-Torture as some of his victims refer to him), the Vice-President they have forced Mubarak to accept, are also stained with blood. To replace one corrupt torturer with another is no longer acceptable. The Egyptian masses want a total regime change, not a Pakistan-style operation where a civilian crook replaces a uniformed dictator and nothing changes.

The Tunis infection has spread much more rapidly than anyone imagined. After a long sleep induced by defeats—military, political moral—the Arab nation is reawakening. Tunis impacted immediately on neighboring Algeria and the mood then crossed over to Jordan and reached Cairo a week later. What we are witnessing are a wave of national-democratic uprisings, reminiscent more of the 1848 upheavals — against Tsar and Emperor and those who collaborated with them — fthat swept Europe and were the harbingers of subsequent turbulence. This is the Arab 1848. The Tsar-Emperor today is the President in the White House. That is what differentiates these proto-revolutions from the 1989 business: That and the fact that with few exceptions, the masses did not mobilize themselves to the same degree. The Eastern Europeans lay down before the West, seeing in it a happy future and singing ‘Take Us, Take Us. We’re Yours Now.’

The Arab masses want to break from the ugly embrace. The US-EU has supported the dictators they’re getting rid off. These are revolts against the universe of permanent misery: an elite blinded by its own wealth, corruption, mass unemployment, torture and subjugation by the West. The rediscovery of Arab solidarity against the repellent dictatorships and those who sustain them is a new turning point in the Middle East. It is renewing the historical memory of the Arab nation that was brutally destroyed soon after the 1967 war. Here the contrast in leadership could not be more glaring. Gamal Abdel Nasser, despite his many weaknesses and mistakes, saw the defeat of 1967 as something for which he had to accept responsibility. He resigned. Over a million Egyptians poured into the heart of Cairo to plead with him to stay in power. And changed his mind. He died in office a few years later, broken-hearted and with no money. His successors surrendered the country to Washington and Tel Aviv for a mess of pottage.

The events of the last month mark the first real revival of the Arab world since the defeat of 1967. All the weathercocks ever-alert so as never to be on the wrong side of history, thus always avoiding any experience of defeat, were caught unawares by these uprisings. They forget that revolts and revolutions, shaped by existing circumstances, happen when the masses, the crowd, the citizenry—call it what you will— decide that life is so unbearable and they will be stifled no longer. For them a poor childhood and injustice are as natural as a kick in the head on the street or a brutal interrogation in prison. They have experienced this, but when the same conditions are still present and they are now adults, then the fear of death recedes. When this stage is reached a single spark can light a prairie fire. In this case literally as the tragedy of the stallholder in Tunis who set himself on fire demonstrates.

We are at the beginning of the change. The Arab masses have not been overwhelmed by force this time and they will not succumb. What will those who replace the despots in Tunis and Cairo offer their people? Democracy alone cannot feed or employ them…

The Political Significance of Arab Turmoil

Marzouq Al-Nusf, Sanhati

For more than a month now, the Arab world has been witnessing events unprecedented in its modern history. The self-immolation of a Tunisian college graduate on the 17th of December, 2010, has sparked a chain of events that resulted in the effective ousting of a dictator and the threatening of numerous others. After the departure of Tunisian president Zain Al Abideen Bin Ali this month, the 30 years old reign of Egyptian president Husni Mubarak is facing a serious challenge from its own rebelling people. Protests continue in many of the 22 Arab nations, either in solidarity with the Tunisian and Egyptian rebellions, or in hopes of instigating their own corresponding rebellions against their authoritarian regimes.

One reason for viewing the Arab rebellions as significant is that they are unprecedented in the modern history of the region. Specifically, it is the civilian character of the rebellions that is key. Traditionally, transitions in political regimes in the Arab world have been carried out either by foreign powers, as in the 19th century and earlier, or by military coups, which was the trend in the 20th century. Indeed, the fact that the Tunisian army, and more recently the Egyptian one, has elected to abstain from actively shaping the course of events reinforces the crucial break with previous historical trends of military interventions in domestic politics.

More generally, the robustness and effectiveness of the rebellions in Tunisia and Egypt have surprised even the keenest political observers, many of whom were more inclined to look for turmoil emerging from Europe in response to the global economic crisis. The Tunisian situation is a case in point. The country was perceived as so stable and uninteresting that the media, including the Arab speaking, could not excavate any worthy archival interviews with the Tunisian dictator to use in commenting on his character and inclinations. As for Egypt, the fact that there is a rebellion of any sort is seen as an anomaly in a national culture sometimes characterized, in a rather simplistic and prejudiced fashion, as submissive to the ruling figure from as old a time as when pharaohs ruled the land.

So far, the trajectory seems to point towards an increase in the spread and effect of rebellions in the region. The wave of civil unrest has spread from the relatively small Tunisia, with a population of around 10 million, to Egypt and its population of over 80 million. The rebellion against dictatorship has now taken root in the most populated, and arguably the most important, Arab nation. Hence, the remarkable significance of events in the Arab world has not yet exhausted itself, and may well continue to surprise the world.

It remains to be seen who will ultimately gain state power in the troubled Arab regimes, nonetheless it is possible to draw some implications of the very fact that regimes are being toppled by popular uprisings. Specifically, the fact that the Tunisian and Egyptian regimes have long been favored and supported by western powers means that the regimes’ uprooting will have ramifications on an international scale. France, as the primary guardian of the Tunisian dictatorship, has not only suffered strategic defeat with the dismantling of one of its strongholds in North Africa, but it had to endure public shame for its reluctance to give up its support to the Tunisian president, even when it was clear that his chances of survival were dismal. Right now, the United States seems to be hoping to avoid the French’s bluntness in suppressing Arab populations by carefully measuring its responses to the Egyptian situation.

A mapping of the Arab world’s alliances in pro and anti US hegemony terms is helpful. It is rather simple. The anti US policy regimes are 3: the Syrian regime, itself a dictatorship; the Hamas government in Gaza, which is an offspring of the islamist Muslim Brotherhood that was democratically elected to power; and potentially the new Lebanese government, where the former pro-US prime minister was voted out of office last month and replaced by a new one named by Hezbollah. As for the pro-US regimes, they are the other 20 governments in the region, including the Palestinian Authority. The camp’s members range from near-absolute monarchies of the Arabian Peninsula to secular dictatorships, such as the one in Algeria. Sudan and Libya are not considered in the anti US camp because they are not in fundamental contradiction with imperialist policy; rather their disputes with US hegemony can be resolved with minimal adjustments in policy.

From the US’s perspective, the alliances in the region thus far seem unproblematic, unless significant shuffling of regimes occurs. If democratic order is established in Tunisia and Egypt, then it is possible that the resulting governments will not align themselves with imperialist demands, if not oppose them diametrically. Aside from mere counting of numbers of allies, regime changes in the Arab world by people’s power could directly affect the US’s two main interests in the region, oil and Israel, particularly the latter. At this moment, two countries that border historical Palestine, Lebanon and Egypt, are experiencing regime shifts that are likely to lead to less compromising policy on the part of the Arabs. The rebellion in Egypt, if it brings a form of democracy, and the new democratically formed government in Lebanon might not instigate war in the region immediately. Nonetheless, if Israel decides to engage in warfare against Hams in Gaza or Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, then it is more likely for these new regimes to more actively participate in the resistance efforts against Israel, as opposed to the previously observed complacency with Israeli and US dictates.

As for the perspective of rebelling Arabs on the streets, it is probably safe to assume that they do not have US hegemony as their primary focal point, but that does not mean that they look favourably upon it. The US, as the chief foreign player in the region, has itself to blame if its name is implicated further as the enemy. The US’s support for notoriously corrupt and ruthless regimes has left little doubt in the minds of suppressed Arabs about the gap between US flowery rhetoric and grim action. If its unconditional support for Israel is added to the picture, then the US is virtually making it impossible for any genuinely democratic Arab government, if one emerges, not to oppose its policy.

As a matter of fact, there have been precedents of western powers planting through their own policy the seeds of antagonism in the region. Perhaps the most famous example is that of president Nasser of Egypt, who emerged as the leader of the first major Arab military-lead revolution in 1952. Although Nasser proclaimed progressive programs early on, he had no particular preferences when it came to choosing between the socialist and capitalist camps. He was not opposed to securing ties of cooperation with the west because of its historical interest in the region. However, in 1956 when Britain and the US drew their funding from his flagship development project, the High Dam in Aswan, Nasser nationalized the Suez canal and looked to fortify his anti imperialist stance through strengthening relations with the USSR and leading non-aligned nations, including India and Yugoslavia at the time.

What the rebellions in the Arab world have brought forth is the possibility of resurrecting a solid anti-imperialist block in the Middle East. At the moment, two nations that border the Arab world, Turkey and Iran, are at odds with US and Israeli policy in the region. If progressive forces are to gain power in key Arab states such as Egypt, then the US-Israeli agenda of war and domination could face a serious obstacle. On an interregional scale, the leftist and anti-imperialist governments in Latin America may finally have allies in the new emerging block of Middle Eastern states defiant of US hegemony.

All that being said, there remain a number of open questions, the answer to which will significantly influence the course of analysis. Will the interim government in Tunisia complete its promised transition to democracy? Will the Egyptian rebellion succeed in brining about democracy? Will the uprisings continue to spread in the Arab world? And perhaps more importantly, what are the prospects of a genuinely emancipatory political force gaining power in the newly emerging regimes? These matters deserve a more thorough analysis. One thing is certain, however, and that is that the future of dictatorships in the Arab world has never looked bleaker.

(The author is a graduate student at the Department of Economics, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.)

A working class uprising – how far will it go?

Taken from an article published at LIBCOM

. For other articles on Tunisia uprising, visit

The fundamental class nature of the protests in North Africa is undeniable. In Tunisia, Algeria and Libya a generation of proletarianised youngsters have led mass protests, the immediate reason for which has been their desperate standard of living in countries which support a wealthy and transparently self-interested ruling class, less schooled in the modern techniques of bourgeois self-justification than their Western counterparts. The same issues are repeated in countries across the region. We will attempt a brief and preliminary survey of the class aspects of events here; again due to restrictions on information and rapidly developing events this survey is necessarily incomplete.


The uprisings in Tunisia and Algeria have involved the expropriation of goods from supermarkets, shops and warehouses during mass demonstrations. This is to be expected ; one of the immediate catalysts for the uprisings was the cost of essentials rising rapidly, with scarcity compounded by security forces shutting down the country. Moreover, during situations where working class people are becoming aware of their own power, respect for the nicities of commodity exchange evaporates, especially when money (or the lack of it) limits their access to the essentials of life. Such expropriations are a feature of all proletarian uprisings, as is the line on “violent looters” spun to justify brutal crackdowns.

Strikes – or the lack of them

Information on the extent to which strikes have formed part of the movement in North Africa is limited. We know of strikes by teachers in solidarity with protesting students. Likewise there have been calls for general strikes led by ‘professional’ workers such as lawyers, but it is unclear whether they were attended by workers more widely. We can say the same of the general strike called in Sfax – until more information is made available, it is hard to say to what extent it was observed. We know of strikes in the mining town of Gafsa, but again the scale of participation in these strikes is unclear. We do not know to what extent people have participated in organised strikes, or simply not gone to work due to the unrest on the streets. Lockouts after the state of emergency was declared would have precluded many strikes.

Obviously the unemployed and students who have formed the bulk of protesters on the streets do not have labour to withdraw in the same way as workers. Demonstrations, blockades and riots all can form part of class struggle, and can advance it by disrupting the economy and drawing lines of confrontation. Radicalisation by police truncheons can often push confrontation with the state further, and draw more people into events by making the role of the state in maintaining order through violence clear. However, all major uprisings have involved mass strike action, and the mass strike is a means by which the common interest of proletarians as working class and their power to cripple capital by expropriating the means of life from it can become clear. The direction and scale of the insurrection is likely to be determined by the extent to which strike action spreads through the economy.

Part of the explanation of our limited knowledge of strikes could be the focus of the media on street protests and the ‘political’ dimension presented by the calls to oust the current government. Strikes taking place in parallel may not be deemed newsworthy. On the other hand, it may be that there has not been generalised strike action. The role of tourism in Tunisia’s economy, employing significant numbers of workers (half of the workforce is employed in the service sector) is not enough to account for this – industry such as manufacturing, mining and the oil industry accounts for a third of the workforce. This is the classic terrain for mass strikes of the kind that has been a feature of all historic working class uprisings, and this would have a significant effect in a major oil and minerals exporter such as Tunisia.

On the other hand it is important to bear in mind the effect a drop in tourism revenues can have in a country like Tunisa – a few global headlines about rioting can lead to the paralysis of a major section of the economy. Ben Ali called on rioters to stop due to fears about the decline in tourism, and was clear and vocal about this. Nonetheless, a generalised strike movement would be vital in broadening a specifically class consciousness, widening the movement and radicalising the situation.

Not a revolution – yet.

The media has been quick to label events in Tunisia a ‘revolution’, and the name ‘ the Jasmine revolution’ has been rapidly applied to bring it in line with a range of other political revolutions which ushered in new governments (usually pro-US) in various countries. Such events are only ‘revolutions’ in a political sense, with one government replacing another. Tunisa has not yet seen a true revolution, as the rule of capital and the fundamental balance of power between classes in the country has not yet changed. Such a possibility would require the working class of the region to draw lessons from the radical display of their own power which has unfolded over the past weeks. Given that the fundamental issues – unemployment, high prices and poor housing cannot be solved by decree by governments even if they wanted to, it is unlikely that we will see the status quo return in North Africa any time soon.