Since 14th January numerous committees to safeguard the revolution have been set up in many places throughout the country, with a variety of forms, constitutions and functions. Municipal bodies almost everywhere in Tunisia have been swept away, and temporary bodies for managing municipalities have taken their place.
The form and make-up of these institutions depends on the balance of forces in each locality. In some cases, they have been created on the basis of proposals by the committees to safeguard the revolution, in others they maintain links with the old local political bosses.
The Bizerte committee to safeguard the revolution
Bizerte is a city of 200,000 inhabitants (the province, or governorate, has around 700,000) and lies on the Mediterranean coast at a distance of 66 km from the capital, Tunis.
Around 25 people, mostly women, are waiting for us at the House of Culture (now run by the committee to safeguard the revolution) to exchange experiences and ideas with us.
The Bizerte committee is of an open, assembly-based nature. Between 500 and 1,000 people attend the meetings, where decisions are made. The committee is then responsible for implementing these decisions. People attend as individuals, not as representatives of parties and trade unions. The main force is the Union of Unemployed Graduates who have organized more than 10 branches in the province, in addition to the one in Bizerte. Lawyers, teachers, trade unionists and young people all participate in the provisional running of the city. The assembly has elected 25 people to the City Council, which was submitted to the governor of the province.
It seeks to foster participation and direct democracy. Each person has the right to vote at the assembly and everything is done to make sure the interests of all rather than party interests are catered for. It also seeks to encourage people to be active in everyday tasks. It is clearly run as an example of an attempt at counterpower and social self-management.
A difficult task ahead
We discuss the lack of experience in taking on so many responsibilities and the need for training and cooperation. On the one hand, it seeks to continue the process of dissolving all of the dictatorship's apparatus of repression. We talk about the example of El Kef, a town where the committee to safeguard the revolution has produced a dossier containing the photos of all the corrupt individuals and those who were involved in repression. But also about the biased judiciary and government who have freed the police officers and corrupt individuals who were brought to justice by the people.
On the other hand, we also discuss the process of building a new society that will carry on a consistent struggle against unemployment, defend human rights, establish new economic and political criteria that can enhance strong cooperation between the workers and the people as a whole.
More than 4,500 metal workers from Menzel Bourguiba, in the governorate of Bizerte, are on strike against the threat of a lockout. The bosses have responded to the creation of a union in the factories and the state of mobilization and worker participation with layoffs and relocations. Shipyards have been the traditional industry in the area. Employers are now seeing their profits threatened and are trying to move to other countries or else waiting for better times, for the revolutionary tide to subside.
Mutual aid - a necessity
The Bizerte comrades tell us: "There has been an insurrection in Tunisia, now we need a revolution". And for that, they need help: publicity, information, training, support of all kinds.
Our discussions brought up the idea of twinning the committee to safeguard the revolution with European bodies (federations, trade unions, associations, etc.) with a commitment to maintain an ongoing relationship where information on the activities and needs of the committee can be exchanged, together with practical mutual aid.
After the talks, we visited the former premises of the political police that were burned down by the people. This was a tangible expression of the people's strength against the dictatorship. But now there remains the hardest task of all: that of making sure that change does not remain a purely formal affair, a new coat of paint on the old house. Change must mean a real, profound transformation of this society.
Our commitment and our support is needed. How? By following with interest the current situation of what is happening in Tunisia, by taking part in the campaign to cancel Tunisia's foreign debt, by twinning with the committees to safeguard the revolution, through solidarity and support for the struggles of the workers, the unemployed and the Tunisian people. But also, through our struggles at home, fighting our own governments and multinationals, the accomplices of Ben Ali who still keep to their neo-colonial view of the countries of North Africa, the back yard of the European Union.
Solidarity and mutual aid with the people of Tunisia.
North Africa Working Group of the CGT International Secretariat