by Sarah Chayes
Democracy and the Rule of Law Program
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
[Editorial note: Over the last three years, Talking Union has run several articles on the constructive role that independent labor unions have played in creating the underpinnings for the emerging democratic society in Tunisia,which continues to be a positive accomplishment of the Arab Spring - Paul Garver]
Without the muscular involvement of a powerful labor union, it is unlikely that Tunisia’s remarkable political settlement would have come about.
On a Saturday afternoon last October, in an ornate, scarlet-draped convention center bedecked with flags and white flowers, Tunisian labor leader Houcine Abbassi presided over a signing ceremony that would mark his country’s destiny and perhaps that of the Arab world. “Thank you for heeding the nation’s call,” he told the leaders of two dozen political parties, before each stood to sign what has come to be called the Road Map.
The event almost came off the rails. Some politicians were shocked to discover upon arriving that they would be forced to sign the document in front of television cameras—and thus be bound by its terms. On a tight calendar, the text called for three giant steps: the resignation of Tunisia’s entire cabinet and the appointment of a nonpartisan prime minister tasked to put together a new one, the formation of an independent election commission, and the modification and approval of a draft constitution.
With handcuffs like these lying open before him, the head of the ruling Islamist Ennahda party, Rached Ghannouchi, balked. The Road Map, in his view, was merely a “basis for discussion.” For three hours, as participants and witnesses and journalists grew confused and impatient in the main hall, Abbassi tousled with Ghannouchi offstage, at last extracting an agreement to sign.
And what was a labor union doing in the thick of politics? Everything, it turns out.
Filed under: Global organizing, Politics, Solidarity, Uncategorized | Tagged: Arab Spring, Tunisia, UGTT | Leave a comment »