June 30, 2011—Trade unionist, political activist, and blogger Jamel Bettaieb met with AFL-CIO affiliates last week to speak about where the trade union movement in Tunisia is heading. Now, Bettaieb says, is the time for unions to increase their visibility in order to secure a peaceful, fair, and democratic future for Tunisia.
||AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka (left) confers with Tunisian labor activist Jamel Bettaieb in Washington. Photo by Joe Kekeris/AFL-CIO
Bettaieb, 29, lives and works in Sidi Bouzid, hometown of Mohammed Bouazizi, the unemployed fruit vendor who burned himself to death after being humiliated by the police—the act that ignited Tunisia’s revolution and spurred the Arab Spring. Employed as a German teacher, Bettaieb is an active member of the Secondary Education Union, part of the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT). He was visiting Washington, DC, as a co-recipient of the National Endowment for Democracy’s 2011 Democracy Award.
Bettaieb pointed out that unions are key to Tunisia’s future because they unite citizens from across the political spectrum, their research centers have developed valuable sector-specific expertise, and they are the only reliable vehicle for ensuring peace and social justice.
Tunisian unions must spend a great deal of time, forethought, and planning to help workers understand and effectively participate in the democratic process. Bettaieb said that his own union, recently held a conference to plan for membership participation in Tunisia’s Constituent Assembly elections, to be held in October of this year.
While blogging was important for connecting workers and other political activists during the revolution, Bettaieb said, his union and others have mostly moved to Facebook. He said that young workers respond well to Facebook and it provides an excellent forum for connecting and disseminating information, especially on the regional level.
When asked about the worker rights environment, Bettaieb said that while the public-sector employer—the government—has improved with the departure of former President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, many private-sector workers still live in poverty and do not have the right to form and join unions.
Tunisia’s trade unions, Bettaieb said, are focused on clearing out the old, government-affiliated trade union leadership to build an independent labor movement. He asked U.S. unions to help them build their capacity to organize strong unions and increase their ability to provide effective messaging to their members.
Find out how the Solidarity Center works with labor unions in Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria to strengthen their capacity to respond to workers' needs and promote their rights in the Arab Maghreb.
"Tunisian Activist: We Want Human Rights, Economic Prosperity," AFL-CIO Now blog, June 24, 2011