Tunisian workers hold one-day general strike against rising food prices

On June 16, workers across Tunisia walked out in protest against President Kaïs Saïed’s plan to rewrite the constitution and slash vital subsidies that keep wheat and bread affordable for workers. Wheat and grain prices have surged on global markets due to rampant speculation, and now the NATO-Russia war in Ukraine that has prevented Russia and Ukraine from exporting their wheat.

A week before the strike, Tunisian Finance Minister Sihem Boughdiri had reported that wheat subsidy costs this year would rise 1 billion dinars to 4.2 billion dinars (€1.3 billion). This is 3.5 percent of Tunisia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and the equivalent of the annual budget of the Health and Labor ministries, she reported. Echoing the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which is calling for “strict limiting of wage spending” and “better targeting of subsidies,” Boughdiri called for “gradual revision of subsidies for staple goods, but without at all eliminating them.”

In January 2021, ten years after a revolutionary uprising of the Tunisian working class toppled President Zine El Abedine Ben Ali, youth came out in Tunis and nationwide to protest the lack of democratic rights and what were already then rapidly-rising food costs.

“People are hungry. They want revenge against the state. I won’t lie about it, they want another revolution,” one youth in Tunis told the press, while his friend said: “The police don’t dare to come here. Even the Tunisian media doesn’t come here. No one listens to what we have to say.”

A trader bringing food from the countryside to Tunis said: “Everybody I spoke to [in the villages] was angry. It’s all age groups. Even children aged 10 are angry. … I see families of up to 10 members who can’t afford [the food prices]. They don’t even have 200 millimes for a baguette.”

This year, inflation and, in particular, the explosion in food prices is a taking place around the world, now accelerated by the NATO-Russia war. As the IMF and the Saïed administration work to starve Tunisian workers by slashing state subsidies that have so far prevented speculation in global grain markets from making bread unaffordable, anger and opposition in the working class is reaching explosive levels.

The General Union of Tunisian Labor (UGTT) bureaucracy, a longstanding pillar of the Ben Ali regime that now works closely with Saïed and international banks, felt compelled to call a one-day strike for June 16. The working class responded massively. Airports, mass transit, post offices, energy companies, ports, wheat, fuel and phosphate monopolies and other workplaces shut down on June 16. Fully 96.2 percent of UGTT members participated in the strike.

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