Sunday, 27 November 2011

Interview with the Tunisian Communist Worker's Party, part 2

The following questions were answered by leading members of the Tunisian Communist Worker's Party (PCOT) in follow-up to my earlier interview with Samir Taamallah. The response to the first question comes from a statement by Hamma Hammami; a more detailed statement on PCOT's election results can be read here, and it has been translated by blogger The Moor Next Door.

Ted Walker: How do you feel about PCOT's results in the elections? Do you feel the campaign was successful in raising the issues that you wanted to?

Hamma Hammami: Some newspapers consider that the elections of October 23th were extraordinary and unique, furthermore, perfect; this is clearly an exaggeration. We have to avoid blind optimism for the election's results, and instead consider it with more criticism.

There were many complaints against some lists, and I don’t think the judiciary system would be rude in taking positions in their affairs. But despite our criticism, the PCOT aren't asking to rerun the elections or to cancel them, however we have some remarks to mention:

First, the reduced number of participants in the elections; according to the ISIE, only 48.9% have voted! Such statistics are worrying and their impacts on the political future of the Constituent Assembly (CA) would be important, because the constitution doesn't reflect the opinion of the majority. To heal this problem, the PCOT is calling for the constitution, once it would be finished, to be presented to the people in a referendum; thus, the Tunisian population would accept it or not!

Second, political money (money invested by parties in their electoral campaign) was a significant factor in differentiating the results of the parties. No one can deny that there an obvious difference between spending 25 dinars on an elector and spending 500 dinars on him.

Third, the use of religious rhetoric in mosques and public areas directly & indirectly influenced people. The biggest failure is that persons who should have reacted against such attempts to influence voters didn’t, and behaved just as passively as they did under Ben Ali regime. It’s just like there were hidden powers which want to create divides between atheists and religious people.

Fourth, the poor role played by the media, especially public media, meant that they didn’t help people distinguish, choose and understand what does the constitution and its content mean.

Fifth, there were mutual attacks between parties which sometimes reached a very pitiful edge.

Sixth, there were many infractions of electoral rules were noticed in polling stations, confirmed by a wide number of observers.

To conclude: no one can deny that the Tunisian election was manipulated by international actors (most notably American and European ones) which are aiming to limit the Tunisian revolution to minor reforms and modifications and want to sustain the former system, the former pro-capitalist economic, political and social policies. The foreign intervention was materialized by the transitory government and some parties, because during the election campaign there were many people traveling in and out Tunisia and we were hearing many assurances from different parties that Tunisia will maintain the old political and economic policies.

Ted: How does PCOT evaluate its own participation in the election?

Chrif Khraief: We estimate that our participation was very weak, and we’re not satisfied because 3 seats in the CA doesn’t reflect at all the real weight of the party on the streets. No one can deny the historical role, the historical activism and the big impact of PCOT in building the revolution. We are looking critically at ourselves all the time in the purpose of going forward and overcoming our weaknesses and improve ourselves.

It’s true that PCOT have learnt revolutionary activism and have always done it very well, but we’ve never learnt or experienced electoral campaigning. We made a clean electoral campaign in which we focused on our program and proposals for the constitution and the transitory government and we relied on our activists' energy and motivation, mainly young ones, but we’ve suffered from our weak implantation in cities and countryside which negatively impact transforming political reputation to an electoral power. And we lost many voices by changing our name “PCOT” to “Al Badil (Revolutionary Alternative)”; many people didn’t recognize us on polling day.

We made a big mistake when we didn’t organise a supervisor for each polling station, which allowed to some parties to catch the opportunity to influence people. We’ve also faced the electoral campaign with very modest material means and we relied on campaign funding given by the authorities, which reached us very late in the campaign. Additionally, our candidates were the target of a very rude campaign of attacks because of our principles and integrity; some parties spread many rumors against us which didn’t allow us reach our target result of 10%.

Although our results are not satisfying, we’ve learnt a lot from this experience, we actually know our weakness and we’re more than ever convinced by our principles.

Ted: Do you feel like the new government will make any deep social or economic changes? Will it pursue real justice against the former regime?

Chrif Khraief: We don’t believe at all that the new government, with its current composition, is willing to make radical and real changes on the social and economic fronts. Even before the first sitting of the CA, they’ve reassured the world that they would hold on the same way of the former regime. This is especially true regarding economic policy; they have statedthey will pay foreign debts and they still sustaining the market economy which lead to political dictatorship, economic regression and social inequality.

On the social front, the CA has shown no interest in the poor people and disadvantaged interior which were neglected for a long time under Ben Ali, which was one of the reasons behind protests and strikes. And given the lack of judicial reform, even if they would take decisions, they would be fake, because we can’t exercise real democracy when the agents of the former regime are still active, the judiciary system is still not fair or free, and the media is still not free, the administration is still corrupt, and people involved in torture and corruption are still free. We can’t talk about real justice without talking about accountability and giving back esteem to the victims of Ben Ali.

Ted: There has been major strikes called in tourism, transport and other industries since the elections were held. Have PCOT members been involved in or supporting these actions? What place is the UGTT and workers taking in the revolutionary struggle?

Chrif Khraief: PCOT was not behind those protests, but it’s supporting them and forever will do! We will insist that the government realize promises it gave just after the revolution like canceling interim work wages, subsidising those worked on a fixed wage, adopting transparent standards of recruitment, etc.

Workers are, at present, split into two groups. There are the kind of revolutionaries which aims to concretize interior democracy within the UGTT, and to defend workers against capitalists and bosses. This kind includes democrats, left, syndicalists, and others; it was always present in the brightest moment of the UGTT – the strike of 26 January 1978, the bread revolution of 1984, legitimacy fights of 1985, support of Iraq in Gulf War of 1990, Redeyef and Oum Laarayes uprising of 2008. But mainly and above all, these workers were involved in the revolutionary movements which led to the downfall of Ben Ali on January 14.

All activists of this kind are going to have an assembly in December to pursue the path of revolution and to install a real democracy and to pursue defending workers rights against the second kind of workers. These are the bureaucrats which are representing the counter-revolutionary power (bosses syndicate) which want to fail the negotiations and modify the orientations of debates by playing with buying power of Tunisians (prices all still rising day by day although salaries not), rather than making the union become a tool of worker's independence and power. These bureaucrats are the ones which supported Ben Ali until the last moment and treated revolutionaries as trouble makers.

Ted: What do you think about the #occupy protest movement which has been growing around the world and which recently saw an Occupy Tunis protest on the 11th of November?

Jilani Hamemi: The #occupy protest movement which began in Wall street in USA is a logical consequence of the collapsing capitalist system.

In fact, the capitalist system has passed through many crisis which occurred periodically through its history, but they are getting closer and closer – the TIC crisis, military industry’s crisis, real estate crisis, and now a crisis based on a bad banking system with a lot of interests which harm the American citizen budget and standard of life. And now, the Occupy protest movement is giving hope that we can change this capitalist system to a communist one. This movement is tagging its origin from the “Arab spring” and it’s materializing a similar revolutionary struggle against miserable life conditions.

The capitalist system is now making every effort to absorb the street’s anger and make frequent interventions – but these have not worked so far, because the people want real changes; a minimum guaranteed industrial wage, a guaranteed yearly income, the right of work, the right of free education, of public health care, the canceling of their debts due to interest, and even the canceling of many country’s foreign debt, such as Tunisia. They are demanding a new society based on democracy, equality, and freedom.

That’s the real way of struggle. We have to hold on to reach our objective; the struggle won’t be easy, but it's not impossible for us to win. But we must remain critically aware of the movement's weaknesses.

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