Tunisia, Algeria - the anger of the working class and poor

Workers' Fight workplace bulletin editorials
18 January 2011

Last weekend, the protesters who had taken to the streets of Tunisia since mid-December won a victory when the Tunisian dictator, Ben Ali, fled to the safety of another dictatorship - Saudi Arabia.

Neighbouring Algeria was also hit by an explosion of anger, while protests against poverty have been taking place in Libya and Jordan.

British politicians and businessmen, and their counterparts in the rich western countries, are beginning to worry: could this be the start of a much wider explosion, threatening the overthrow of the region's many western-friendly dictators, who have been so useful in helping to fill City coffers?

Rising against poverty

The spark that triggered the protests in Tunisia, on 17 December, was the despair of a street peddler, who set himself on fire after his license was taken away by the police. Unable to support his family, he saw no option but to take his own life.

After this, popular frustration boiled over. Day after day, youth and jobless, workers and housewives, came back onto the streets to voice their anger against rising unemployment, increasing poverty and soaring prices. Political and trade-union activists, many of whom had been driven underground during Ben Ali's 23-year long ruthless rule, started raising their banners again.

Having measured their strength in the streets, the protesters' confidence increased. They turned against the regime itself, its corruption and its brutality. Thousands of voices chanted "Ben Ali, liar, thief, f**k off!" The police used live bullets against protestors - claiming dozens of victims. Universities and schools were closed by the regime, hoping this would dampen the protest. But, once the flood of anger had been unleashed, Ben Ali was unable to contain it and was forced to go.

In Algeria, the spark was a rumour that the police planned raids in a poor district of Algiers, to demolish shanties and arrest street peddlers. This, coming after a brutal increase in the price of staples like oil and sugar, triggered an explosion of anger among the youth across the capital - which spread like wild fire to the main cities. Demonstrators were killed, hundreds were injured and arrested. But this brutal repression did nothing to stop the rising tide. Barricades were raised in the streets, police stations were attacked, government buildings and shops were looted.

Again, it was the voice and frustration of the poor, of the hungry, of those who have nothing, which made itself heard across the country. 60% of the under-30s are unemployed in Algeria and the regime's attempt at driving informal street-peddlers off the streets was depriving them of their only way of surviving. These youth certainly have accounts to settle with a regime whose only function is to protect a tiny corrupted minority which plunders the country's oil and gas resources and lives a life of luxury off the poverty of the whole population.

Their struggle is ours too

These events in Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Jordan, and maybe, tomorrow, other countries in the region, may well reflect the population's hatred of dictatorial regimes. But they also reflect the attempts of the working class and poor to oppose the devastation of the crisis.

Because, of course, the crisis is taking its toll in the poor countries as well, particularly in the form of exorbitant price increases imposed on the population by rich countries' speculators making a quick buck on commodity markets. When this happens, hunger becomes a real threat for large sections of the population. Hence the many slogans against price increases in the protests, both in North Africa and the Middle East.

Those who are taking to the streets in these poor countries are our brothers and sisters, part of the same class - the working class. But, in addition, they are confronted with the same crisis. Whatever the form this crisis may take, it is the crisis of the same capitalist system which, across the world, is ruled by the diktats, greed and corruption of tiny minorities of capitalist privileged.

Whether the privileged rule directly, by dictatorial means as in Tunisia and Algeria, or whether they rule behind the cover of "democratic" politicians, as they do here, they make a fat living out of the exploitation of the working class. And these capitalist classes support one another to impose their looting on the majority.

This is why our solidarity must go to these workers and youth who are rising today against their exploiters. Because it is in our common interest, in the interest of the international working class, to free society of this parasitic profit system.