Protests began in the Tunisian governorate of Kasserine on Saturday 16 January after Ridha Yahyaoui was electrocuted. He died after climbing a pole to address a rally of unemployed workers.
Yahyaoui was one of seven unemployed graduates who were denied employment after organising a sit-in last year.
Salem Ayari, the secretary-general of the United Unemployed Graduates Organisation, said that Yahyaoui “had recently discovered that his name had been pulled from the list of files to be handed to the prime minister to regularise their situation.
“The list was modified and manipulated without consultation with the mayor or the deputy who were taking care of the matter.”
When the government tried to end the movement by offering concessions to Kasserine and promising to create 5,000 jobs, unemployed workers in other cities across Tunisia joined the movement.
When the state used repression and violence, protests escalated into clashes with the police.
Protesters reportedly blocked roads and set a police station alight.
Protests spread across southern and western Tunisia to the capital, Tunis, and within days to the entire country.
The protests have spread even more quickly than those in 2010-11. That shows that none of the grievances that sparked the revolutionary struggle five years ago have been resolved.
The Tunisian interior ministry declared a nationwide curfew on Friday of last week.
The president, government, mainstream politicians and the media all pretended to be sympathetic to the unemployed.
But they attacked “infiltrators” active in the protests who were looting and burning public and private property. The Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) called demonstrators’ demands “legitimate”, then proposed deploying UGTT members around state buildings to protect them from “looters”.
With no political leadership that could call for strikes to take the uprising forward the confrontations seem to have been tamed for now.
The Ministry of the Interior has announced the arrest of 261 individuals for looting and 84 for breaking curfew. Some 109 security officers were injured.
Members of the organised left have led some protests. But many participants say they don’t trust politics and they are simply demanding jobs from the government.
The left hasn’t been able yet to reach wide sections of the working class.
The uprising brought to the surface once again the anger and suffering of wide sections of society.
It confirmed the government’s failure to curb the economic crisis and its devastating effect on people’s lives.
The Tunisian ruling class has failed to meet the fundamental social needs of working people.
The wave of discontent is far from over.
Revolutionaries need to link workers’ struggles with the unemployed demands for jobs and social justice to be able to fight effectively against the ruling class.