UGTT in Tunisia Empowered or Overpowered A Reassessment of the Role of the Labor Movement in Tunisia


Ferial Zaghdane & Moosa Elayah

Granting the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize “For its decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia in the wake of the Jasmine Revolution of 2011” )Nobel Prize, 2015( was a major achievement for Tunisia and the revolution. Along with the Tunisian Order of Lawyers (ONAT), the Tunisian Human Rights League (LTDH), and the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Commerce and Handicrafts (UTICA), the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) was one of the four awarded organizations for its major role as a moderator in the 2013 political spiral (Churchill, 2016). The UGTT is unlike any other union as its leaders believe it to have more than the classic role of union. The UGTT is believed to have a mission in Tunisian society differently than most other trade unions. Since the founding in 1946, it was considered responsible
for a dual mission: not only defending the rights of workers, but also, uarding Tunisia’s independence on its journey to “modernity” and democracy.

This mission has linked necessarily the union’s with its fluctuating role between action focused on demanding rights and action focused on participation in civil society and governance. This brings us to the questions this papers seeks to explore the historic milestones that enabled the UGTT to attain the power it currently has over the years in the context of its ever changing relationship with the different authorities that governed the country and the constant change of its role, appearing at times subject to state power while other times being the unstoppable “beast” of opposition supported by popular masses.

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