The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Tunisia in the Visegrip of Financial Powers

Apr 3, 2023

This article is translated from the March 31 issue #2852 of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), the newspaper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.

There are more and more shipwrecks of migrant boats off the coast of Tunisia in North Africa. Several dozen people died near the port cities of Sfax and Mahdia between March 23 and 25.

The migrants are driven by poverty and deepening economic crisis. Many also flee racist assaults encouraged by people in power. More than 32,000 migrants have landed from Tunisia on the coast of Italy, according to Italian authorities.

Italian Prime Minister Georgia Meloni and French President Emmanuel Macron’s refusal to accept the migrants led these leaders to issue an appeal on March 24 to contain the “pressure of migration” that they say tiny Tunisia represents for Europe. The two leaders are arranging to give financial aid to the increasingly bankrupt nation, on the condition that it blocks more migrants.

Tunisia is close to the Italian island of Lampedusa, so it serves as a path to Europe for thousands of young people from Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Niger, Guinea, and Mali. But floating nearly 100 miles in storm-wracked nutshells spells certain death for many of them. One of the survivors said all the babies died. Some migrant boats rescued by fishermen or the Tunisian coast guard were also rammed by the latter in an attempt to capsize them.

Tunisian President Kais Saied made ethnocentric attacks against migrants from sub-Saharan Africa a little over a month ago. He tried to make them scapegoats for the economic crisis. This put the migrants on the spot. Some have lived in Tunisia for years, mostly doing gig work and often unemployed, driven out of their homes, or even targets of racist violence.

The situation of Tunisia’s 12 million inhabitants—not to mention the refugees—has worsened with the crisis. Tunisia’s budget deficit is growing. The World Bank suspended all new loans in early March, citing Saied’s xenophobic remarks. As for the IMF, it still conditions paying out the first installment of promised aid—500 million dollars out of a total of 1.9 billion over four years—to so-called reforms to be imposed on ordinary people. The government is reluctant to initiate what would be a bloodletting: ending subsidies on gas and basic necessities, and freezing the pay of thousands of public employees. In addition, the law reforming public enterprise administration would make measurable cuts in staffing as well as in grants and other subsidies—money which disappears anywhere but in workers’ pockets.

Inflation, unemployment, and unpaid wages and benefits fuel social discontent. But Saied is unable to find solutions, even while becoming increasingly dictatorial.

French capitalists are the main investors in Tunisia with nearly 200 million dollars in 2022. They enrich themselves thanks to the work of nearly 150,000 workers. But most people in Tunisia subsist on their own, without even minimal infrastructure in public health and public transportation. They are caught between the corrupt and greedy Tunisian bourgeoisie, politicians’ headlong rush to power—with multiplying threats and arrests of political opponents—and the inexorable grip of international capitalists.

Workers, unemployed youth, rural poor, and refugees have many class interests in common.