On December 17, 2010 a young man of 26 years old walked to the local City Hall in protest. He was an unemployed college graduate with an engineering degree who barely made a living selling vegetables from a pushcart before the local police took it away from him. The young man, in front of City Hall, filled with the anger of having his livelihood taken away from him, outraged by the unemployment and poverty all around him, enraged by the extreme wealth of the elite, feeling isolated and alone, set himself on fire, burning to death in protest of the government’s ruthless policies of protecting the rich while attacking the poor.
This could have happened anywhere because right now this same anger is being felt all over the world, as government after government throws people out of work, out of their homes, closes schools, cuts off aid, and at the same time, hands more and more of our wealth over to the ruling elite. Sometimes this anger bubbles up into individual despair and suicide. Sometimes it remains isolated and descends into violent shooting rampages. Other times this anger is able to break free of isolation and organize together millions of workers, the unemployed, students, and all sections of the poor and develop into social movements ready to fight the dictatorship of the rich.
Right now, after Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in front of a city hall in Tunisia, this anger has reached its boiling point, and the masses of workers, students and the poor of Tunisia have made it clear to the world that enough is enough, and have declared their fight for a better future and an end to the misery imposed on them.
For 23 years, the people of Tunisia lived under the dictatorship of Ben Ali and his policies of mass poverty and corruption. Ben Ali represented a violent, corrupt Tunisian elite whose power rested on police violence and terror, supported by the United States and Europe. But after 23 years, this corrupt, brutal, tyrant has been forced to flee the country in fear of his life.
Following the suicide of young Bouazizi, millions of Tunisians took to the streets, chanting slogans of “You Gang of Thieves – Employment is a Right”; “We Are More Than Ready”; “We’ve had Enough.” Moving quickly from demands of employment, the masses of Tunisia demanded a new government that would represent their own interests. In this, they have begun their struggle against the rule of the rich and are fighting for a better future.
The struggle of the workers and poor people of Tunisia has only just begun. They face the violence of the police, who defend the status quo. But at the same time they have begun to break free of their isolation and awaken the strength and confidence that is felt when millions of workers come together and begin to fight back. They are slowly realizing that the dictatorship may have the police, but they have the majority of the population, the workers who make the society run – a force far more powerful than the violence of any state or police.
The powerful inspiration of the workers and poor of Tunisia has already begun to spread to neighboring countries. In Algeria, thousands of workers and students have taken to the streets in protest of food shortages, unemployment, and poverty. Tens of thousands have taken to the streets in many countries in protest of their own governments and in support of the fight in Tunisia.
What pushed the Tunisian workers to fight back after 23 years of the same dictator? It has been the recent world crisis of capitalism, bringing more severe attacks on workers, pushing more people into unemployment and extreme poverty.
These attacks are not unique to Tunisia. These same attacks are happening all over the world, including here in the United States. It’s time to follow the example of the workers of Tunisia – break free of our individual isolation and begin to organize together, workers and the poor, and fight for a better future for us all.