Thousands of Tunisians gathered in downtown Tunis today, to celebrate International Workers’ Day. The first celebration began in front of the headquarters of the UGTT – the eminent labor union in Tunisia – in Mohamed Ali Square.
Over three thousand Tunisians assembled, brandishing flags, placards, banners, and balloons in front of the UGTT building, ready to kick-off International Workers’ Day festivities. Demonstrators sang the national and labor union anthems with accompaniment by a percussion of fireworks.
Secretary General of the UGTT Hussein Abbassi spoke to the crowd, addressing the most prominent social concerns that have arisen since the Revolution.
“Negotiations with the government are taking place. We have to end poverty and be committed to regional development,” he stated.
Chants of, “Employment! Freedom! National dignity!” resounded loudly within the square, which hosted several notable figures from politics and civil society. The demonstrators later departed toward Avenue Habib Bourguiba, where they continued their celebration in front of the Municipal Theater.
The second of the two largest marches of the day started in front of the headquarters of the newly-established Tunisian Workers Union (UTT) in downtown Tunis. People arrived from throughout Tunisia to participate in the protest, joining demonstrators as they bellowed phrases such as, “Union plurality is a a gain of the revolution,” “Tunisia is for all Tunisians,” and, “Equality between men and women.”
Protesters stated that the International Workers’ Day represents an occasion to honor not only their union but also the heritage of unionism both in Tunisia and internationally.
“We are here to commemorate Farhat Hached’s death, the symbolic figure for all Tunisian workers. We are also here to celebrate UTT’s one year anniversary and Workers’ Day,” said Kais Ben Fredj, a member of the UTT.
The UTT was launched on May 1st, 2011 by current Secretary General Ismail Sahbani.
Others utilized the occasion not just to celebrate, but also to advocate for improvement in labor rights.
Basma Jawachi, a UTT member and head of the Women’s Workers Committee, called for the legislation of gender equity within the workforce, holding a sign that read, “Everyone must defend the rights of working women. Women are equal to men.”
“We are calling for total equality between men and women,” she said.
The protesters later marched toward the Palais des Congrés – a large conference hall located on Avenue Mohamed V. Inside the Palais, Ismail Sahbani delivered a speech, stressing the importance of having several trade unions and of protecting the right of every Tunisian to equal employment opportunity.
The festivities have continued peacefully along the length of Avenue Habib Bourguiba.
Sana Ajmi co-wrote the article.