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      An Interview with Tunisian leader Hamma Hammami
      General Secretary of the Tunisian Workers' Party
      Part 2

      Interview conducted,transcribed & translated from Arabic by Azza Rojbi

      Hamma Hammami is a long-time Tunisian revolutionary socialist activist and leader. Hammami began his militant journey as a student activist in 1970 within the General Union of Tunisian Students (UGET). He was imprisoned and tortured for his political activism, spent 10 years in prison, and more than 10 years in hiding. Hammami was a strong vocal opposition to the government of former Tunisian dictator Ben Ali and played a key leadership role in the 2011 Tunisian revolution. Hammami is the Secretary General of the Tunisian Workers’ Party and author of several books on politics and economy.

      The below interview was conducted with Hamma Hammami in June 2022 ahead of the constitutional referendum in Tunisia announced for July 25, 2022. We believe this is a very important and educational interview that highlights an example of the struggle that many colonial and semi-colonial countries are going through in a time of capitalist-imperialist decay, rapid polarization of world politics and finance system, and an unfolding new cold war.

      AR: Tunisian President Kais Saied claims that he knows what people want and promises a better living standard for people. However, he cuts wages, lifts subsidies on hydrocarbons, reduces the tax burden on private companies, grants amnesty to businesspeople involved in financial corruption, and restructures and privatizes public companies and austerity programs. These attacks on working people in Tunisia are unprecedented and very contradictory. While he claims he understands what Tunisian people want, Saied is imposing severe austerity measures, downsizing, and neo-liberal programs on working and poor people who are already economically and financially stressed. Can you elaborate on his economic and social policies and if these are effective measures to confront the very ill economy of Tunisia?

      HH: So here we are in this situation today. What do people want? First, aren’t the unemployed from the people? They want to work. The policies of Kais Saied and his government, as demanded by the IMF (International Monetary Fund), call for stopping public sector hiring. What does this have to do with, for example, the demands of one million unemployed people in Tunisia? Yet Kais continues to tell the youth that they will not stop public sector hiring. At the same time, as you might know, he refused to implement Law 38, which would have supported Tunisian youth whose unemployment exceeds ten years.

      Second, people want at least a minimum standard of decent living. How does Kais Saied answer this? By raising prices and ending subsidies! The price hike right now is crazy. How will the rise in prices be dealt with by ending subsidies on essential supplies, which equals an increase in prices? The program presented by his government to the International Monetary Fund is geared towards continuing to raise the prices of basic materials. So, he is working against what the people want.

      Third, Tunisia’s minimum wage is the weakest in the entire region. It is about 140-150 euros. It is very low wages in a country where prices are skyrocketing. What are Kais Saied and his government’s answers to this? Let’s freeze wages and reduce what the government pays in wages! Maybe by cancelling grants programs or pushing people to early retirement. Is this a policy that fulfills the desires of the people?

      The World Bank mentioned Tunisia as one of the 24 countries threatened by hunger. As you may know, this summer, experts are telling us to wait for the thirst uprising in Tunisia as the country suffers from water shortages. Currently, there are about 600 medicines out of stock in Tunisia. So, what do the people want? Do people want more unemployment? More poverty, more hunger?

      It should be noted that Kais Saied, in his main meetings so far, generally meets with the head of the Tunisian Union of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts (UTICA) constantly reassuring them that their interests will not be affected. He meets the head of the Group of Banks and Insurance Companies. He meets with such people to assure them of their interests. He reassures foreign countries of their interests, even if he pretends to be against interfering in Tunisian affairs. He does not talk about meddling in Tunisian affairs except when it comes to political matters. As for Tunisia to be an open ground to foreign intelligence or financial and economic intervention, this does not worry Kais Saied.

      AR: The Tunisian government has negotiated with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a $4 billion USD loan. As part of the deal, Saied’s government has proposed massive cuts in food and energy subsidies, a freeze on wages of public sector employees, and further privatization of state and public institutions to fulfill the IMF’s demands. How heavy-handed are the IMF and World Bank dictating austerity measures and neo-liberal policies on Kais Saied? Is it believable that combining austerity and neo-liberal programs with obtaining loans from IMF will help restructure Tunisia’s economy and financial bankruptcy, or will these temporary measures take Tunisia to a more profound economic collapse?

      HH: I called more than once the experts to a challenge. I told them give me one example of a country in which the International Monetary Fund intervened and led to success. Wherever the International Monetary Fund intervenes, there will be a disaster. The IMF is not an ordinary bank. It is a bank-led by major capitalist countries, led by the United States of America, to impose policies on other countries. The policies imposed by the IMF, which I talked about earlier, are against the interest of the people and the government. These are policies to enable creditors to obtain their loans at the expense of the interest of that country and at the expense of the interest of the poor and working class. Kais Saied and his government are trying to convince the Tunisian people that there is no other solution to the economic crisis than going to the International Monetary Fund. In other words, they are trying to convince people that there is no other solution but to impoverish them further and mortgage their homeland to foreign financial institutions.

      We consider that this only serves the interests of the wealthy families in Tunisia. These are numbered in the dozens, meaning a small minority that controls 48% of the wealth in Tunisia. This also serves the interests of influential foreign companies and international financial institutions that have interests in Tunisia.

      What did we suggest? We said if there was an independent national government in Tunisia, what would it have done? First and foremost, we would have demanded the cancellation of the agreements harmful to Tunisia. An example is the Association Agreement with the European Union. The Tunisian Union of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts (UTICA), which is not a leftist organization, said that this agreement has caused the destruction of 30% of small and medium enterprises and that this agreement caused Tunisia to lose about 350 or 400 thousand jobs. This first. Second, we demanded the freezing of debt—suspension of increasing the country’s indebtedness for three years. We, as a party, support the cancellation of debts, especially the cancellation of odious debts. But we suggested as a measure that everyone can accept debt suspension for a period of three years, as happened in other countries. This will put huge and large sums at the disposal of Tunisia. We raised the third proposal. We said: Why not impose a large wealth tax? During the covid pandemic, there are at least three sectors that have achieved unbelievable profits: communication companies, banking and insurance companies, and large commercial spaces, in addition to private clinics and private laboratories. As for the banks, we have a phenomenon that does not exist in other countries. At a time when the government is talking about a growth rate of 1.5, the profits of banks in Tunisia are between 11% and 12%.

      The government does not want to touch the interests of the wealthy. They want to harm the interests of the poor. We also raised the demand to request that non-resident corporations not transfer their profits in hard currency abroad for three years. These companies, such as telecommunications or other commercial companies, transfer about 3.5 billion dinars annually. We also called for another measure. In Tunisia, there are 12 billion dinars in the parallel economy. So, we demanded the gradual inclusion of the parallel economy. The parallel economy currently comprises about 52 or 54 percent of the Tunisian economy.

      We also demanded that the state recover its money at the hands of private companies and individuals, its 12 billion dinars. Tunisia’s budget at present is 53 billion dinars. We said the money recovered would add to the budget. We suggested that this money first goes to reform agriculture and industry, to improve education and healthcare. To develop big projects. In this way, we will be able to create the economy in a way that will offer jobs to many unemployed people by developing or creating wealth in Tunisia and stimulating the economy in Tunisia.

      So, Kais Saied did not improve the conditions of the Tunisian people but, on the contrary, exacerbated these conditions. That is why we said clearly that we reject this dictatorship, will resist it, and are confident that we will defeat it. We do not want to go back before 25 July 2021 or before January 14, 2011. We are for an independent path that opens up to the new Tunisia. We called this plan the "Popular Democracy Program," which will politically enable the poor and working class to have authority over the state and the government. In parliament, in all parliaments since 2011, we have not seen a single worker or poor person. Instead, we have seen corrupt individuals, and we have seen mostly rich people who control parliament and control the media, and sometimes they are even funding political parties. We also believe that this real popular democracy will enable the people to control the wealth to build an economy that meets the basic material and moral needs of the people. This can be easy, but the issue is one of the choices of the political class.

      Tunisia has 12 million inhabitants, in over 163 thousand square kilometres, and we have all kinds of resources. We have 1,200 kilometers of coastline and we have areas suitable for major agriculture of grains, dates, citrus, and olives. We also have huge human potential, including engineers and great experts that have been migrating and leaving Tunisia. An official figure during the last seven years, 95 thousand highly skilled Tunisians left the country. In other words, Tunisia is not a poor country, but it is the ruling class that controls wealth, politics, and the state that impoverishes Tunisia in return for the accumulation of wealth at the top.

      End of Part 2

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