Unionists Train for Their Own 'Arab Spring'

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Tunisia strikersStriking silo workers from the Federation of Tunisian Agricultural Workers protest in Manouba. Photo by Maria Wattne.

The rise of democracy and the overthrow of dictators across the Middle East and North Africa earlier this year could not have begun without unions working with citizen journalists—that is, average people willing to agitate for democracy and tell their stories through the media.

Training union members in media skills—how to interview, videotape, photograph, write and post their own stories of struggle—was the focus of a first-ever communications training session in November sponsored by Public Services International, which represents public sector trade unions around the world.

The PSI Communicators' Action Network held its training in Tunisia, where the self-immolation of a street vendor made desperate by his precarious existence touched off the Arab Spring.

Fifty union members from 16 countries learned journalistic techniques, including the use of social media, and then hit the streets for two days to cover strikes, sit-ins and demonstrations by PSI members of the General Union of Tunisian Workers, who, on the heels of their country's first democratic elections in October, were protesting corruption and advocating for workers' rights and civil rights. PSI unions across the region are fighting hard for transitions in government that will create inclusive, democratic societies.

Women in TunisiaTunisian women demonstrate against attacks by ultra-conservatives. Photo by Giuliana Sgrena.

Early childhood educator and union activist Samira Hizaoui, for example, ran for public office in Tunisia this fall. In an interview for PSI CAN, she talks about the future of women there. On one hand, women now have the right to vote. On the other hand, they are not at all sure that the moderate Islamist Ennahda Party will stand by its pledge to protect Tunisian women's rights, which are among the most advanced in the Arab world. In recent weeks, ultraconservative groups known as Salafists have physically attacked female professors and students at universities across the country.

In addition to the protests on behalf of women, workers in Tunisia's agricultural union have been on strike and holding sit-ins to protest corruption associated with the privatization of public services.

PSI CAN plans to bring union communicators together annually so they can publicize union actions in hot spots around the world. [Annette Licitra]

To see more photos from Tunisia, click here.

November 16, 2011