Union Générale Des Travailleurs Tunisiens (UGTT)

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Tunisian labor union.

The Union Générale des Travailleurs Tunisiens (General Union of Tunisian Workers) is the strongest labor union in Tunisia. Founded in 1946 by Ferhat Hached, the union was the first indigenous attempt to organize Tunisia's workers. Hached broke with the French, communist-led General Confederation of Workers (Confédération Générale des Travailleurs ; CGT). The new union worked closely with the nationalist movement in Tunisia. Consequently, members of the French resistance organization Red Hand assassinated Hached in 1952.

From 1952 until 1969, the union was under the influence of Ahmed Ben Salah and his socialist economic policies. The fall of Ben Salah in 1970 led to its reorganization and reemergence in 1976 under the charismatic leadership of Habib Achour, who dominated the UGTT until 1989. From the late 1970s to the early 1980s, the union exerted a fierce opposition to the government. The UGTT tended to oppose economic liberalization because this would lessen its control of the labor movement and adversely affect workers. Achour signed the Social Contract of 1977, which stipulated that the union would control labor unrest. Deteriorating economic conditions, however, caused Achour to break this pact. A wildcat work stoppage at Qsar Hellal in October 1977 led to a confrontation between the army and striking workers, the first time the government had used the army to suppress labor. In early January 1978, the UGTT issued a resolution extremely critical of the economic policies of Habib Bourguiba's regime. On 26 January 1978, called "Black Thursday," a bloody clash left 150 people dead. The government declared a state of emergency and arrested UGTT leaders. Achour was tried for sedition and sentenced to ten years in jail. The regime imposed a new executive bureau on the union and weakened it as a force of opposition to the govern-ment's economic policies.

Pardoned in 1981, Achour returned to the post of UGTT president, with leftist Taieb Baccouche as secretary-general. Privatization measures of the mid-1980s eroded the UGTT's clout. In January 1984, riots broke out as a result of an increase in the price of bread. The ensuing violence led the union to harden its stance toward the government. By 1985, the UGTT had again run afoul of the government by threatening to strike if the decline in workers' real wages was not reversed. In December, the government again disbanded the union and jailed its leadership on various charges.

The 1987 palace coup of Zayn al-Abidine Ben Ali led to improved relations between the government and the UGTT. Internal dissent, exemplified by the split that in the early 1980s created the National Union of Tunisian Workers (Union Nationale des Travailleurs Tunisiens; UNTT), had weakened the organization as the main opposition force. The union, therefore, started to lose its role as the country's leading social movement to the Tunisian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LTDH).

In 1989, encouraged by the government, the re-unification of the UGTT and the UNTT was made official and the union leaders were substituted. Achour was replaced by Ismail Sahbani and Ali Romdhane. In late December 1993, Sahbani consolidated his position and expelled his chief opponents from the UGTT's executive bureau.

The union's nineteenth congress, held in April 1999, elected Sahbani as secretary general for the third time. There was, however, increasing discontent among the UGTT membership over his authoritarian leadership style and his conciliatory attitude toward the regime. Forced to resign, Sahbani was replaced by Abdessalem Jerad in September 2000.

see also achour, habib.


Murphy, Emma. Economic and Political Change in Tunisia: From Bourguiba to Ben Ali. New York: St. Martin's Press in association with University of Durham, 1999.

Nelson, Harold D., ed. Tunisia: A Country Study, 3d edition. Washington, DC: American University, 1988.

larry a. barrie
updated by ana torres-garcia

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Union Générale Des Travailleurs Tunisiens (UGTT)

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Union Générale Des Travailleurs Tunisiens (UGTT)