Before the last Congress of the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), the name of Noureddine Tabboubi does not mean much to the general public. Many questions are raised about his affiliations and his political adherence among the political stakeholders and party actors.
Perhaps because of the nature of the man, he is known to the trade unionists as a field man. He is a unionist who sticks to the rules, very careful to do his duty, both on the personal or professional levels.
Noureddine Tabboubi is a hardworking person and gives much importance to punctuality. He is the first one to join his office and the last to leave, it was his habits.
When he had been Secretary-General of a basic labour union in the Tunisian Meat Company Since 1990 until he became Secretary-General of the Agriculture Federation in 2001, then Secretary-General of the Tunis Regional Union, the largest of the federation’s branches, that is the most politicized, he had worked silently away from noises which made it possible to him to be on the coalition list of the 2011 Tabarka Congress, and who had been previously responsible for the rules of procedure in the union.
When the Union and its leaders were the focus of interest, nationwide and worldwide, Tabboubi was behind them in the shadow. He moves to the regions, supervises the congresses, follows the activities while being close to the grassroots, and the grassroots in the Union are “the most important”.
Tabboubi belongs to what is known in the union as the “Achouri” (in reference to Former Union leader Habib Achour) or the “bureaucratic line”, the line that dominated the labour union despite its high degree of politicization.
The “National Union” movement is the original movement in the Labour Union. It contributed to the battle of the national liberation and gave martyrs, most notably Secretary-General Farhat Hached, and contributed to the building of the state in what became known as national unity when the Destourian Party made a coalition with the national organizations in building the independent state.
Many are unaware that the “economic and social report” of the Labour Union is the first government programme on which all the social gains of the independence state were built, and many are unaware that the political decision in the battle between Habib Bourguiba and Saleh Ben Youssef was carried out by the Labour Union and its leader Habib Achour at the Sfax Congress, in November 1955.
Therefore, the compass of Noureddine Touboubi leads these two pillars, the national role, which means preserving the state, its unity and sovereignty on the one hand, and the social role in terms of preserving and deepening social gains, hand in hand with the development of the generations.
Tabboubi is keen to maintain the independence of the union’s decision because he is the descendant of the Habib Ashour School to repel all attempts of hegemony over the Union, whatever its origin. We believe that the supervision of Mr Noureddine Tabboubi on all regional congresses is part of this concern, namely the purification of the Union and the imposition of “national trade union agenda”.
This earned Nourdine Tabboubi respect and success in transferring the ownership of all the Union’s headquarters to the Union. He bought the headquarters of the Union in “Mohamed Ali Hammi street, Souk Hrras street, Jazira street, Athène street and Achaab newspaper headquarters … in silence and without media coverage… An unprecedented achievement, because Taboubi knows very well what the days may hide … especially as the demonization of the Union and the demand to limit its role are growing locally and even internationally. Tabboubi knows well that there is no independent trade union position without the financial and real autonomy of the Union.
The Secretary-General also knows the risks that surround the Union at this historical stage. Complex risks, some external and some national and others within the Union itself.
Externally, many donors believe that the “role of the Union” is over. The concept of the sponsoring state, in which the Labour Union was one of the shareholders, ended and the party/state ended. There is no justification today for the Union to have such a size and role. Hence, we are “the owners” and the national interest is a red line. We embrace the demands of our people and the demands of the poor and the marginalized. The Union is a force of giving, a force of suggestion, and a force for serious reforms that respond to the objectives of the revolution”.
On the national level, the political parties are working to dominate the union in various ways, both visible and invisible, and some of the “ignorant” elites of the national history and the role of the Union to demonize the Union and undermine its role, but Tabboubi tells them, “Any attempts to demonize the Union will fail. “The ruling political class now is not fully aware of the reality of the difficult situation in the country … Everyone is concerned now and is preparing and thinking about the upcoming election …” Governments fail to formulate solutions to the crisis and meet the People’s expectations. “But at the same time, he asserts that “we have no hostile relationship with anyone …”. Our relationship is according to files.”
Locally, some unionist forces and political currents in the Union, the remnants of the era of tyranny, have not yet realized the nature of transformations in the trade union itself, transformations dictated by the nature of the stage. The severity of the unionist demands, and the post-revolutionary protests that the country has known after the revolution, still appear from time to time. Although the Secretary-General asserts that “there are no random strikes, “we respect the law.”
What defines important sectors of the movement, affecting the image of the Union and increasing the justification for its opponents, what is known in the secondary education, health and rail sectors, foreshadowing internal crises about the perception of trade union itself.
However, Tabboubi stresses that “there is no internal crisis, we work with transparency and democracy, we may be different in the management of some issues, but within the framework of the Union and its structures.” The truth is that the crisis is a vision of the nature of trade union work in the democratic stage, on the logic of the struggle in the state of tyranny, a subject not yet discussed on the one hand, and the presence of some political leaders of parties, in other union leadership positions is another issue, despite its opposition to the decree of the parties and the decree of associations, its harm is more than its profit, for it makes the union get involved in the daily political action.
Perhaps, the voices calling from within the Union, and from its environment, to participate directly in the elections, and even there are those who call for the formation of electoral lists, represent the greatest threat to the Labour Union.
The electoral rule of the Union is not homogenous, I would rather argue that it is contradictory and is divided by different political tendencies. It is a dangerous adventure that leads in the event of an electoral defeat to the destruction of every national role and social reform of the Union of Labour.
Tabboubi appears to be aware of this danger, saying recently: “We have no candidates for the presidential elections. We are not a political party. The union has its own institutions which are only authorised to make the decision, but I have called on trade unionists, workers and all citizens to register in the elections, so that we are strongly present in this event, and choose who governs the country and create the hoped-for balance.”
Many like to say that the Union is our last tent … And Noureddine Tabboubi is still… The Guardian of The Tent.
TunisianMonitorOnline (Article written by Mahdi Abdeljawad (Attounisiyoun) translated by Mohamed Neji Ben Gamra