Tunisian labor union says police arrested top union official over strike

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Tunisian police arrested an official in the country’s largest labor union over a strike by toll booth workers, the UGTT union said on Wednesday, in a growing confrontation between President Kais Saied and one of Tunisia’s strongest political forces.

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The UGTT, which has more than one million members, said police detained Anis Kaabi, the general secretary of the union’s highways branch, at his home late on Tuesday.

Hamza al-Mahmoudi, a union official, said Kaabi was arrested after a complaint from a government ministry that he was costing the state financial losses due to a strike this week by union members at highway toll booths who are demanding more pay.

Both the police and a spokesperson for the Interior Ministry were not immediately available for comment.

The arrest could aggravate tensions between Saied and the union, which has taken an increasingly strong stance against his expansion of powers, introduction of a new political system and proposals for economic reforms.

Kaabi was detained hours after President Saied said in a speech to police forces that they should take action against “those who conspire against national security or against public companies.”

“Those who block the road and threaten to block the motorway cannot remain outside the circle of accountability and punishment,” he said.

The UGTT called on workers to mobilize and to be ready to defend the trade union rights and public and individual freedoms in all forms of struggle.

The union, which has proven its ability to shut the economy with strikes, has played a key role in Tunisian politics since the 2011 revolution, helping broker a deal for a new constitution in 2014.

It has used increasingly strong language against Saied, while so far stopping short of any major campaign of strikes and protests to directly challenge his political agenda.

Saied, who shut down parliament in 2021, seizing most powers and moving to rule by decree before writing a new constitution, has ignored repeated UGTT demands for a national dialog to resolve Tunisia’s internal political disputes.

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