Teachers take lead role in anti-corruption battle
Tunisia's revolution is being fought out in workplaces and on the streets as people demand better conditions and an end to corruption.
One of the most important battles is between Taieb Baccouche, the Minister of Education and a pillar of the old regime, and thousands of highly politicised secondary school teachers who played a central role in ousting former dictator Ben Ali and now want Baccouche out.
Ben Ali made sure every headteacher in the country was a member of his ruling RCD party. But as political appointees their competence is in question. Their role has included reporting teachers and students to the police but, throughout 23 years of dictatorship, union activists of the UGGT kept up pressure on the regime.
Baccouche - who is also the provisional government's spokesman - is still trying to undermine the teachers' movement, which is calling for his resignation.
He asked heads to select student representatives - inevitably RCD sympathisers - to meet him in a recent TV debate, when he urged students to bring their complaints against teachers to heads and to him.
He accused teachers of making money from extra classes for students - schools have been closed for more than a month. To prove this he offered one-and-a-half dinars (70 pence) an hour to teachers to catch up on classes. Teachers have refused the payment and are teaching the extra classes for nothing.
Teachers have been unable to resume classes in secondary schools because students have besieged heads with complaints and ignored pleas to continue classes through the recent holiday to catch up on time missed during the recent upheaval.
SECONDARY STAFF ON FRONT LINE
Tunisia's teachers, bloodied by long experience of fighting authoritarian rule, are in the forefront of the battle to root out corruption because opposition political parties barely exist.
Bouali Rabeh, the leader of the Gafsa region teachers' union, in the southern region where the revolution began, said: "Heads are just dogs who obey their masters."
Teachers are now demanding that all heads leave their posts and teachers in each school elect one of their number to take over.
Rabeh once hit a headteacher because "he tried to sow anarchy and stop the strike. That head then left his job".
The same head has now registered with the union, believing it will offer him protection.
"It is hypocrisy," said Rabeh. "The union is a place where you can come to wash away your past."
But the union will still attempt to integrate any teacher, regardless of political affiliations or past actions. It includes leftists, nationalists, Islamists and now even former government stooges.