At 18, they have nimble fingers. After 40 years, female textile workers are no longer worth much in the eyes of their employers. “Me, at 52, no factory wants me. » Djamila Bousaïd shows her sore hands, worn wrist and shoulder joints from having repeated the same gestures thousands of times for years, at the cutting of baby clothes, in the Absorba factory near Monastir, in the first textile region of Tunisia. The weekly massages relieve her only fleetingly and do not restore the agility of her hands. But, at the word couture, she kept her eyes full of nuggets and her head full of projects. After a long desert crossing.
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A few years ago, when the company sold its site for a juicy financial transaction – a shopping center was established there – and moved to a more remote and underserved area, many women workers in this profession 80% female, ended up on the floor. And the oldest, like Djamila Bousaïd, permanently excluded from the profession. Without consideration or compensation. “Garment companies sell minute costs at low prices. After twenty years of work, the workers develop musculoskeletal disorders and no longer meet the required yields,” she explains.
A double curiosity in Tunisia
Today Djamila Bousaïd proudly receives in the premises of the cooperative Les mains solidaires which has a storefront, avenue Habib-Bourguiba in Ksibet el-Médiouni, one of the municipalities of the bay of Monastir. In the studio, walls of 200-meter-long rolls of fabric, huge cutting tables, shelves full of mops, high-quality wiping products, shopping bags, and more. The first productions were released in January 2021 after a long and trying obstacle course to give birth to this double curiosity in Tunisia, an industrial cooperative and a social and solidarity enterprise.
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The Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES), the most important of the civil society organizations born after the 2011 revolution, carried this creation to the limit, financially supported by the European Union, and with the support of the CCFD-Terre solidaire. It was necessary to storm, shake up the administrations, assert one’s rights even within the government, while the 2020 law on the social and solidarity economy was never translated into implementing decrees and that of 1967 on cooperatives had so far only given rise to agricultural enterprises.
“Word of mouth works at full capacity”
With her baccalaureate level, Djamila Bousaïd was elected president of the cooperative which employs twelve women and one man. And soon eight more thanks to a planned sewing chain. “All abusive licensees. Here, the most precarious women are the first hired”, she specifies. They work at home or in the company, as desired. “They are paid by the piece, they can choose their working time and their output! », she exclaims. A small revolution in clothing.
Textile workers were among the first to rebel to obtain minimum rights and better working conditions in Ben Ali’s Tunisia. But fifteen years later, the competition there is tougher than ever and employment remains precarious in the fragile subcontracting SMEs, which regularly go out of business and lay off workers overnight. “Word-of-mouth works very well. Women want to leave the factories where they work to join the cooperative. We are going to develop it, diversify the products, create a brand, go organic. You have to dream! », enthuses Djamila Bousaïd. The time is long gone when, unemployed, she felt “reduced to doing housework”. “I gave meaning to my life”, she surprises herself, moved to have become a model for her former working class colleagues.
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Despite a difficult start, in the midst of a pandemic, the first president feels reassured and exhilarated by the promising beginnings of the cooperative. Researchers have come to focus on these “solidarity hands”, on this first industrial cooperative which could well encourage other creations of social and solidarity enterprises. Everything remains to be done in Tunisia.
Extract. “Access to work for all”
CCFD-Terre solidaire’s Lent approach is directly inspired by the encyclicals Laudato si’and Fratelli tutti of Pope Francis: “We must always remember that human beings are capable “of being themselves the agents responsible for their material well-being, their moral progress, and their spiritual development”. Work should be the place of this multiple personal development where several dimensions of life are at stake: creativity, projection towards the future, development of capacities, putting into practice of values, communication with others, attitude of worship. This is why in the current global social reality, beyond the limited interests of companies and a questionable economic rationality, it is necessary that “we continue to give ourselves as a priority objective access to work for all” . »
Laudato si’, paragraph 127