The country’s award-winning General Labour Union says it is stepping into the political scene following the failure of the government to launch its much promised economic recovery programs. But not everyone is happy about that.

Tunisia’s General Labor Union (TGLU), historically renowned among its people for its struggle in securing rights during the country’s colonial era, is set to take part in the country’s upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections later this year.

Union members argue that parties running the country since the 2011 uprising have failed to deliver on their promises for economic reform amid ever-increasing unemployment rates and stalled development projects.

But the union’s decision to attend the general elections has stirred controversy among the traditional political elite.

While many see them as new blood or fuel for left-wing parties, others say it will tamper with an already delicate political equation.

Beshir Al-Khulaifi, a representative of the Nahda movement (Arabic for renaissance), which rose to prominence in the 2011 elections by securing more than 40 percent of the votes at the time, said joining the political arena would go against the essence of the union’s line of work and would only create confusion among union members.

Yet members argue that the union has always been a major political actor in the country and would help “bridge the gap” in national aspirations.

With more than half a million members, the TGLU is the largest organisation in the country and comprises 24 regional entities, 19 cross-sector organisations and more than 20 trade unions.

Formed in 1946, the union historically played a vital role in the struggle against colonialism. 

The organisation’s officers took on many important roles in the country’s first post-colonial government after the country became independent in 1956.

Several of its members have been involved in political clashes and arrests over the years, as well as attempts to stop the party from operating at all.

Still, the TGLU is the only remaining trade union in Tunisia, is a member of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and joined the International Federation of Trade Unions in 2006. 

It also has its own newspaper, dubbed “the people”, and insurance company. 

The TGLU was part of the National Dialogue Quartet, which won the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize for averting a political crisis and helping ratify the country’s revamped constitution in 2014.

Its leader, Farhat Hashad, was assassinated in 1952 after taking part in the country’s national movement.