Workers are striking in both the private and public sectors in Egypt and students are demanding jobs in Tunisia. While students in Kenya won their strike, the demands of transport workers in Nairobi have not yet been met.
In Egypt, where an uprising against the National Democratic Party of ousted President Hosni Mubarak erupted on Jan. 25, 2011, strikes and other forms of unrest among workers have continued. Since the beginning of 2014, union and independent workers’ actions have taken place partially causing a shake-up in the interim military-backed regime that was installed after the coup against former President Mohamed Morsi on July 3, 2013.
The resignation of interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Biblawi, a leader of the Social Democratic Party of Egypt, and his replacement by Ibrahim Mehleb, represented sharp disagreements over how to respond to the current political crisis. Thousands of members and leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and its allied political party, the Freedom and Justice Party, have been killed, wounded and detained since the July 3 coup.
Political repression has continued in Egypt with the March 24 death sentence handed down to 529 members and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. Demonstrations by students and workers have been banned since October, with those arrested facing harsh prison sentences.
Simultaneously workers are demanding better wages and working conditions in both the private and public sectors. Constant disruptions in services and production are reflections of the workers’ disenchantment.
Strikes and protests spread
“Protests have spread outward from Mahalla, the spiritual home of the Egyptian workers’ movement, to the very heart of Cairo. Workers at Mahalla’s state-owned Misr Spinning and Weaving Company walked out on Feb. 10, demanding the removal of holding company [Chair] Fouad Abdel-Alim and the application of the minimum wage. Workers at this factory first demanded a minimum wage in 2006.” (Al-Monitor, Feb. 26)
The article continues, “After a wave of solidarity strikes and sit-ins at textile operations around Egypt, more public sector workers have walked out. Strikes are currently being staged by around 100,000 postal workers, bus drivers, government notary employees, street cleaners, field surveyors and medical professionals, according to Mada Masr.”
The impact of the workers’ actions on the transport sector is immense, noted the article. “An ongoing public transportation strike has halted buses in all 28 of the Greater Cairo Authority’s garages, costing the city an estimated 800,000 Egyptian pounds ($115,000) a day, according to Cairo Gov. Galal al-Saeed.”
The Egyptian military has attempted to appeal to patriotism in efforts to persuade employees to return to work, but these appeals have not taken root with the workers and are nothing new in the ideological arsenal of the neocolonial state. According to Josh Stacer, a political scientist and analyst on Egyptian affairs, who said in the article, “This is the same discourse used after the initial 18 days [of the Jan. 25 Revolution] by [former Field Marshal Mohamed] Tantawi and company. It’s about demobilizing workers.”
In Tunisia, the birthplace of the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East in 2010-11, university graduates have formed a union and are demanding jobs. A demonstration of the Union of Unemployed Graduates (UDC) took place on March 17 in downtown Tunis.
High unemployment and poverty were key elements in the rebellions which swept the country beginning in December 2010. Since the overthrow of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on Jan. 14, 2011, three subsequent governments in Tunis have been unable to stabilize the political and economic situation.
With the collapse of the previous government of Prime Minister Ali Larayedh and the installation of a more “technocratic” cabinet under Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa, a freeze has been placed on hiring in the public sector during the so-called transition period.
“Our demands are not political. We are protesting for jobs. We are asking for bread, bread and bread,” said Halima, an unemployed graduate protester, told Press TV on March 17.
“This austerity budget will result in higher unemployment rates,” said Wafa Ben Slimane, the UDC spokesperson.
Even though the dictatorial regime of Ben Ali was removed, Tunisia remains firmly in the world capitalist system where high unemployment, austerity and rising poverty characterize the current period.
A significant strike impacting universities and colleges throughout the East African state of Kenya has been settled. Representatives of the Kenya Universities Staff Union and the Universities Academic Staff Union told their members to return to work on March 20 after an agreement had been reached with management.
Workers were seeking the payment of a cash settlement agreed upon during a labor struggle in 2012 which resulted in a collective bargaining agreement. The government had sought legal action to prevent the strike, but the union told its members to disregard the order and leave work, that they had a constitutional right to strike.
Charles Mukhwaya, Secretary General of KUSU, told the Kenyan press, “We are happy to announce that the strike has been called off. We have reached an amicable solution after a deal was struck that all the monies owed to us will be paid to all our members.” (Capital FM, Kenya, March 20)
Transport drivers’ strike
Earlier in March, Kenya had been hit with a transport drivers’ strike which jammed traffic for miles in and around the capital of Nairobi. Costs associated with driving buses and taxis, known as “Matatus,” have tripled since 2013.
An agreement between the Matatu Welfare Association and the government to lower costs by 65 percent has not been implemented, according to Dickson Mbugua, national chair of the MWA. (Bloomberg.com, March 5) The strike on March 4 was not officially organized by the MWA but by an informal group designed to shut down public transport.
Kenya is a close ally of the United States and often participates in military operations initiated by the Pentagon in East Africa. At present Nairobi has deployed at least 2,000 troops to neighboring Somalia aimed at preventing the Al-Shabaab Islamic organization from increasing its bases inside the country.