Strike wave rolls through Egypt
Published May 21, 2007 9:23 PM
A wave of labor strikes is rolling through Egypt, both in the Nile Delta, where
Egypt’s large textile factories are located, and in Cairo, its major city
and capital, where transportation and metro workers have struck. The most
common demand is for higher pay and payment of bonuses and profit sharing, an
important part of an Egyptian worker’s income.
There were 56 strikes recorded in April and 15 in the first week of May,
according to Joel Beinin and Hossam el-Hamalawy in the online edition of the
Middle East Report. Egypt has a population of 80 million, of whom 22 million are workers.
The General Federation of Trade Unions (also known as the Egyptian Federation
of Trade Unions) was set up in 1956. All government workers were required to
join the union. The GFTU up to now has never called a strike and there has
never been a legal strike in Egypt.
In the current strike wave, in areas where local federations of the GFTU are
supporting the workers’ struggles, workers have been able to win
relatively easily. The workers have held sit-ins, hunger strikes and mass
meetings but not picket lines, which might be broken up by the cops.
Where the GFTU local federations have supported the government, which has
generally been the case, workers have had much more difficulty. The
workers’ committees are forced to organize not only against their
bosses—often banks and foreign companies that have bought privatized
companies—but also against the official union. Still the workers have won
To support and organize themselves, workers set up centers, which they legally
organized as companies to get around the government’s labor laws and
registration requirements. The most prominent of these centers is the Center
for Trade Union and Workers’ Services (CTUWS), whose general director is
Kamal Abbas. The CTUWS grew out of two very militant strikes at the Egyptian
Iron and Steel Company in 1989 in which Abbas played a leading role. The
government shut the CTUWS down the last week of this April.
An unusual aspect of the workers’ struggles in Egypt is the support they
have gotten from some of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group with deep
roots in Egypt. The Brotherhood is a major opponent of Egyptian President
Mubarak and also contains many very well-off businessmen.
In February, one of the Muslim Brotherhood members of parliament, Abd al-Aziz
al-Husayni, announced his backing for the walkout of the Misr Spinning and
Weaving workers in Kafr al-Dawwar, south of Alexandria. His parliamentary
colleague, Sabir Abu al-Futouh, from Alexandria, followed up by issuing several
statements supporting another strike. Husayni and Futouh are both from the Nile
Delta, where the Muslim Brotherhood has more members who are not affluent.
Marxist groups have also organized support for the striking workers. Both the
Marxists and the Muslim Brotherhood face severe repression from the Mubarak
Egypt is one of the major recipients of U.S. military and economic aid.
But this has not kept its workers, when lashed by globalization, privatization
and increasing poverty, from taking on the bosses and the state apparatus
designed to keep their struggles under control.
Articles copyright 1995-2012 Workers World.
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