Egyptian workers movement pulling the revolution forward!

Medias have mainly reported and put emphasis since the beginning of the revolution on the mass gatherings in Egypt in Cairo and Alexandria, while strikes and workers movements were not giving the importance they had in the fall of Mubarak and the continuation of the struggle in Egypt.

The workers have been in many aspects, including with other activists and students, the leading force against the regime before and after the revolution. They are the one currently challenging the Mubarak system still in place from democratic rights to socio economic ones.  

This is why they have been subject of attacks from the ruling elites, the SCAF especially and to a certain extent their ally the Muslim Brotherhood. The SCAF actually implemented a law that criminalizes strikes, protests, demonstrations and sit-ins that affect the economy in any way. The military council has trialed many workers who decide to strike in military courts since it came to power in February 2011.

Lately the Minister of Manpower and Immigration Ahmed al-Borai “cautioned” the workers against excessive demands, which he considered a sure-fire way to destroy the country and reduce the number of jobs.

These attacks nevertheless did not stop the labor movement and its mobilization, while succedding on many fronts.

At the beginning of the months, the voice of 22 000 Mahalla Textile Company workers was finally heard when the Egyptian military government yielded to their demands, which included an increase in launch allowances by 100% to reach 210 Egyptian Pounds per month, and increase incentives by 200% for the workers receiving incentives less that 120 EP, 100% for those receiving incentives ranging between 200 and 300EP and 25% for managers and CEOs of public sectors and the good- performance incentives to commence after the company’s general assembly that is due to convene next November.

The decision will apply to all workers of the textile sector. This victory was the result of series of strikes and coordination between workers, while one of the leaders of the movement declared that this success of the workers of Mahalla Textile Company will send a message to all waged workers that the weapon of strike is the only way to win their rights.

This message was soon enough heard by others.

Just last week, air traffic controllers, and engineers from the Egypt National Air Navigation Company and the Cairo International Airport Company, staged strikes to demand increase in their allowances and workers conditions. Performance allowances of LE3000 were allocated to air traffic controllers a few days ago. Besides financial demands, air traffic controllers have been protesting what they deem corrupt policies adopted by the airport administration. Earlier in June, Cairo International Airport air traffic controllers went on strike in response to the Civil Aviation Ministry’s reported intent to reduce their salaries after hiring a new batch of traffic control officers with higher salaries.

At the end of last month, Universities across the country witnessed mobilization and joint strikes of student, teachers and staffs. From Assiyut to Alexandria, passing by the famous American University of Cairo, Egypt’s universities were largely paralyzed by strikes organized by students and staff as term began. The strikes have been fuelled by demands to democratize senior university appointments and calls to get rid of university and faculty heads appointed by the old regime, while demands for fairer salaries for staff were also raised.

On September 21, the Cairo Administrative Court suspended the privatisation contracts of three companies, returning them to the public sector. The sale of the companies — Shebin Textile Company, Tanta Linens and Al-Nasr for Steam Boilers — had been contested in court by the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR). The landmark ruling comes after years of struggle for the workers who have been on strike on and off for the past few years against the privatizations of their companies, in which they have been since then very often mistreated and not paid. Workers erupted in joyous cries when the announcement was made, shouting “truth has emerged” amid tears and cheers. The ECESR had argued that the companies were sold illegally under the ousted regime of Hosni Mubarak for prices far lower than their real value.

Workers across Egypt have actually been increasingly demanding the nationalization of companies in response to the worsening conditions facing them at dozens of factories. They argued that the government must take responsibility for Egyptian citizens in buttressing and assisting their efforts to “live decent lives and have good working conditions” to support their families and the country.

Independent union leaders representing 45,000 Cairo Public were still striking at the end of September following a mass meetings at the garages on 28 September where they rejected the deal offered by the Minister of Labour, Ahmad al-Borai, Mona Mostafa, head of the Public Transport Authority and the Governor of Cairo, arguing that the agreement did not meet their key demands.

Beginning of October, around three thousand workers from the Public Transport Authority blocked Qasr al-Aini street outside the parliament buildings in central cairo today, demanding increases to their wages, a rise of 200% in their incentive pay, and the resignation of Ahmad al-Borai, the Minister of Labour and Migration, because of what they described as “his failure to solve their crisis”.

Health professionals and technical staff represented by the Egyptian Health Technologists Syndicate started a strike on September 25, after six months of fruitless negotiations over their demands. The union is fighting for an increase in the salaries of its members, particularly in relation to allowances received by health technicians such as the travel allowance for health supervisors currently 3.5 Egyptian pounds per month (35p), the exposure to infection allowance (1.85 pounds, 18p). Another key demand relates to professional education which has not developed since 1960.

On September 24, tens of thousands of teachers stroked and brought central Cairo to a halt in a huge protest outside the parliament buildings to press their demands for the resignation of the Education Minister and improved their salaries and their working conditions. Delegations of teachers from throughout Egypt mobilised for the demonstration which was also joined by other groups of striking workers, parents marching in solidarity with their children’s teachers, and activists from a range of political parties.

These strikes are creating new networks of co-ordination at a local level which mobilised thousands of teachers for the protest. Teachers in Al-Arish, in Northern Sinai have formed a conference of their strike committees which issued a statement calling for protests locally in solidarity with the march in Cairo. Hundreds of teachers joined a similar demonstration in Aswan. The Independent Teachers’ Federation played a key role in organising the strike.

This is why we should consider the recent allocation of the Qatari government of US$500 million to support Egypt’s general budget, while increasing its investments in Egypt with US$10 billion, as a threat to this movement.  The International and regional capitalist countries of the Gulf especially have reacted to the revolution and these workers movement by increasing their investments and loans to Egypt, in an attempt to help SCAF undermine and weaken them. In the same vein, the reconsideration of the Egyptian government of an International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan package that was rejected in the past is as well a threat to the future of the revolution and its objectives.

The workers movement has been pulling forward the popular struggle in the country and serves as an inspiration for many. They are in many aspects challenging the current neo liberal system in Egypt inherited from Sadat and Mubarak era, which impoverished the society as a whole, while linking their economic demands to the global call for a deep democratization of the country and to challenge and cut ties with imperialist powers, including foremost Israel.  

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