Egypt: Strike wave hits regime

February 10, 2011

February 9, 2011 -- Democracy Now! -- Egypt’s pro-democracy uprising is seizing new momentum one day after hundreds of thousands turned out for one of the largest protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to date, on February 8. A gathering of protesters led to the evacuation of the Egyptian cabinet building today, and tent camps are also being set up outside the Egyptian parliament. Egypt’s growing independent trade union movement has launched strikes across the country, with an estimated 20,000 workers taking part. Democracy Now! senior producer Sharif Abdel Kouddous interviews a demonstrator outside the Egyptian parliament building.

The article published below is reprinted from Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal.

* * *

According to multiple reports tens of thousands of workers across Egypt have gone on strike and joined the anti-Mubarak protests.

Associated Press' Maggie Michael And Tarek El-tablawy reported February 9 from Cairo that "Thousands of state workers and impoverished Egyptians went on strike Wednesday after weeks of anti-government protests cast a spotlight on corruption and the wealth amassed by those in power in a country where almost half the people live near the poverty line."

"The protests calling for President Hosni Mubarak's ouster have been spreading outside of Cairo's Tahrir Square, where they have been concentrated for the past week. On [February 9], demonstrators also gathered at parliament, the cabinet and the health ministry buildings, all a few blocks from the square. Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq was working out of the civil aviation ministry on the other side of the city because his office was blocked by protesters.

"For the first time, protesters were forcefully urging labour strikes despite a warning by Vice-President Omar Suleiman that calls for civil disobedience are 'very dangerous for society and we can't put up with this at all'. His warnings on February 8 were taken by protesters as a thinly veiled threat of another crackdown.

"Strikes erupted in a breadth of sectors — among railway and bus workers, state electricity staff and service technicians at the Suez Canal, in factories manufacturing textiles, steel and beverages and at least one hospital...

"The strikes broke out across Egypt as many companies reopened for the first time since night curfews were imposed almost two weeks ago. Not all the strikers were responding directly to the protesters' calls. But the movement's success and its denunciations of the increasing poverty under Mubarak's rule resonated and reignited labour discontent that has broken out frequently in recent years."

According to Al Jazeera on February 9: "Egyptian labour unions have gone on a nationwide strike, adding momentum to pro-democracy demonstrations in Cairo and other cities. Al Jazeera correspondents, reporting from Egypt, said around 20,000 factory workers stayed away from work on Wednesday.

"Al Jazeera's Shirine Tadros, reporting from Cairo, said that some workers 'didn't have a political demand'. 'They were saying that they want better salaries, they want an end to the disparity in the pay, and they want the 15 per cent increase in pay that was promised to them by the state.'

"However, Tadros also said that some workers were calling for Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, to step down. The strike action came as public rallies calling for Mubarak to immediately hand over power entered their 16th day. Determined protesters are continuing to rally in Cairo's Tahrir (Liberation) Square, and other cities across the country. They say they will not end the protests until Mubarak, who has been at the country's helm since 1981, steps down."

Nationalisation, workers' control

A statement issued by iron and steel workers (see below) included among its demand the "immediate resignation of the president and all men and symbols of the regime", the abolition of the tame-cat pro-Mubarak trade union federation and for a general assembly of workers "to freely establish their own independent union without prior permission or consent of the regime which has fallen and lost all legitimacy", the "confiscation of public sector companies that have been sold or closed down or privatised ... and [their] nationalisation in the name of the people and formation of a new management by workers and technicians", the "formation of a workers' monitoring committee in all workplaces monitoring production, prices, distribution and wages", and a "general assembly of all sectors and political trends of the people to develop a new constitution and elect real popular committees without waiting for the consent or negation with the regime".

Socialist Hossam el-Hamalawy reported on February 9 that "Cairo Public Transportation workers, who started a strike today in five Garages -- Nasr Station, Fateh Station, Ter’a Station, Amiriya Station, Mezzalat Station, Sawwah Station -- have issued a statement with a list of demands, calling for overthrow of Mubarak. No public buses will roam Cairo tomorrow, except those buses that will bring the drivers to the central station in Nasr City’s el-Gabal el-Ahmar, where the strikers have announced they will declare an independent union.

"The strikers’ statement has also called for abolishing the emergency law, removing [ruling] NDP from the state institutions, dissolving the parliament, drafting new constitution, forming a national unity government and setting a national minimum wage of 1200 pounds and prosecuting corrupt officials…

"This comes as strikes have spread literally everywhere… It’s happening people… It’s happening… The working class has entered the arena with full force today. Mubarak’s regime’s fate will be sealed off SOON!"

Anger at Mubarak's looting

"They were motivated to strike when they heard about how many billions the Mubarak family was worth", said Kamal Abbas, a labour leader, told Associated Press. "They said: 'How much longer should we be silent?'"

Egyptians have been angered by reports that the Mubarak family has amassed billions, and perhaps tens of billions of dollars in wealth while, according to the World Bank, about 40 per cent of the country's 83 million people live below or near the poverty line of US$2 a day. The family's true net worth is not known.

"O Mubarak, tell us where you get $70 billion dollars", dozens of protesters chanted in front of the health ministry."

Tamim Elyan from the Daily News Egypt reported that thousands of workers continued protests on February 9 across Egypt "demanding better pay and work conditions and expressing solidarity with protesters in Tahrir Square". Protesters’ demands include the end of temporary contracts, changes in the administrations of their respective employerss, better wages and an end tocorruption.

Daily News Egypt reported that in Cairo, the independent Real Estate Tax Authority Workers Union (RETU) organised a protest in front of the Mubarak regime-linked Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF), to demand the resignation of Hussein Megawer, ETUF’s head, along with the federations board.

“The federation has become a centre for fighting the activities of labour unions. Now we are demanding the investigation into its corruption and demanding the resignation of its board and the allowing of workers to form their independent unions freely”, said Kamal Abu Eita, head of RETU, the first independent union in Egypt.

"The number of workers' protests reflects the dire conditions that Egyptian workers go through and their feeling of frustration since these problems directly affect their families' livelihoods", Abu Eita told Daily News Egypt. "Workers have always led the Egyptian protest movement and are participating heavily in Tahrir Square protests", he added.

Hundreds of Telecom Egypt workers protested in front of Ramsis Exchange on February 9 and blocked the vital Ramsis Street demanding better wages and the resignation of board members of the company. "Workers said that their monthly wages, around 600 [Egyption pounds], have remained unchanged for more than 20 years, while sector heads are paid 30,000 and the deputy heads of the company are paid 250,000 per month", Daily News Egypt reported.

Five-thousand postal workers protested in front of the Egypt Post Authority demanding the appointment of workers on permanent contracts and an end to corruption in the authority. “They cut our incentives by 50 per cent in favour of consultants appointed from the military who receive more than 20,000 pounds a month. They are refusing to appoint more than 4000 temporary workers”, Sameh Mohamed, a worker at the Post Authority, told Daily News Egypt.

“We are demanding investigations into illegal salaries that heads of sectors receive and the unfair appointments of new employees with high salaries while older ones are being ignored because of favoritism and corruption”, said Soha Ahmed, on a temporary contract since 1996.

Tens of workers at the General Authority for Medical Insurance and Al Hilal Hospital protested demanding better wages and the appointment of more than 24,000 temporary workers. Two-hundred workers at the General Authority for Pharmaceutical Drugs Monitoring organised a sit-in in front of the authority’s headquarters in Agouza demanding minimum wages of 1200 pounds and the permanent appointment of temporary workers.

In Giza, Petrotrade’s workers protested in front of the company offices to demand equality with the rest of the company’s employees in incentives and revenue shares. In Helwan, thousands of workers at Interment, Esenbro, Helwan Silk and Al-Nasr companies went on strike demanding better wages, better working conditions and health care.

The mostly female staff at the Egyptian Animal Health Research Center staged a demonstration on the centre’s front steps calling for the immediate resignation of the director, Mona Mehrez. “She’s totally corrupt”, one doctor told *Daily News Egypt#. “She used the money allocated for studying and preventing avian flu to build personal villas in Cairo and Alexandria.” Other members of the strike cited poor working conditions and nepotism as reasons for the protest.

The indepentent Center for Trade Union and Workers' Services (CTUWS), which is part of the newly formed non-state Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions (FETU), also reported numerous protests across the country. In Mahalla, Ghazl Al Mahalla textile workers organised a sit-in in front of the company's administration building demanding overdue promotions and the resignation of the company's CEO, Foad Abdel Aleem, due to the huge losses made by the company under his reign.

In Kafr Al Zayat, 1500 workers at the city's public hospital organised a sit-in inside and were joined by doctors demanding the payment of late incentives.

In Sadat City in Menufya Governorate, 750 workers at Schweppes Beverages company organised a sit-in demanding better wages, payment for vacation days since January 25, increased pay, better incentives and better working and safety conditions.

Eight-hundred Nile Textiles workers organised a sit-in in front of its headquarters demanding better wages, a daily one-hour break and more vacation time, as they are only allowed one day-off per week.

Suez workers

In Suez, 400 workers at the Egypt National Company for Steel went on a strike demanding better wages. In Ismailia, hundreds of workers at the Al-Temsah and Harbors companies, affiliated with Suez Canal Authority, organised a sit-in in front of the company's headquarters demanding parity of wages and the incorporation of their companies into the authority. They called for the 7000 workers of the five other companies affiliated with the authority along the Suez Canal in the cities of Port Said, Suez and Ismailia to join them in the sit-in.

The New York Times reported on February 9 that “6000 workers at five service companies owned by the Suez Canal Authority” have downed tools. Two thousand workers have demonstrated in Suez. In Mahalla, 1500 strikers blocked roads. (It was the strike in Mahalla by low-paid textile workers in 2008 that led to the creation of the April 6 Youth Movement, one of the leading forces behind today's uprising. Sanitation workers, government employees and others are on strike.

Workers at Ismailia Governorate, Ismailia's cultural centre and Irrigation and Sanitation Authority organised protests demanding better wages and the payment of late incentives.

Associated Press reported that, on February 9, 8000 protesters, mainly farmers, set barricades of flaming palm trees in the southern province of Assiut. They blocked the main highway and railway to Cairo to complain of bread shortages. They then drove off the governor by pelting his van with stones.

The farmers in Assiut voiced their support for the Tahrir movement, witnesses said, as did the Port Said protesters, who set up a tent camp in the city's main Martyrs Square similar to the Cairo camp.

In Cairo, hundreds of state electricity workers stood in front of the South Cairo Electricity company, demanding the ouster of its director. Dozens of state museum workers demanding higher wages staged a protest in front of the Supreme Council of Antiquities. Several hundred workers also demonstrated at a silk factory and a fuel coke plant in Cairo's industrial suburb of Helwan, demanding better pay and work conditions.

In the desert oasis town of Kharga, southwest of Cairo, five protesters have been killed in two days of rioting, Associated Press reported. Police opened fire on February 8 on hundreds who set a courthouse on fire and attacked a police station, demanding the removal of the provincial security chief.

* * *

Demands of the Iron and Steel Workers

1. Immediate resignation of the president and all men and symbols of the regime.

2. Confiscation of funds and property of all symbols of previous regime and everyone proved corrupt.

3. Iron and steel workers who have given martyrs and militants call upon all workers of Egypt to revolt from the regime's and ruling party workers' federation, to dismantle it and announce their independent union now and to plan for their general assembly to freely establish their own independent union without prior permission or consent of the regime which has fallen and lost all legitimacy.

4. Confiscation of public sector companies that have been sold or closed down or privatised as well as the public sector which belongs to the people and its nationalisation in the name of the people and formation of a new management by workers and technicians.

5. Formation of a workers' monitoring committee in all workplaces monitoring production, prices, distribution and wages.

6. Call for a general assembly of all sectors and political trends of the people to develop a new constitution and elect real popular committees without waiting for the consent or negation with the regime.

A huge workers'demonstration will join the Tahrir square on Friday the 11th of February 2011 to join the revolution and announce the demands of the workers of Egypt.

Long live the revolution!

Long live Egypt's workers!

Long live the intifada of Egyptian youth - People's revolution for the people!

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.