Egypt: Waves of workers' strikes

March 28, 2009

Like 2008, this year is witnessing waves of strikes and demonstrations by Egyptian workers in various sectors and organisations.

Students, pharmacists, lawyers, railway drivers, media people, and even microbus drivers and street cleaners are all demanding more rights, protesting against their decreasing incentives or trying to rebel against their poor economic status.

And as usual, Egyptian bloggers are working around the clock to cover almost all demonstrations taking place, through blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr accounts — giving these workers a voice.

Going through the post titles in just two Egyptian blogs specialised in covering strikes happening in Egypt — Egyptian Workers by Kareem El Behery and Tadamon Masr — we can outline a chronology of the strikes.

In January:

•Nine hundred workers on strike at the Nile cotton company in El Mehalla;
•five hundred workers on strike, protesting against reducing their incentives;
•for the first time, railway workers on strike;
•failure of Telemasr workers' negotiations with management, and the owner's threats to stop the payment of their wages; and
•a sit-in of cleaning agency workers protesting the non-payment of holiday bonuses.

In February:

•Abu Radi workshop workers in a sit-in;
•Suez Canal workers appeal to officials;
•Abu El Eneen Ceramic factory workers in a sit-in;
•fifty workers on strike in Shebeen El Kom;
•education administrators on strike in El Mehalla;
•"Masr Pharmacy" workers on strike with a hunger strike planned;
•pictures of Tora cement workers' sit-in; and
•pharmacists' strike.

In March:

•Asek company workers on strike calling for an increase of their annual allowances;
•cotton ginning workers in El Menya on strike protesting non-payment of their salaries;
•Hebei Pharm workers on strike;
•three thousand Daitex workers on strike in Alexandria, protesting the non-payment of their incentives and labor day grants;
•asit-in of 240 workers in Betroid protesting the company's demand that they sign an agreement on mass resignations;
•four hundred Spinning Equipment workers on strike protesting against the cessation of promotions and reduction of incentives; and
•Ghazl Shebeen El Kom workers' strike and sit-in.

You can also check Egyptian blogs like El Mahalla, Egyptian Mill Workers and Arabawy, covering more strikes.

Some strikes were aborted, but others ended in victory like the recent one in Shebeen El Kom, which initially started in February with 50 workers protesting the non-payment of their incentives. The action snowballed and on March 16, 4200 workers decided to end the strike because the owning company agreed to their demands.

One excerpt from a statistics report by the daily newspaper El Badeel says: "During 2008 a total of 609 industrial actions occurred in Egypt, including 122 strikes ... far more than previous years.

"The true number of protests might be higher, since these numbers are based mainly on protests actually reported by media."

Everybody believes that something is going on. It has become the norm to hear news of a new strike or sit-in here or there on a daily basis.

In addition to the above are the new calls for a second general strike, like last year's April 6 strike.

So how far will the story go? We will not need to wait too long for the answer.

[Article abridged from]

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