Jun 18, 2007
For several months, tens of thousands of workers have been going on strike in Egypt, especially in the textile sector. Extremely low wages, very poor working conditions, discontent with union representatives tied to the government – all of these things lay behind a movement, which is still continuing.
In December 2006, at a huge industrial complex in the Nile River delta, thousands of workers went on strike for a week. At rallies and occupations of business offices, they demanded their year-end bonus be doubled. Only the government’s promise to give workers the equivalent of 45 days pay ended the strike. The government’s response pushed other factories in the delta region to go on strike. Thousands of men and women stopped work to demand better wages and working conditions.
Other sectors with work stoppages are cement, garbage collection, the food industry, and the government sector as well.
At the beginning of May, Cairo public transit, bus and subway workers went on strike. They even occupied bus depots. The demands of the 4,000 strikers concerned both wages and working conditions. “We’ve suffered for years and our situation gets worse and worse. Management does nothing and no one defends our interests. So we’ve decided to make our voice heard,” a striking bus driver said to the newspaper Al-Ahram. The 12,000 drivers, who every day transport some 10 million commuters in Cairo, work 12 hours a day. Their wages are about $80 a month, even after 10 years on the job, and numerous fines are subtracted from their pay. Prime Minister Ahmad Nazif announced measures to give them bonuses and to stop the fines. The drivers stopped their strike, but threatened to go out again if the promises weren’t kept.
When confronted by such discontent, the government and bosses sometimes try to stall the workers. They also try to silence the militants who best give voice to the workers’ concerns. As an example, on April 25, the Center for Trade Union and Workers Services was simply shut down by the government.
This center was founded in 1990 to coordinate workers at companies in the large industrial centers, to let them know their rights, to bring them aid in movements and strikes. In particular, it sought to express a dissident voice, confronting representatives of the existing union confederation, which is the only confederation and is pro-government and pro-boss.
Faced with strikes growing in number and extent during these past months, the government, supported by the head of the union confederation, didn’t want to hear such views. They sent the police to invade the Center’s headquarters in a working class suburb south of Cairo, and sealed its doors.
Some time ago the Minister of Labor said on television, “This situation has lasted long enough. We are working to resolve the workers’ problems, but there are those who want to start a revolution.” But in fact, tens, even hundreds of thousands of Egyptian workers have had enough of waiting for ministers “working to resolve their problems.”