Oct 8, 2007
On September 23, twenty-seven thousand Egyptians struck the publicly-owned Ghazi al-Mahalla company. The factory is an industrial city in the Nile Delta, 60 miles north of Cairo.
Last December, thousands of these textile workers had gone on strike for several days demanding bonuses from the large profits the company had declared. The strike ended only after the Egyptian government promised to pay each worker a month and a half in wages.
But management squirmed out of what it promised, and the problems of the Ghazi al-Mahalla workers continued. Their wages are extremely low, about 200 to 250 Egyptian pounds a month, while the cheapest apartments in the city cost 300 pounds a month. Even with the bonus, wages don’t begin to cover expenses.
To calm the workers down, two government officials promised profit-sharing equal to 150 days of wages. But when management stalled on the payout, giving workers only part of what was promised, thousands decided to strike. They occupied the factory, some children joining their mothers on strike. Some children had already been sent home from the school because parents have to pay school fees, money they didn’t have.
The police arrested some strikers, with the excuse that they were “interrupting production and inciting disorder.” To help out, management declared the factory on vacation so that the workers’ occupation was illegal.
But one striker arrested with several others the day after the strike began told a journalist that workers felt betrayed by all the unfulfilled promises. The workers continue to demand the 150 days’ bonus. In addition, they want the bonus to become part of their base wage so they will no longer be paid piece-rate. And they want a housing bonus and a minimum wage that takes into account the high prices they face. They are also asking payment for their transit fares and for decent medical care.
Some workers even want real workers’ elections that would allow them to replace the official union leaders who are in management’s pockets. The workers have also denounced the government’s stance.
Other Egyptian workers have expressed solidarity with the strikers. One was in another textile factory, Kafr al-Dawar. Some workers sat in at some flour mills in Cairo over the same issues. Some railroad workers made similar demands.
European financial interests that profit off low-wage textile production in the Nile Delta, thanks to Mubarak’s government, and the parasites feeding off the labor of millions of Egyptian workers should be a little worried....
An Egyptian union militant, Kamal Abbas, was just sentenced to a year in prison for the publication of an article challenging a candidate of Mubarak’s party.
The CTUWS (Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services) that he leads had already been closed down after the strike wave of December 2006. When Egyptian workers mobilize to make demands, the government seeks to silence those who represent the possibilities for workers to be organized.
The CTUWS announced that it will appeal this sentence, which is, of course, against freedom of speech and freedom of the press.