Solidarity with Egyptian workers!
"WE don't hear much about Egypt", someone was saying at a social evening I was at last night. Well, here's a little contribution to remedying that gap. Thanks by the way to Brent Trades Union Council president Pete Firmin for passing me this.
Egypt's biggest factory occupied by striking workers
Fri Sep 28, 2007 3:41 pm (PST)
Thousands of workers at the biggest textile factory in the Middle East, Misr Spinning and Weaving in Mahalla al-Kubra north of Cairo have been occupying their plant since 23 September. The strikers are demanding wage rises to meet the spiraling cost of living, payment of bonuses and the impeachment of the factory management and the leaders of the factory's pro-government official union committee.
Thousands of workers across Egypt have already joined strikes and protests in solidarity with the Mahalla strikers. In December 2006 a successful strike by workers at the same company set off Egypt's biggest wave of industrial action for decades, involving strikes by textile workers, postal workers and teachers.
Independent trade union activists frequently face harassment and intimidation by the Egyptian authorities, while the official trade union movement is controlled by the government. The following appeal for international solidarity with the Mahalla strikers has been issued by the Centre for Socialist Studies in Cairo, which is part of a wider network of opposition and human rights groups campaigning for change in Egypt.
To add your name to the solidarity statement below, or to send a message of support to the strikers: email email@example.com
To send condemnation letters to the Egyptian General Federation of Trade Unions Fax # (+202)25740308 or Ministry of Labour Fax # (+202)24037562(please email a copy of the letter to the address above).
Send protests to the Egyptian embassy in your country.
Read more about the strike here:
http://arabist.net/arabawy/ http://africa.reuters.com/top/news/usn BAN454477.html
Solidarity with the Mahalla Workers
We call upon all workers and fighters for justice to support Mahalla Spinning and Weaving Company 27,000 workers currently on strike for their rights, which are basic and legitimate rights for all workers. We shall use all means to express our solidarity with the workers and their families for their courageous stand and their struggle to seize their rights.We also call upon all workers in all locations to act in solidarity with their colleagues at the Mahalla Spinning and Weaving Company.
We salute the initiative of the Grain Mills workers for their symbolic solidarity sit in, which they organized on the 23rd of September 2007 and their release of solidarity statements together with their colleagues in Shebin El Kom Spinning and Weaving Company. We also salute the weaving workers in Kafr El Dawwar for their decision to organize solidarity sit in with their Mahalla colleagues on the 25th of September2007. We also salute the students, foremost the Tanta university students, for their release of several solidarity statements with the workers. We also salute all centres and movements who expressed solidarity with the workers.
We condemn the policy of terror and arrests which the regime is using in the face of the legitimate demands of the masses of workers.We condemn the policy of blockading the workers in the factory, which has failed to intimidate them and has increased their determination to continue their strike for their rights.
We condemn the yellow puppet General Federation of Trade Unions and the Ministry of Labor who stand against the will of the workers and against their interests.
We call upon workers around the world and their unions to show their support to their fellow workers in Mahalla in every way possible.
Center for Socialist Studies, Cairo
A BIT OF HISTORY
Textile workers have been in the vanguard of struggles for freedom, progress and workers' rights all through Egypt's modern history. A thread of continuity runs from today's strike and occupation back for instance more than half a century to when, having fought British occupation and the monarchy, Egyptian workers found their independence was feared as a threat by the new Free Officers' regime.
Hundreds were rounded up as the military crushed a strike. In a scene that must have resembled the film Spartacus they refused to surrender "ringleaders" for puishment. So the officers went ahead and hanged union activists anyway.
But here's an extract from Joel Beinin's history of the textile workers in Egypt:
" Workers at the Misr mills in Kafr al-Dawwar believed that the new regime empowered them to renew their campaign for representative trade unions. The 3,000 workers at Beida Dyers won this demand after a brief strike on August 9, 1952. At Misr Fine Spinning and Weaving there was a company-controlled union. A union reform movement led by Muhammad Mutawalli al-Sha`rawi and Ahmad al-Yabani, who were close to the DMNL, (Democratic Movement for National Liberation, a communist party - my note) had been active for some time. It did not initiate the sit-down strike of some 500 workers on August 12. The next day troops arriving from Alexandria fired on large demonstrations of workers as they shouted their support for the new regime and demanded the removal of abusive company officials and the formation of a freely elected union. Two soldiers, one policeman and four workers were killed in an exchange of shots. The military authorities arrested 545 workers and charged 29 of them with various offenses. A hastily convened military tribunal sentenced Mustafa Khamis and Muhammad Baqri to death, and they were executed on September 7. The government’s principal consideration in imposing this harsh penalty was its suspicion that they were members of Marxist organizations, although Baqri almost surely was not. Ten other workers including Muhammad Shihab, a Muslim Brother, received jail sentences".
The officers' regime went on to enact labour laws designed to ease workers' grievances while, particularly after Nasser confirmed its permanence, it repressed independent trade unionism and jailed communists and socialists. For a time most large companies were nationalised and corporate unionism instroduced. But working class consciousness clearly survived; and now when the Egyptian government has returned to letting "free market" capitalism loose it has been unable to keep the concomitant genie of working class struggle locked up in the bottle.