Egypt: Workers strike
for wage raises, rights
Military command seeks to end protests
Workers at the Dahqaliya weaving company demonstrate for better conditions in Mansoura, Egypt, February 14. Placard reads, Down with the board of management.
BY SETH GALINSKY
After the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, Egypts military command is attempting to end protest actions and assert its control over the country. While demonstrators who had camped out at Tahrir Square in Cairo have left, mobilizations of workers, farmers, and youth continue. Tens of thousands of workers around the country who are on strike demanding higher wages and better working conditions are part of this ferment.
Mubarak, a close U.S. ally, resigned February 11, handed power to the military command, and flew to the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh near the Red Sea. Hundreds of thousands gathered at Tahrir Square and cheered his ouster.
After pushing Mubarak aside as the protests continued to mount, armed forces officials suspended the constitution and dissolved parliament, which had been elected less than three months ago. The generals for the time being kept in place the cabinet, which is made up of members of Mubaraks National Democratic Party. The Supreme Military Council, headed by Field Marshal Mohammed Tantawi, has now taken the power to make laws. Tantawi was a close ally of Mubarak.
The protests that helped topple Mubarak have opened up space for working people to organize to defend their interests. Unlike the massive protests in Iran in 1979 that shattered the Shahs regime, however, the actions in Egypt ousted the ruling dictator, but not the military and political structure he led.
Many armed forces commanders had opposed plans for Mubaraks son Gamal, who never served as an officer, to take his fathers place as president. Since the military coup that overthrew the king in 1952, all of Egypts presidentsGamal Abdul Nasser, Anwar Sadat, and Mubarakwere high-ranking military officers before taking office.
If Gamal Mubarak had become president in upcoming elections, this would have given more influence to Egyptian capitalists with fewer ties to the military. This layer of the bourgeoisie often finds itself in competition with the officers for lucrative business deals.
Young leaders of the anti-Mubarak protests met two generals representing the Supreme Military Council February 13 at military intelligence headquarters in Cairo.
According to the Washington Post, one of the protest organizers who attended, Khaled al-Sayed, said the generals told us that they agree with us, but they were reserved when we raised our specific issues. The generals refused demands to release political prisoners or overturn the repressive state-of-emergency laws that have been in place for decades. Of the generals promises that they would hand over power to a civilian government in less than six months, al-Sayed commented, Thats also just talk.
The next day the military council told thousands of workers on strike around the country to go back to work. These strikes, at this delicate time, lead to negative results, an army communiqué stated. It demanded that everyone focus on work and production, not protests.
According to the February 15 Wall Street Journal, some youth leaders endorsed the generals efforts to end the strikes. But one youth group, Associated Press reported, stated, Strikes and protests should NOT stop. A march to celebrate Mubaraks ouster is planned for Tahrir Square February 18.
Strikes, factory occupations, and protests for higher wages and better working conditions are growing, including by textile, bank, rail, airline, mine, tourism, and municipal workers.
A number of the strikes are demanding that temporary workers be given permanent positions. In 2003 the Egyptian government passed a law allowing companies to expand the hiring of temporary workers with fewer rights and benefits. In some companies there are more temporary workers than permanent ones. Temporary workers are not allowed to join unions.
Some 2,400 workers at the Misr-Iran Textile company began a sit-down strike February 13 demanding monthly bonuses and making temporary workers permanent. Some 700 Coca-Cola workers in Nasr City are raising similar demands.
The February 14 edition of Egyptian daily Al Masry Al Youm reports on strikes by 4,000 workers at the Assiut Cement Company and 2,000 at the Assiut Fertilizer Factory south of Cairo.
On February 16, workers at the Misr Spinning and Weaving factory in Mahalla went on strike for higher wages and better work conditions. With 24,000 workers, the factory is the largest in Egypt.
Unions independent of the government-dominated Egyptian Trade Union Federation are banned and the right to strike severely restricted. Of 24 unions that make up the federation, 22 are headed by members of Mubaraks National Democratic Party. In spite of this there have been thousands of strikes and factory sit-ins since 2004.
At a February 14 press conference the Coalition of Young Revolutionaries listed some of its demands. These include: lifting the state of emergency, abolition of martial law, dismantling the National Democratic Party, dissolving the state security apparatus, releasing all political prisoners, and respecting the right to form associations and unions. They also called for a new cabinet headed by a patriotic civil personality that the people respect and trust.
While there are a dozen or so bourgeois opposition parties in Egypt, they have very limited support due to their weak resistance to Mubarak when he was in power.
Washington is backing the military government. Referring to the Egyptian armed forces commanders, Adm. Michael Mullen, head of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, I think they have handled this situation exceptionally well. According to the Washington Post, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has talked to Tantawi at least six times in the last few weeks.
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