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Vol. 75/No. 14      April 11, 2011

Workers stand up to
antiunion law in Egypt
(front page / report from Cairo)
CAIRO, Egypt, March 29—Workers organizations and other groups that helped lead the revolt to topple the hated Hosni Mubarak regime are denouncing a draft law making it a crime to organize strikes or other protests that interrupt businesses or affect the economy. Violations are punishable by jail time and stiff fines. The measure, proposed by the Egyptian cabinet March 23, is yet to be approved by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

If Prime Minister Essam Sharaf’s government “takes away our right to protest, sit in, and strike,” Saud Omar, a trade unionist in the Suez Canal Authority, told the local press, “in the near future he will take from us our right to organize and all the other basic rights both civil and political.”

Working people and youth this reporter talked to since arriving here yesterday say the proposed law is certain to draw further protests. They are looking to a big turnout for an April 1 demonstration against government measures to curtail rights and cut down space for political activity. The reactions to the anti-strike law, including from some capitalist forces worried the move may boomerang, have evoked “clarifications” from the government.

Egypt’s justice minister, Mohamed Abdel-Azizi-el-Ghuindi, held a press conference March 27 saying the new law “does not at all aim at depriving people of their right to assemble, organize strikes, express their opinion, or take part in the making of the country’s future.” He implored workers and others to get behind the measure on a “temporary” basis, in order to help get life “back to normal.”

The justice minister said most strikes now are not by workers fighting for better conditions, but rather by forces of the “counterrevolution,” meaning backers of the Mubarak regime.

While the wave of strikes during and after the toppling of Mubarak has subsided, union actions continue. On March 29, 1,500 quarry workers marched through the streets of Suez demanding prosecution of corrupt managers. The company’s board of directors subsequently met with workers’ leaders and promised to meet their demands.

Following weeks of protests in their workplace, hundreds of journalists rallied March 20 and March 27 in front of the Radio and TV Union headquarters in Maspero, demanding the resignation of media figures associated with the Mubarak regime. Workers are demanding the sacking of Sami El Sherif, the head of the union, in particular.

In a move to ease tensions, the Supreme Military Council, which is the ruling power here, announced March 28 that the nightly curfew is being eased. It will now begin at 2:00 a.m. not midnight and end at 5:00 a.m. not 6:00.
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