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Vol. 78/No. 10      March 17, 2014

On the Picket Line
Egyptian textile workers win support through 12-day strike
Some 12,000 striking textile workers at the giant Mahalla Weaving and Textile company in Mahalla, Egypt, suspended their labor action for 60 days and returned to work Feb. 22 after a 12-day strike over back pay, wages and other demands.

“Workers feel we have scored a victory,” said Kamal Fayoumy, a leader of the textile workers, the day they returned. Fayoumy pointed to the government’s promises to hire more workers and revive production, which has declined in recent years. The government owns the Mahalla mill, like many industrial enterprises in Egypt.

According to other leaders of the strike, Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi has promised to pay overdue bonuses and implement the new national minimum wage law, which is supposed to guarantee 1,200 Egyptian pounds ($170) monthly to workers in certain public enterprises. The government’s Minister of Investment also promised to open an investigation of the Mahalla textile plant president, Fouad Abdel-Alim, whom workers demand be dismissed for corruption and mismanagement.

“One of the most important gains of the strike has been our success in reaching out,” said Fayoumy. “All of Egypt now knows about the conditions of the textile workers and our demands. That is very positive for the future.”

The Mahalla strike grew to more than 22,000 workers before it was suspended, with more than 10,000 other textile workers joining to press for the 1,200-pound minimum wage for all workers in private and public industries.

Workers in other industries have also begun to take strike action in face of rising prices, high unemployment and attacks on workers’ rights. Official joblessness is now at 13 percent and more than 25 percent for young Egyptians. The annual rate of inflation stands at nearly 12 percent.

Bus drivers and other transport workers began a strike Feb. 22 at seven garages in Cairo to demand implementation of the national minimum wage law. Two days later, all 28 garages in the greater Cairo area were on strike. Wages for transport workers begin as low as 600 Egyptian pounds ($86) a month.

The fight for the government-promised minimum wage for some public workers to be applied across the board is gaining support among workers.

In contrast to the government’s resistance to workers’ demands, Egypt’s interim president, Adly Mansour, acted quickly to grant a 30 percent pay increase to police who staged strikes in six provinces in mid-February.

—Paul Mailhot

Platinum miners in SAfrica stand firm on wage demand
Heading into the sixth week of their strike against the three largest platinum companies in the world, more than 70,000 miners in South Africa are standing firm in their demand that the starting wage be doubled to 12,500 rand a month ($1,120). The strike began Jan. 23.

The three companies — Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), Impala Platinum and Lonmin — are offering average wage increases of 7 to 8 percent.

Impala CEO Terence Goodlace told Mining Weekly Feb. 27 that agreeing to the miners’ demands, “would be catastrophic and leave us with no other alternative but to close the whole of [their operations at] Rustenburg down.”

“We are not worried,” Evans Ramokga, a winch operator at Amplats and a local leader of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, said by phone Feb. 28 from Rustenburg. “If they can’t change the conditions at the mine then these mines must be owned by our government and they can go back to London or wherever. We don’t mind.” Amplats and Lonmin owners are London-based.

“They promised to build schools to help the communities, to build housing, but they don’t keep their promises,” he said. “The company has built houses, but mostly just supervisors live there, the workers don’t qualify.”

“Maybe 20 percent of the miners live in hostels,” Ramokga said, which are notorious for overcrowding and poor conditions. “But 80 percent or more live in shacks. Most don’t have running water or electricity, unless they buy a generator.”

Amplats has sued AMCU, accusing the union of violating picketing rules and violence. The company is demanding that the union leaders be fined and jailed.

“The South African government and the companies are ganging up against AMCU to paralyze us financially and break the strike and protect their interests,” AMCU President Joseph Mathunjwa said by phone Feb. 28 from Johannesburg after a negotiating session. “They know we don’t have such money. And that this is the most peaceful strike we have ever had in South Africa.”

Until last year, the government-allied National Union of Mineworkers was the main union in the mines. But after more than 100,000 platinum, gold, chrome and coal miners went out on strike at the end of 2012 to demand 12,500 rand — despite opposition from the NUM leadership — tens of thousands joined AMCU, especially in platinum where AMCU now represents an overwhelming majority of workers.

In a Feb. 27 statement, the NUM leadership called on platinum miners to “be brave, stand up and save the mining industry from ruin,” an open invitation to abandon the strike.

“Right now AMCU is standing alone, there is no other union that is giving us solidarity,” Ramokga said. “But we won’t stop. It’s not about AMCU, it’s about the working class, which faces the same problems we do.”

Messages of solidarity with the miners can be sent to AMCU at and

— Seth Galinsky

Related articles:
Garment workers in Cambodia fight for raise in minimum wage
Disabled workers paid pennies by ‘nonprofits’
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