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Vol. 78/No. 12      March 31, 2014

Workers in Egypt fight
for national minimum wage
Since December 2013, more than 100,000 workers, including in steel, textile, transport and postal sectors, have gone on strike. Most of these actions have been around unpaid wages and demands that the minimum monthly wage of 1,200 Egyptian pounds ($170) promised for some public workers be implemented for all.

“We are given promises, so we return to work,” striking bus driver Shokri Seif Mohamed from Cairo said in a Feb. 27 news video from Ahram online, the state news service. “The promises aren’t held so we strike again. We get more promises, we stop the strike, then the promises are broken again.”

“Since the revolution we’ve had six different governments, from all colors of the spectrum,” said Mahmoud, another striker. “But the policies are the same. The powerful loot and the poor get buried!”

Government officials announced Feb. 26 that most public sector workers will not get the minimum monthly wage. Excluded are most of those who have recently gone on strike — transport and postal workers, cotton and textile workers, and those in the food industry. In a televised address March 2, newly appointed Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb appealed to the “patriotism” of all Egyptians, saying this is a moment for work, not strikes.

Cairo transport workers suspended their strike through April to give the new government a chance to respond to their demands. Since then transport workers in Alexandria, Egypt’s second largest city, went on strike demanding the minimum wage, unpaid bonuses, and a 200-pound increase.

The recent strike wave began in February with the Mahalla Spinning and Weaving workers, who are demanding unpaid bonuses, the minimum wage and removal of company Chairman Foad Abdel Aleem.

“We have no concrete results yet,” independent textile union leader Kamal Fayoumy told the Militant in a phone interview from Mahalla al Kubra March 9. “But the union movement has gained strength and confidence and the Free Trade Union in Mahalla has grown through these strikes.”

Since the popular mobilizations that overthrew the government of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, the capitalist rulers in Egypt have been unable to pacify workers demanding higher wages and political rights. Neither the short-lived Muslim Brotherhood government of President Mohammed Morsi, nor the current military-led interim government have done anything to mitigate the effects of rising prices and high unemployment on working people. Official joblessness is 13 percent and more than 25 percent for young Egyptians. The annual rate of inflation is nearly 12 percent.

“The government changed as a response to the strikes,” Fayoumy said, referring to the resignation of the prime minister and cabinet in February. “But the government change has not resulted in any real change on the ground. Our demands have yet to be met.”

Georges Mehrabian in Athens, Greece, contributed to this article.
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