...and in Egypt Workers Win by Going Beyond the Unions

Battaglia Comunista 10 (October 2007)

The powerful struggle that the Egyptian proletariat is waging shows yet again how the conditions of life for workers around the world are increasingly unbearable.

The situation in Egypt has been made worse by the policy of privatisation of public services and has revealed once again how the union organisations openly side with the bosses.

The turning point of the struggle came on the 25th of September at Mahalla al-Kubra, when thousands of textile workers decided they could no longer put up with the false promises their leaders had been making for months.

The dispute in fact began last December when the workers, driven by rising inflation (estimated around 12%), began to fight to obtain a substantial wage rise. The casus belli was the question of the annual bonus for public sector workers and which is worth about two months wages. The struggle began amongst the workers of the State textile enterprises, probably one of the most protected strata of the Egyptian proletariat, but, due to the common conditions of life of all the workers, quickly extended to the cement workers (partially controlled by the Italian Italcementi), workers in farming, miners and soon afterwards to those working in urban transport, railways and health, and the bin collectors of Cairo.

The State owned factory, where the struggle began, is one of the largest textile plants in the Middle East. Workers demanded that both the managers and, first and foremost, their union representatives, accused of failing to defend their interests, should be sacked.

So strikes and protests have been carried out since December, in which thousands of workers have taken part; but eventually the workers united in a sit-in in front of the plant numbered more than 27,000. Despite the twenty year old “Emergency Laws” that brutally repress public demonstrations, the textile workers still decided to fight to defend their own economic interests.

There are two extremely positive features about this movement; the wide scale participation of workers in the struggle (at least a third of the strikers) and the formation of several workers organisations distanced from official unionism.

New workers’ struggle organisations have naturally developed out of this fight and a powerful hatred has grown against the official unions and the government.

Now many are calling for the new “unions” to be legalised, but they need to be careful. And it is correct to fight against State persecution, but coming out of conditions of illegality should not be at the price of renouncing the defence of workers’ interests and should not repeat the logic of the unions which are throttling the proletariat all over the world.

After a week of occupying plants, after a struggle supported by so many other layers of the proletariat, the workers of the Misr Spinning and Weaving Company of Mahalla obtained a 40% wage increase and production awards.


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