Egyptian textile strikes & labor movement

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syndicalist
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Jan 26 2007 04:21
Egyptian textile strikes & labor movement

Interesting series of articles on the US left-labor site Global Labor Strategies. Very informative information and worth a read.
--mitch

Egyptian Textile Worker Strike: The Story Behind the Story
http://laborstrategies.blogs.com/global_labor_strategies/2007/01/in_the_...

Egypt and the Problem of Government-Controlled Labor Movements

Two previous posts described an unanticipated wildcat upheaval by 27,000 Egyptian textile workers in Mahala El-Kobra last December and its historical background [link to come]. This piece looks at Egypt as an example of a wider pattern: How U.S. and other global corporations utilize government-controlled unions created by authoritarian nationalist regimes even as they claim to be liquidating the legacy of those regimes in the interest of economic freedom.

From the 1930s through the early 1950s, worker organizing in Egypt was often violently repressed, but many established independent unions that conducted collective bargaining negotiations with employers.

The picture changed radically after a group of military officers led by Gamal Abdel Nasser seized power in 1952. Nasser placed all unions under the authority of the General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU). He also nationalized large parts of Egyptian industry and made union membership mandatory for public sector workers. But the officials and program of the GFTU were subject to government control; as Stanford University historian Joel Beinin put it, “trade unions effectively became part of the state apparatus.”

CONTINUED: http://laborstrategies.blogs.com/global_labor_strategies/2007/01/egypt_a...

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boozemonarchy
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Jan 26 2007 08:42
Quote:
After five days, the government retreated and offered to restore the bonuses. According to an IPS article on the strike by Emad Mekay, an employee reported that on return to work, “The cashiers were sitting to greet the workers with their dues the minute they walked into work.”

smile

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Khawaga
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Jan 26 2007 13:48

The really interesting thing about the textile workers' strike in Mahalla are getting ready to form the first independent union from the GFTU since the times of Nasser. This is likely to happen in the next coming weeks.

There have been quite a few strikes in Egypt lately, the last are a few thousand transport workers and even 3000 Central Security Forces (CSF) recruits (they're striking over the horrible treatment they get from officers. A young conscript recently shot himself over the abuse he got). The CSF are usually the folks brought in to suppress strikes and protests.

syndicalist
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Jan 27 2007 01:09

Thanks. I'd be interested to learn more about the independent union. Will this be only in the textile industry?

Are you familiar with the "Center for Trade Union and Worker Services"?

I don't suspect there's much of an anarchist (anarcho-syndicalist) movement in Eygpt?

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Khawaga
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Jan 27 2007 10:29

The independent union will be specifically the textile workers in Mahalla. Historically, they're the most militant of the bunch, so it is not surprising that they are taking that initiative. However, it is possible that other unions will follow their example. The recent "winter of worker discontent" started with a few exemplary actions that other workers followed.

However, it is very likely that the state will try to crack down hard on the Malhalla textile workers. The regime's typical response to strikes has always been a mix of concession (like giving a bit more in wages) and repression (cracking heads, arresting leader and organizers), though more of the latter.

I've heard about the Center for Tarde Union and Worker Services, but I don't know much about them. I could find out from a friend who is a bit more in the loop than I am (I cannot converse about workers politics in Arabic yet, and I have to be a bit careful as having contacts with radicals can become a problem for the radicals, for me and for the NGO I work for. dictatorships, you gotta love them!).

As far as I know there are no anarchists or syndicalists at all in Egypt. At least they do not make themselves publicly known. in Arab culture anarchism is seen as chaos, indeed the word in Arabic used for anarchists means chaos. Slogans like NO GODS doesn't fare well either.

However, what is interesting is that in Palestine, quite a few Palestinians are very sympathetic to the Israeli anarchists (treeofjudas is one of them) because of them going into the territories supporting anti-wall/occupation activities. As a result, in Palestinian Arabic there's actually been coined a word for anarchist that has more positive connotations.

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Tojiah
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Jan 27 2007 13:04
atlemk wrote:
However, what is interesting is that in Palestine, quite a few Palestinians are very sympathetic to the Israeli anarchists (treeofjudas is one of them) because of them going into the territories supporting anti-wall/occupation activities.

I'd like to point out that, although I am an anarchist by ideology, and am Israeli, and, indeed, I even know some of said anarchists (Anarchists Against the Wall), I am not one of them. I've only been to one anti-Wall demo in the territories, in Bil'in, and it made a very bad impression on me. For one thing, the main part of the demo was a march for Palestinian unity (meaning a unity government between Hamas and Fatah); for another, it seems that there are quite a few Palestinians who do not like the international solidarity because it disrupts the local power base. We've had rocks thrown at us by Palestinians as we were retreating from the Border Police.

I don't know if many Palestinians will be very fond of me, personally, especially now that I've written a piece dissing Hamas and Fatah, and since I spout nonsense about how Palestinian national liberation is bad for actual liberation. I mean, I don't think I've even been heard of among Palestinians (outside of Israel), but I hope to meet a few through certain student meeting programs so that I can talk to them about this.

atlemk wrote:
As a result, in Palestinian Arabic there's actually been coined a word for anarchist that has more positive connotations.

That's interesting. What's the word, and what does it literally mean?

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Jan 28 2007 08:39

Treeofjudas, sorry if I wrongly ascribed your affiliation to the AATW. I just assumed from some of your other posts (you've mentioned Bil'in a few tmes) that you were.

I am actually surprised to hear that you've only been to one anti-Wall protest. I've been to about 50 anti-Wall protests in the West Bank (the majority of them in Bil'in, quite a few in Biddu and Budrus). One protest in Bil'in is not representative of what they do there. Most of the actions are very local, with local aims. Once in a while they have bigger demos that tries to connect with wider goals in Palestinan politics (e.g. al-Nakba, land day, prisoner day, mayday).

The residents of Bil'in really appreciate the AATW and internationals. I don't know how many times I was told this. Obviously, this view is not unanimous. But I would like to know more about Palestinians not wanting international solidarity. Maybe this is a new development (it's been over a year since I was in Palestine)? Though I do remember that AATW were not welcome at all in Bethlehem for anti-Wall protests.

Don't worry about the rock throwing. It happens all the time. You're not targeted, you're just in the crossfire. I mean I've seen Palestinians being hit by stones thrown by other Palestinians just coz they were at the wrong place, or someone didn't practice with their mokhleya enough.

Quote:
I don't know if many Palestinians will be very fond of me, personally, especially now that I've written a piece dissing Hamas and Fatah, and since I spout nonsense about how Palestinian national liberation is bad for actual liberation. I mean, I don't think I've even been heard of among Palestinians (outside of Israel), but I hope to meet a few through certain student meeting programs so that I can talk to them about this.

Most of the AATW folks I met share your position. I do too. But this should not stop anyone from fighting the occupation, and at the same time discuss issues with Palestinians. Stay in villages, get to know people and then you can start to discuss politics.

E.g. not a lot of women participate in anti-Wall protests and quite a few of the men do not think that they should. This has changed slightly because of ISMers and AATW have purposefully tried to convince both women and men of villages of the value of women participating.

Quote:
That's interesting. What's the word, and what does it literally mean?

It's a bit embarrassing, but I can't actually remember... I just remember being explained the word. Problem is that my Arabic is Egyptian and I get quite confused by Shami I think I have it written down in some diary somewhere, so if I find it I'll PM you.

syndicalist
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Feb 4 2007 00:58

Altemk, any news/report-back on the formation of the independent textile workers union?

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Khawaga
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Feb 4 2007 13:29

Syndicalist. Sorry, been a bit busy lately with work, so here is a very short update.

Last week I went with a few comrades (I actually met an Egyptian syndicalist!) and some journos to a meeting between about 200 Mahallah textile workers and the union bosses from the General Union for Textile Workers (GUTW) in the Shoubra suburb in Cairo. About 500 workers had set out from Mahalla (which is outside of Cairo) in 5 buses, but only two of the buses were let through the police checkpoint going into Cairo. 300 workers were stopped from going, all of them women. Among the 200 workers that were allowed to go only 5 were women. Workers also told of national security personell intimidating workers in Mahalla after the strike.

The Mahallah workers wanted to impeach their fatory union reps for working against them in their successful strike in December. The Mahalla workers also claim that the elections for the factory union was rigged.

Legally, to impeach their local union the workers needed signatures of 50 percent + 1. The factory has about 19-20.000 worker officially and 24.000 workers unofficially. The workers/strikers had collected 13.000 signatures. They want new elections, or if this is not accepted they would report the case to the police (since what they are doing is actually illegal, and the GUTW not impeaching the factory union would be illegal) withdraw their membership from the union enmasse and form an independent union. This would be a first in over 50 years in Egypt. However, this depends on the GUTW accepting the signatures as valid

At the offices of the GUTW the Mahalla workers presented their signatures to the union heads (all of them members of the NDP, the regime party). The union bosses said they needed to check the validity of the signatures in order to make a decision on impeachment. While validation happened there was a very heated discussion between workers and the union bosses. Too much to write about now, but basically the workers have been fucked economically and politically in the union. Their salaries are ridiculously low even for Egyptian standards (LE 150 - 350, a kilo of meat costs about LE40-50 per kg), and they've been frozen for about 25 years while prices on basic goods have soared 300 percent.

In the end the GUTW did not accept the signatures, which did not come as a surprise on anyone. The workers promptly went to the nearest police station to report the GUTW. And this is where it is at now. The Mahalla workers are still committed to forming an independent union if all legal means fail, though no date for when they will do this has been set.

Sorry, that is all I have time for now. Pressed with work. If you have any specific questions please post in this thread or PM me and I'll try to answer them.

syndicalist
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Feb 5 2007 01:08

Thanks for the update. I'd be curious to learn more about the Eyptian syndicalist (you can PM me on that).

Also, when the workers went to the police, what did the police actually do?

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Steven.
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Feb 21 2007 10:50

This is all still going off:
Egypt's wildcat strike wave continue unabated

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Steven.
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Mar 6 2007 15:35

Right this seems to be still ongoing, saw an article which has some interesting info, albeit with a bunch of social democratic balls at the end, but still:
http://www.chinaworker.org/cgi-bin/index.cgi?action=viewnews&id=264

and of course our coverage is here:
http://libcom.org/news/tags/egypt

syndicalist
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Mar 26 2007 01:38

Egyptian Textile Workers Confront the New Economic Order
Joel Beinin and Hossam el-Hamalawy
MERIP REPORT - March 25, 2007

http://www.merip.org/mero/mero032507.html