Tanta Flax Company strike marks 80th day

Around 200 workers from the Tanta Flax and Oils Company staged a demonstration outside the Ministry of Manpower and Immigration in Cairo today, marking the 80th day of their strike, demanding the re-nationalization of their company. Hundreds of their colleagues back in the Nile Delta have also announced their intention to launch a hunger strike as of tomorrow.

Some 1,000 workers at the company had started their strike on 31 May, raising demands that include reinstating nine co-workers sacked under the pretext of "inciting labor unrest," the provision of workers' profit-sharing which has been overdue for three years, together with the incentive pay withheld since 2003. The workers are also demanding the payment of their social insurance expenses withheld since May 2009, as well as increasing each worker's monthly food allowance from LE 31 per month to LE 90.

The strikers chanted slogans today denouncing the company owner, a Saudi investor named Abdel Elah el-Kaaki, and the Egyptian executive manager, Mohamed el-Seihy, as "thieves."

The Tanta Flax and Oils Company was privatized in 2005. Since then, the workers have staged four strikes.

The ongoing strike is the most militant, with the workers demonstrating outside the Saudi Embassy in Giza, blocking off the Nile Delta Tanta-Zefta Highway at least three times, and have called for the re-nationalization of the company. Some strike leaders are even calling for taking over and self managing the company.

"We have sent numerous faxes to the General Union for Textile Workers, the Egyptian Trade Union Federation, the Labor Ministry and to the Prime Minister but no avail," said Hisham el-Okal, the local union's deputy treasurer and one of the nine fired workers. "None of these authorities seem concerned with our plight. We hope that the government will heed our demands, but if they don't then we will continue to escalate our protests. We shall not leave Cairo until our demands our met."

Gamal Othman, another sacked worker told Al-Masry Al-Youm: "I have been issued a court order to be reinstated in the company, but the administration has ignored this. We will not leave until Aisha Abdel Hady meets with us and resolves all our problems. Otherwise we will sleep here on the sidewalk outside the ministry until our demands are met or until we are all arrested, beaten or even killed by the security forces. We are sick and tired of being ignored." Othman added the strikers' representatives repeatedly met with the Minister and her office manager Nahed el-Ashry, as well as Hussein Megawer, the president of the state-backed General Federation of Trade Unions, and Saeed el-Gohary, the head of the government-controlled General Union for Textile Workers. "We received nothing but empty promises," Othman said with frustration.

When contacted, el-Gohary told Al-Masry Al-Youm: "We have appealed several times to the Tanta Flax Company's administration and its investor to negotiate with us, and indeed we managed to meet with them last month. We reached a tentative agreement, so we called upon the local union to suspend the strike. However, neither the administration nor the investor fulfilled their part of the agreement. Naturally this has angered the workers and they are continuing with their strike."

This industrial action at Tanta is the first one to ever be authorized by the General Union for Textile Workers, since 1957. The current three-year-old strike wave engulfing Egypt is the strongest since 1946, and is centered in the textile sector. El-Gohary's general union in particular has been facing the heat, with strikers in different Nile Delta textile mills demanding the impeachment of their state-backed representatives. In one case at least, the workers hospitalized their local union head during the September 2007 strike in the Misr Spinning and Weaving Company in Mahalla when he told the workers to suspend their action.

The General Union endorsed the Tanta strike but attempted, according to observers, to curb the militancy of the industrial action. The strikers told Al-Masry Al-Youm during recent visits to the factory that General Union officials distributed, at the start of the strike, President Mubarak's posters and banners supporting the state-backed General Federation. These banners were torn down last Tuesday by the strikers, who vented their wrath on the state-backed unions accusing el-Gohary of ordering the suspension of, and stopping his financial support for, their industrial action. The Tanta workers launched an independent strike fund two days ago, collecting LE 1 from every man and woman in the factory, vowing to continue striking with or without the support of the union.

by Jano Charbel (Al-Masr al-Youm online)

Posted By

Aug 17 2009 16:46


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Aug 17 2009 17:40

What's the political perspective of the site this was on, looks like very decent analysis.

Aug 17 2009 18:05

It's from al-Masry al-Yom (Egypt today or Daily Egypt), a liberal opposition newspaper. They cover lots of strike news and seem to be very sympathetic to strikers.

The decent analysis in the article might come from the fact that it was written by Jano Charbel. He considers himself to be a syndicalist.

Aug 18 2009 08:44

Is that an uncommon perspective in Egypt?

Aug 18 2009 15:24

Yes, it's very uncommon. When I spoke to Jano about this he mention that there were very few syndicalists around (if any). The trots are the main leftist group.

(Fun fact: TUs in Egypt are actually called syndicates.)