With the re-introduction of the emergency law, the military junta is desperately trying to strangle the revolution and return to the “normality” of the Mubarak era. But the workers are on the move. The recent upsurge in strikes and protests could spell the end for the SCAF regime.
A new wave of worker militancy is sweeping across Egypt. While the world mainstream media is focusing on the diplomatic intrigues following the attack on the Israeli embassy, the real events in Egypt are being kept out of the public domain. The fact of the matter is that the working class of Egypt is now threatening the very survival of the military junta’s regime.
Since the beginning of September, a massive wave of strikes and protests has flared up. Without doubt, the scope of the strikes is by far the biggest since the great victory that ousted Mubarak in February. These are taking place despite the law – issued in April – criminalizing strikes which “harm the national economy”, and despite regulations issued by the ruling military junta making negotiations during the course of strikes unacceptable.
Right now, the doctors’ strike is making headlines in Egypt. Doctors are demanding the improvement of health services, raising the health sector share in the budget from 3.5 percent to 15 percent and restructuring the sectors’ salaries and wages system.
Also, a week-long strike and daily protest action by workers and students pressured the management of the American University in Cairo (AUC) to meet the main demands of the protesters. This is a very symbolic victory. Without doubt, it will embolden wider layers to take up action.
The teachers on strike
For the first time since the revolutionary events of 1951, the teachers are staging a nationwide strike. The Independent Teachers Union, who called for the strike, have been mobilising for work stoppage action for weeks. They have been demanding a monthly minimum wage of 1200 pounds (148 euro) as well as the release of a productivity bonus, promised earlier by the government. They have also demanded the dismissal of Education Minister Ahmed Gamal El-Din Moussa. The Independent Teachers’ Union has stated, in a pamphlet it issued to the public, that it called the strike not only for economic gains but to improve conditions for students.
Work stoppages began across the country on Saturday the 17th, and were strongest in governorates such as Beni Suef in Upper Egypt. The strike spread to Cairo and Giza on Sunday where the academic year officially begins a day later than in the rest of the country.
Education ministry spokespersons announced that only 0.6 per cent of teachers heeded the strike call and that the overwhelming majority of Egypt’s one million teachers reported to work. But no-one believes these ridiculous lies. According to several independent sources, activists and journalists, about 65 to 75 per cent of teachers are taking part in the strike.
Maha Hamdy, a primary school 6th grade Arabic language teacher in the Hawamdiya district of Giza, told Ahram Online that teachers’ participation levels in the strike in her area was much bigger than the official state media reported: “Twenty-five out of 37 schools have joined the strike,” she said
“Governorates like Port Said, Kafr El-Sheikh, Suez, South Cairo, South Sinai and Qena witnessed a full strike, while partial strikes occurred in Central Cairo, Qaliubiya, Luxor, Beni Suef, Tanta, Giza and Aswan,” Shaimaa Said, coordinator of the general strike operations room, told Daily News Egypt.
In Cairo, high school students are reported to have formed groups in order to give active support to the strike.
An interesting fact is the strike-breaking role played by the Muslim Brotherhood. Activists have reported that members of the Muslim Brotherhood influenced group, Teachers Without Rights, have been crossing picket lines. This fact exposes the real role that the MB is playing. During the years of Mubarak dictatorship, they posed as “opposition” while at the same time making secret deals with the regime. But now they act as the main pillar of support for the military junta, the corrupt state bureaucracy and the wealthy elite.
The MB’s are playing the same strike-breaking role as they have always done. Before the massive demonstrations on 9th September, they urged people to stay at home and wait for the MB politicians to negotiate with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).
“We are reaching boiling point”
A perhaps much more important development is the massive wave of strikes and factory occupations among industrial workers.
Earlier this month, the 22,000 textile workers at the Misr Company for Spinning and Weaving in Mahalla struck and won some economic demands. Immediately, strikes spread like rings in water to other factories, where workers demanded the same concessions from their own bosses.
The workers at Misr Company for Spinning and Weaving are threatening an open-ended strike, demanding increased bonuses and food allowances. They also demand increased investment in public sector textile enterprises in order to save the industry from collapse.
“All of Egypt's workers from Aswan to Alexandria are exploited and under-paid. The interim government and SCAF should set a just and adequate minimum wage, for workers in all sectors of the economy, which is in keeping with rising living expenses,” said Mohamed al-Attar, a veteran labour activist at Misr Company for Spinning and Weaving, to Al-masry al-youm.
“Workers are tired of empty promises. Workers gave the authorities seven months to address these common grievances and have seen little to nothing in terms of actual reforms. We are reaching boiling point.”
This summer, we saw a number of strikes and factory occupations, especially in Suez. Workers are demanding a reversal of the last decades of counter-revolution on the factory floor. They are demanding investment to replace asset-stripping. They are demanding nationalisation to replace privatization. They are demanding workers’ control to replace the catastrophic mismanagement under the regime’s stooges. September has seen an increase in the industrial struggle. Everything now points in the direction of a more generalised struggle among the industrial workers. There is some talk of a general strike, although it is still on a small scale.
On the 18th September, workers in sugar refineries in Arment, Luxor were on strike for the sixth day. The strikers accused management of clientelism to the US and Israel, and chanted “open strikes until the fall of the regime”.
The postal workers have struck. So have the public transportation workers. The 450 workers at the Swedish-owned Olympic are on strike. All around the country, there are reports of massive strikes.
“Workers use the same slogans as those of Tahrir… but referring to the mini-Mubaraks they have in their firms,” journalist and activist Hossam El-Hamalawy told Daily News Egypt.
“Those workers are not simply demanding extra wages like what the media is trying to propagate — they are fighting corruption and turning the economic struggle to a political one,” he added.
Manoeuvres at the top
Minister of Manpower and Immigration Ahmed Hassan al-Borai said that labour unions’ elections will be postponed till after the parliamentary elections slated for November. It is a joke in very bad taste. This minister, who has never himself been elected to any position by any legitimate means, now tells the workers to wait until the career politicians have somewhat – the minister hopes – consolidated their grip on the situation, until they elect their own leaders.
All the al-Borais of Egypt, all the generals, the MB’s and the people who benefited from the Mubarak dictatorship are desperately trying to hold back the masses from taking any action themselves. “Don’t organise, don’t protest! Keep your mouths shut, lower your heads and return to normal life. Then everything will be well. Trust not yourselves, only us, your leaders!” Such is their message. Unfortunately for these corrupt gangsters, the masses are not eager to listen to this endless flow of empty words from people who have never done anything to help the revolution.
On the contrary, this week has seen a considerable rise in the level of mass protests and strikes. On Friday, the teachers are planning a large scale demonstration in front of the cabinet.
If the workers are to win their just and modest demands, a greater level of co-ordination and organisation is needed. There cannot be any talk about waiting for the career politicians to conduct their counter-revolutionary manoeuvrings. An open-ended, well-coordinated general strike in the private and public sector would break the neck of the SCAF, who are just waiting for an opportunity to crush the revolution.
Six months with the SCAF in the place of Hosni Mubarak have brought virtually no change at all to the masses of Egypt. It was the Egyptian masses who fought and died to do away with the Mubarak regime. Now is the time to finish the job: purge the state, re-nationalise all privatised companies, introduce workers’ control and use the country’s wealth, which is currently controlled by a small, corrupt clique, to secure housing, education and health for the people.
Now the SCAF have even re-introduced the Emergency Law. This is not an indication of strength. On the contrary, it is a clear sign of weakness on the part of these US-educated generals. In the moment of truth, the Emergency Law offered no protection for Hosni Mubarak. He was toppled by the massive strikes, providing social strength to the January 25 revolution. The SCAF are sensing the threat of a similar fate for themselves. The Egyptian masses have shown great determination and courage over and over again, while bourgeois commentators and professors had told them that they were powerless. These “clever” people have understood nothing about the revolution.
The revolution has done away with Mubarak, but the problems of a capitalist system in decay are overwhelming. To solve the most burning problems socialist measures are needed and this is already shown in the demands for nationalisation and for new (elected) leaders in industry. The workers are taking up socialist slogans, not out of theoretical considerations, but from their own experience. The SCAF and the gangsters behind them are right to be scared.
For the Egyptian revolution to triumph, all that is lacking at this moment is a bold leadership that is up to the task. The most urgent task of the Egyptian revolution is to build the revolutionary party. The creation of the Democratic Workers’ Party was a step forward in this matter. Now there is an urgent need to connect all the militant workers in a common action to bring down the remnants of the Mubarak regime.