Egypt: Waves of Workers’ Strikes

Like in 2008, this year is witnessing waves of strikes and demonstrations by Egyptian workers in various sectors and organizations. Students, pharmacists, lawyers [Ar], railway drivers, media people and even Microbus drivers and Egyptian street cleaners are all demanding more just rights, protesting against their decreasing incentives or trying to rebel against their poor economic status.

And as usual, Egyptian bloggers are working around the clock to cover almost all demonstrations taking place, through their blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr accounts, and by giving those workers a voice.

Going through the post titles in just two Egyptian blogs specialized in covering strikes happening in Egypt – Egyptian Workers by Kareem El Behery andTadamon Masr (or Egyptian Solidarity) – we can outline a chronology of the strikes.

In January:

* 900 workers on strike in Nile cotton company in El Mehalla
* 500 workers in strike, protesting against reducing their incentives
* for the first time, railway workers on strike
* failure of Telemasr workers’ negotiations with management, and the owner threats to stop their wages
* a sit-in for Cleaning agency workers, protesting the non-payment of holiday bonus

In February:

* Abu Radi workshop workers in a sit in
* Suez Canal workers appeal to officials
* Abu El Eneen Ceramic factory workers in a sit-in
* 50 workers in a strike in Shebeen El kom
* Education administrators in strike in El Mehalla
* “Masr pharmacy” workers in strike today and in a hunger strike next week
* Pictures for Tora cement workers sit-in
* Pharmacists strike and the syndicate decisions

In March:

* Asek company workers in strike calling for increasing their annual allowance
* Cotton Ginning workers in El Menya in strike protesting non-payment of their salaries
* Hebei Pharm workers in strike
* 3,000 workers in Daitex in strike in Alexandria, protesting the non-payment of their incentives and labor day grant
* Sit-in for 240 workers in Betroid protesting the company's demand to sign collective resignations
* 400 workers in the «spinning equipment» on strike Monday protesting against the stop of promotions and incentives reduction
* Strike and sit-in for Ghazl Shebeen el kom workers

And that's not everything. You can also check El Mahalla, Flour mills workers, Arabawy and other blogs covering more strikes.

Some strikes were aborted, but others ended in victory like the recent one in Shebeen el Kom, which initially started in February with 50 workers protesting the non-payment of their incentives. The action snowballed and on March 16, 4,200 workers decided to end the strike because the owning company agreed to their demands.

Shebeen el Kom victory

Sara Carr, who was the first to announce the news on Jaiku, visited the scene with Per Bjorklund and they both wrote detailed analysis and reports here, here and here.

[Photos from Shebeen el kom stike can be found on Flickr sets by Per Bjorklund and Sara Carr. Also videos can be found on Arabawy‘s blog.]

Via Per Bjorklund

Via Per Bjorklund

On a different note, Per Bjorklund took the Shebeen el kom strike as an example of how to tackle a new dimension in the conflict, reflecting on the connection of the ongoing strikes to the international economic crisis. He questioned “what if the owning company, Indorama, is cutting wages on propose? what if its a play to push people for early retirement and hire fresh employees with lower wages instead?”

Zeinobia also highlighted another important point. She mentioned that the culture of strikes has been absent for some time in Egypt, but it is returning back and strongly spreading not only between the educated or workers, but also between different lower classes in the Egyptian society.

Strikes happen all over the world even in the most capitalistic countries, it is a right as long as you do not give your employee his basic right
The big surprise to me was the strike of the Microbuses drivers in Giza in the last 2 days . About 300 microbuses drivers were on strike objecting the treatment of Police !! Again it is a surprise because usually the microbuses drivers are from a segment that does not understand this strike culture.

One excerpt, Per Bjorklund translated, from a statistics report on El Badeel daily newspaper says:

El-Badeel today published some statistics from the Land Center from Human Rights: During 2008 a total of 609 industrial actions occurred in Egypt, including 122 strikes. This is slightly less than 2007 but still far more than previous years. The true number of protests might be higher, since these numbers are based mainly on protests actually reported by media.

Everybody believes that something is going on. It has become the norm to hear news of a new strike or sit-in here or there and on a daily basis. Add to the above, the new calls [Ar] for a second general strike, like last year's April 6th strike. So how far will the story go? We will not need to wait too long for the answer.

[For continuous updates, you can follow Egyptian workers diigo group, created by Hossam El Hamalawy; along with a post asking to collect all photos taken by Egyptian activists for workers.]


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