Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Strikes spread to postal workers in Egypt

In a country where political opposition is heavily stifled and the population is normally associated with political indifference, a wave of labor unrest is emerging, according to the BBC. Underlying most of the strikes are demands for wage rises, but some strikes have taken on a political edge, protesting against privatization and calling for independent trade unions.

Last December, in the Nile Delta town of Mahalla, some 20,000 textile workers downed tools and occupied their factory, inspiring a series of copycat strikes as their demands for an unpaid bonus promised to all laborers nationally were eventually met.

Within four months of the Mahalla strike, workers at three other large textile factories and two cement factories had held stoppages, and railway employees had briefly blockaded the Cairo-Alexandria train line.

The most recent sit-in by about 100 postal workers, who are calling for fixed term contracts, is one among hundreds of other smaller-scale actions by workers ranging from rubbish collectors to bakers and poultry workers to Suez Canal employees.

Although riot police surrounded some of the bigger strikes and a workers’ rights NGO has been closed down, strikes have not been broken up by force—in stark contrast to the sometimes heavy-handed treatment of pro-democracy protestors like Kifaya. Their protests have waned in the last year in the wake of government crackdowns and the passing of constitutional reforms.

“For all that Kifaya did do, the social base was for the most part limited to urban intellectuals,” said Joel Beinen, head of Middle East Studies at the American University in Cairo. “That’s just not enough to make any big change in Egypt.”

But the labor protests are different, he said.

For the full article, click here.


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