This video in Arabic gives a flavour of the Mahalla strike.
The ITUC reports that newly elected Egyptian president Morsi has intervened to settle a strike wave after a worker was killed.
Striking workers at the Al-Samoly textile factory in Mahalla were attacked, and a worker, Ahmed Hosni, was killed. The attackers were allegedly acting on the orders of the company.
The activism of Mahalla workers set the stage for the Tahrir Square movement that eventually ousted Mubarak. Under Mubarak, Egyptian unions were controlled by the state, and union activists have been striving to form independent unions and raise terms and conditions since 2006. There are currently about 200 hundred independent unions in Egypt, representing two million workers. The independent trade unions are coordinated by the Centre for Trade Unions and Workers’ Services (CTUWS), a labour service NGO.
When the Mubarak regime fell, there was hope that a new era of trade union freedom would dawn in Egypt. However, the caretaker rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) continued to oppress unions, and the passage of the Trade Unions Liberties Law was stalled.The Egyptian election was recently won by the Islamic Brotherhood candidate Morsi. The CTUWS argues that the Islamic Brotherhood are historically anti-union. Morsi’s response to the recent wave of industrial action is therefore crucial.
A wave of strikes started in mid-July at the state-owned Mahalla Misr textile company, which employs 24,000 people. Seven other textile factories in Alexandria, Mahalla and other cities have also gone on strike. There have also been strikes at the Cleopatra ceramics factory in Suez, which employs 12,000 people. Striking workers were tear gassed by the security forces.
The Washington Post, LA Times and Global Post are also reporting on the new wave of worker activism sweeping across Egypt. Union activists claim that they made the revolution against Mubarak, but they are yet to benefit from the change.
For more background on the Egyptian trade union movement, watch our video of Kamal Abbas and Nihal El Banna of the Centre for Trade Union and Workers’ Services in Egypt.