Monday, May 31, 2010

Monday, May 24, 2010

Amonsito & The Inner Workings of State Violence

On 28 April Ahmad Ezz, appearing on Christiane Amanpour’s CNN show, spoke with pride of the demonstrations staged daily in front of parliament by “good Egyptians.” He went on to remark that the image of Egypt “stifling dissent… with no freedom of expression, is far from the mark.”

Sunday 23 May, proved claims of the Egyptian regime’s stifling dissent to be right on the mark.

The morning started with escalations by the workers of the Amonsito factory. Their union representatives were due to meet with Minister of Manpower and Immigration Aisha Abdel Hady and General Union head Hussein Megawer at 10am that morning.

What was to be discussed once more was the government’s backing out from a deal singed on 21 March between Bank Misr, the government’s Ministry of Manpower and Immigration and the worker’s union. Following the signed agreement the government-owned bank backed reduced the agreed upon amount of LE106 million to be paid out to the 1700 workers, to LE50 million.

Over the past week the workers have been progressively escalating their acts of protests in an attempt to get the government and the passers-by attention.

Sunday morning the workers were using whistles, chanting and beating the barricades the police uses to cage them onto the sidewalk. The deafening noise could be heard multiple streets away, drawing the attention of anyone in the vicinity. On Friday, some of the workers ripped their clothes and wrote message of dissent on their bodies.

Their calls of protest have reached a new level of urgency.

On Sunday the messages on their bodies and torn clothes included, “the thieving government,” “I want my rights.”

Around 1pm the union representatives returned from the parliament building with bad news. The head of the General Union and Manpower Minister had stood their ground and would not return to negotiate the original 21 March agreement.

After the announcement of this news, the workers tried to enter the gates of the parliament upon which security forces encircled them. When some of the workers managed to break through the barricade, the forces attacked them with wooden sticks, beating them severely and then arrested seven of the workers.

Minutes later many of the workers had dispersed all over town, Ragab Khidr was taken to a nearby hospital having loosing consciousness after security forces beat him over the head. Khidr later received stitches to his head.

Security forces did not spare Amonsito union head Khaled al-Shishawy, who also received multiple blows to his body. While showing me his wounds, he explained, “security forces faced us, the officers beat us up with their batons, we kept trying to hold back their blows.”

The representative of the 1700 workers went on, “we’re not leaving even if they shoot us. May they detain us all and put us behind bars.”

Four hours later security had forced all the workers away having threatened them with further use of violence and without having released the initial seven kidnapped workers.

The government-aligned Radio Misr station announced later that day that the workers had gone home, after having come to an agreement with the government.

Just a few minutes walk away from the Amonsito protest site, security forces forced similar sit-ins of the Nubariya and the Helwan Telephone Company from their sites of protest.

Al-Shishawy ended his statement saying, “I hope the world knows what democracy is like in Egypt, we are only asking for our rights.”

NDP parliamentarian Ahmad Ezz will have to drive to work tomorrow on streets cleared of protesters.

For the workers, the government spokesman’s words have never rung so hollow.

Security Forces Crack Down

The days events

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Amonsito workers face security crackdown

After being kicked out of a parliament session in the early afternoon of March 23, Amonsito workers faced police brutality. Security forces kidnapped 6 workers and are now holding them at police stations. Security deny their presence at qasr alnil and sayeda Zeinab police stations despite witness accounts of their presence there

see witness accounts here

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Visiting An Egyptian Worker Intifada

On May 18 the sidewalks of the Egyptian Parliament is packed with workers.

Leading the crowd is the 14-year-old daughter of the union leader.

In the heat of the day, about 30 workers from the Amonsito textile factory huddled under the shade of a tree.

“We are not workers, we are rejects,” the factory union leader Khaled el-Shishawy, who is known simply as sheikh Khaled said.

Read on

The workers returned after government officials and the crediting bank shirked responsibility on an agreement signed 55 days earlier.

Before returning 12 days ago, sheikh Khaled told me, “If we return to our sit-in, it won’t be the same as last time. Things will be different.”

More pictures of the workers' sit-in here.

The Shattering of the Egyptian State- Labor Uprising in Review

Kareem el-Beheiry was 20 years old when he first took part in a labor strike in December 2006.

"I didn't know what a strike was," said el-Beheiry, the Mahalla Textile Factory's first blogger.

The next day he saw a scene that changed his life. "I saw a woman crying in front of a TV camera, saying she could not feed her kids."

The blogger, shocked by the scene, thought to himself, "Does this really exist in Egypt?"

It does, according to Esam Shaban, a researcher at the Afaq Ishtiraqeyya Center. Over 80 percent of Egyptians are poor, Shaban says, and conditions have worsened over the past five years.

While the Egyptian government often claims that increasing poverty is a result of global market fluctuations, others suggest that Egypt's problems are the direct result of growing gentrification and the government's economic policies.

In the late 1990s the government began privatizing industry, which had been under state control since the 1950s. The education and health sectors were then privatized in the early 2000s. Many factories that had previously been nationalized were bought by foreign investors seeking quick profits. They were attracted by Egypt's lax labor laws, accentuated by a new law in 2003.

In the mid-1990s, farmers were stripped of the protective laws as the government stepped in to protect large landowners and cut subsidies to small farmers.

"Today even working two jobs is not sufficient to provide for a family," Shaban says. "It has caused an economic crisis and people can't remain quiet about this." Many Egyptians have taken to the streets to protest their economic plight.

"On the Egyptian street," says Shaban, "the individual act of discontent became a collective act of protest."

A turning point came in December 2006 when over 24,000 workers at a state-owned textile factory in the Nile Delta city of Mahalla launched a massive strike. On the third day of the strike, labor leader Jihad Taman noticed el-Beheiry filming and thought he was a security agent. When el-Beheiry showed him his factory ID card, Tamam took el-Beheiry under his wing.

The December 2006 strike broke down a barrier of fear among Egyptian labor activists. By the time of the next strike, in September of 2007, the blogger and his fellow strikers were chanting against the World Bank's role in the "colonization" of Egypt and calling for the downfall of President Hosni Mubarak.

News and images of the 2006 and 2007 uprisings spread across Egypt like a virus. Soon, strikes, sit-ins and protests were springing up all around the country.

On 6 April, 2008 food prices hit a new high, and once again Mahalla was the site of dissent.

With the aim of preventing another major strike, security forces closed the textile factory compound. State security trucks from around Egypt surrounded the Delta city. Workers subsequently called off the strike as security made it impossible for them to congregate.

Mahalla, however, was not easily pacified. When security forces beat a woman and her daughter, they ignited the people's anger. For days the clashes continued, with scenes reminiscent of the Palestinian Intifada becoming a reality on Egypt's streets.

Infrastructure, like police cars and train tracks, were set ablaze with the intention of sending a message: Under this regime, life has become unbearable.

In the 6 April uprising, the demands of the workers and the general population overlapped. People called for lower food prices as workers called for a minimum wage.

During the 6 April strike, state security agents arrested and tortured el-Beheiry along with many other labor activists. He was released 73 days later. In 2009, the government transferred el-Beheiry to Cairo and in 2010 he was fired.

In May 2008 a 10,000 person sit-in of real-estate tax collectors caused the government to give in to demands for a 300 percent wage increase. On 21 April 2009, thousands of tax collectors gathered at the Ministry of Manpower and Immigration, forcing Minister Aisha Abdel Hady to recognize their independent union, the first in Egypt since 1957.

At the end of 2009 more and more sit-ins moved to the sidewalks of downtown Cairo. When workers' calls for government interference--particularly in recently privatized factories--went unheeded, they moved to the gates of parliament.

On 8 February workers of the Tanta Flax and Oils Factory started a sit-in on the doorstep of the Council of Ministers in downtown Cairo. In January, the factory's union head, Salah Mosallam, along with nine others were fired in retribution for launching a number of strikes in Tanta. After the Saudi factory owner locked the factory, workers moved their protest to downtown Cairo, calling for their re-instatement or severance payments in accordance with Egyptian law.

"The example of the Tanta Flax Company has proved that the policy of privatization is a failure," said independent MP Gamal Zahran.

After more than two weeks of sitting-in, the roughly 400 protestors rolled up their blankets and went home after the union head came to an verbal agreement with Minister of Manpower and Labor Aisha Abdel Hady and the factory representatives.

But while the Tanta workers may have been temporarily placated, their action brought about a new tactic for Egypt's labor movement. Their 16-day sit-in started a new wave of sit-ins on the sidewalks of the Egyptian parliament.

Workers from the Salemco and Amonsito companies repeated the Tanta Flax scenario almost as if they were following the same script. It seems as though workers have discovered that in order to have their voices heard, they must take their protests to the streets of Cairo.

So far, even this kind of pressure has only brought limited results as factory owners have repeatedly neglected to uphold the promises they make to force the workers off the street. A few weeks after their settlement, the Tanta Flax and Oil Company workers were back on the streets of downtown Cairo.

While the ongoing strikes have empowered Egyptian labor activists, conditions are still not ideal.

"We say the street is ours, but when security forces beat Bahaa Saber in public and then tortured him behind closed doors, this remains only a slogan," says Mahalla blogger el-Beheiry, referring to the 6 April 2010 protest at which an activist was violently beaten in front of masses of onlookers and rolling video cameras.

"Protests don't show the democracy of the government, they prove the failure of the government, they show there is no government," el-Beheiry says.

The Egyptian government's inequitable economic policies are working to shatter the concept of the state as a paternal figure, according to Shaban. "Confidence in the state that controls everything, that turns the water on and off, has been lost."

El-Beheiry thinks that protests need to be combined with direct action. "I like the idea of workers in Argentina. Let us privatize the factories for ourselves. This must be tried in Egypt," he says, referring to events during Argentina's 2001 economic crisis where factory owners fled the country with their savings and workers took over factory administrations and ran the shop floors themselves.

On 19 February MP Nasha't el-Qassass from President Mubarak's National Democratic Party called for protestors to be shot. The parliament responded by recommending to him to the Values Committee.

The following day protesters held placards reading, "Shoot us."

"The media has been central in spreading the news of protests," Shaban says. Today protesters are benefiting from the coverage of local and international media outlets as well as citizen journalism tools, like blogs, twitter, and live video feeds.

Last month, lawyer Khaled Ali from the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights handed in the papers for a case calling on the Egyptian government to set a fair minimum wage. Hundreds gathered at the Minister's Council lead by Independent Tax Collector Union head Kamal Abu Eita chanting, "For those living in castles, a maximum wage, for those living in graves, a minimum living wage."

On 1 May, sugar factories in the Qena Governorate went on strike due to unbearably low wages. At the end of April, 9000 workers at an aluminum factory in Naga Hamadi called for the implementation of a LE1200 a minimum wage.

Meanwhile, the five different groups of protesters on the sidewalk of the parliament buildings united to raise their voice in protest on May Day.

"On Labor Day, workers are supposed to be given benefits, year after year we are being given crises," says el-Beheiry.

Later today, workers and activists from all around the country will protest before the Council of Ministers. They will call for the implementation of a court case that was raised and won by worker Nagy Rashad against the Egyptian government. According to the court ruling, the prime minister is required to introduce a minimum living wage in accordance with market prices by 1 May. The current minimum wage, set in the mid-1980s, is LE35.

Meters from where many of the sit-ins have been taking place, an old mural reads, "Democracy ascertains the rule of the people." But for the people sleeping on the sidewalk, this sounds like a hollow platitude.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Workers of Egypt in Solidarity with the People of Greece on the 20 May Strike

From across the Mediterranean we have been witnessing the economic crisis and its effects on the people of Greece. For many in Egypt, Europe seems a far distance away, yet the financial realities of our globalized world mean that what happens to our brothers and sisters in Greece does not leave us unaffected.

The intolerable conditions of people in both Greece and Egypt is a direct consequence of the failures of capitalism and policies of neo-liberalism. Both in Greece and Egypt the governing authorities are reducing public sector funding in various spheres, like education, health and services, with the stated aim of "reform."

For the people of Greece the economic decisions taken by their government representatives has translated into a "financial crisis" that is causing widespread suffering of the population. In response the government is again punishing the people of Greece by imposing large-scale public spending cuts.

For the people of Egypt, though there is no report of a "financial crisis," consistent government spending cuts and privatization has also translated into suffering and thus a crisis in every sense of the word. All across the country workers have been holding sit-ins and strikes to protest miniscule government salaries and the illegal actions of privatized factory owners. In Egypt investment is on the rise, but the profits are not "trickling down" to the working class as promised.

We call for the governments of Greece and Egypt to re-shaped their economic agenda to prioritize the needs of people over the profits of investors.

Today, on the streets of Egypt we stand in solidarity with Greek protestors and affirm your stance against capitalism and the tyranny of governments that impose it.

In solidarity,

The workers of Al-Mahalla
The workers of Tanta Flax and Oil Company
The Real Estate Tax Collectors' Independent Union
The Socialist Studies Center
The Workers Preparatory Committee

تابعنا الازمة الاقتصادية التي وقعت في اليونان و الاثر الذي خلفته على الشعب اليوناني. الكثيرون في مصر يرون مسافة كبيرة بيننا و بين اوروبا، الا ان الحقائق المالية لعصر العولمة الذي نعيشه تفيد بان ما يعانيه اخواننا و اخواتنا في اليونان لا يتركنا دون تاثير.

ان الظروف العسيرة التي يمر بها شعبا اليونان و مصر لهي نتاج فشل سياسات الراسمالية و الليبرالية الجديدة. ففي كلا البلدين تقلص السلطات من التمويلات المخصصة لعدة اقسام من القطاع العام، كالتعليم، و الصحة، و الخدمات. و يجري كل ذلك تحت شعار "الاصلاح

يرى اليونانيون ان الخطوات التي اتخذها نوابهم تسببت في ازمة مالية نتج عنها معاناة للشعب على نطاق واسع. فيما ردت الحكومة باقتطاع جزء ضخم من النفقات العامة و كانها تعاقب شعبها.

اما فيما يخص الشعب المصري، فلا تقارير عن "ازمة مالية"، الا ان الاقتطاعات الدائمة للانفاق، الى جانب سياسة الخصخصة، اسهموا في خلق معاناة و ازمات بكل ما تحمله الكلمة من معنى. لقد نظم العمال في انحاء الجمهورية اعتصامات و اضرابات اعتراضا على تدني الاجور و الممارسات غير القانونية من جانب ملاك الشركات المخصخصة. و برغم ان حركة الاستثمارات في مصر في تصاعد، الا ان الطبقات العاملة لم تلمس فوائدها حسبما وعدت.

اننا نطالب حكومتي كلا من مصر و اليونان ان تعيدا ترتيب اجندتيهما بوضع احتياجات الشعب فوق مصالح المستثمرين.
ونحن اليوم متضامنون في شوارع مصر مع المتظاهرين اليونانيين ضد الراسمالية و الحكومات المستبدة التي تفرضها علينا.

رابتة عمال المحلة
عمال طنطا للكتان والزيوت
النقابة المستقلة للضرائب العقارية
مركز الدراسات الاشتراكية
اللجنة التحضيرية للعمال