Egypt: Waves of Workers’ Strikes

Like 2008, this year is witnessing waves of strikes and demonstrations by Egyptian workers in various sectors and organizations.  Students, pharmacists, lawyers, railway drivers, media people, and even microbus drivers and 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, 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 and Tadamon Masr (or Egyptian Solidarity) — we can outline a chronology of the strikes.

In January:

In February:

In March:

And that’s not everything.  You can also check El Mahalla, Egyptian Mill 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 analyses and reports: Sara Carr, “Indo Drama”; Per Bjorklund, “Shebeen el-Kom Strikers Denounce Privatization”; and Per Bjorklund, “The Blame Game: Class Struggle in Shebeen el-Kom.”

(Photos of the Shebeen El Kom strike can be found in the Flickr sets by Per Bjorklund and Sara Carr.  Also videos can be found on Arabawy’s blog.)

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 asked: what if the owning company, Indorama, is cutting wages on propose?  What if it’s 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 coming back and strongly spreading not only among educated workers, but also among 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 from a statistics report by El Badeel daily newspaper (translated by Per Bjorklund) 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 on a daily basis.  Add to the above, the new calls 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 his post asking his comrades to collect all photos taken by Egyptian activists for workers.)

Eman AbdElRahman is an engineer, who keeps two blogs: Lasto Adri and On My Own.   AbdElRahman also works on the We Are All Laila project.  The original article was published by Global Voices Online on 19 March 2009 under a Creative Commons 3.0 license; it is edited for readability and republished here.