Growing wave of strikes in Egypt

By our correspondent
5 May 2011

Since Monday nearly 3000 workers of the Mefco Helwan Furniture Company are on strike and demanding higher salaries. According to a worker who spoke to the Egyptian daily Al Masry Al Youm, the CEO shut down the company on Tuesday and prevented workers from entering.

After the CEO refused to talk to the workers, they presented their demands to the military-installed government headed by Prime Minister Essam Sharaf and to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).

Workers of the first and second nuclear reactor in Anshas, a City located in the Sharkiya Governorate in the Nile Delta, also went on strike on Monday to demand higher salaries and better working conditions. Workers said that they earn only 120 EGP (US$20), even though they work in a risky environment.

2500 workers are on strike at the Jawhara Ceramics factory in the industrial city of Sadat in the Menoufiya governorate in the Nile Delta. The factory is owned by the detained businessman and former leading member of the National Democratic Party, Ahmed Ezz. Workers are protesting low salaries and demand a minimum as high as 1200 EGP per month. They are also requesting the foundation of a union committee to defend their rights and demand an hour’s rest for lunch and medical care for dependants.

In Abu Simbel, workers of Egyptian Airports Company are continuing their strike inside the terminals of the International Airport. They demand an incentive pay which is as high as their base salary.

Hundreds of workers have been occupying the Torah Egyptian Starch and Glucose Manufacturing Company in Torah since the beginning of February. According to workers the profitable factory was first privatized and then stripped of its assets. In April 2010 the management told workers to temporarily shut down the factory for renovation, but in fact, workers soon saw that the factory was being gradually dismantled. The workers have been laid off and according to al-Ahram they only received US$100 each.

Inspired by the Revolution, the workers are demanding their jobs back and want to receive at least an appropriate severance package and retirement allowance.

From Sunday to Monday, doctors staged an overnight sit-in at the Doctors’ Syndicate in Cairo. They blocked Qasr al-Aini street in Downtown Cairo and protested against the syndicate board’s refusal to officially approve the decision to hold a general strike on May 10 and an open strike on May 17. The media reported physical clashes between angry doctors and the board of the syndicate which wanted to prevent the strike.

Essam el-Erian, a member of the board and also a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood, was attacked by the doctors when he said that an open strike was a critical decision and therefore argued that the vote should be secret. Suspecting that it was the aim of the board to fake the vote, the doctors insisted on an open vote.

A video on YouTube shows the doctors’ meeting, which unanimously voted for the strike amid continuous calls for strike action: Physicians decide on a strike for May 10 and May 17.

In the end the syndicate’s board had to approve the strike because of the pressure of the workers, but it has been trying to undermine the struggle from the start. El Erian was cited in Egypt Daily News saying that the strike is “not about increasing our wages” and should be “civilized”.

The attitude of the doctors towards the strike is completely different. They demand the resignation of the Minister of Health, Ashraf Hatem, a minimum and maximum wage, and an increase of the health budget from 4.5 percent to 15 percent.

On May 9, the day before the doctors first go on strike, university professors will stage protests in front of the headquarters of university administrations all over the country. Their demands are better conditions of universities, free and fair elections of a new leadership at the universities, an increase of wages, and higher budgets for scientific research.

The ruling military junta is increasingly unnerved by this non-ending wave of strikes and protests. The military-installed government and the SCAF passed a law prohibiting strikes and protests in March to halt the Revolution and stabilize the economy in the interest of the Egyptian ruling class and international finance capital. The military already has detained thousands of protesters and three times brutally attacked protesters on Tahrir Square.

So far, however, the military rulers have shied away from a major confrontation with the working class and the enforcement of the anti-strike law with sheer violence. But with the mounting class struggle and a deepening economic crisis this danger is likely to grow.

According to Al Masry Al Youm the military police and a representative from the armed forces “visited” the Mefco Helwan Furniture Company for the second time on Tuesday. In Mahalla, the home of Egypt’s biggest industrial complex, tanks are deployed in front of the textile factories.

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