Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Egyptian workers demand a living wage


by : joel beinin

On May 11 the Egyptian government extended the State of Emergency, which has been in effect continuously since 1981, for an additional two years. The Emergency Law gives the regime broad powers which it has used to try to suppress dissent of all sorts. But the law and other repressive measures have been ineffective in stemming the tidal wave of public protests by workers and others that have severely eroded the legitimacy of the regime of President Hosni Mubarak.

Since February workers from over a dozen workplaces have sat-in nearly continuously in front of Egypt's parliament. Each group has its own demands related to wages and working conditions in their workplace. Collectively, they have established a permanent presence of working-class dissent in downtown Cairo targeting the neoliberal economic policies the government headed by Prime Minister Ahmad Nazif Egypt has implemented with renewed vigor since taking office in July 2004.

The success of the sit-in tactic was established in December 2007, when 3,000 municipal real estate tax collectors occupied the street in front of the Ministry of Finance for 11 days. They won a 325% salary increase; and their action led to creating the first independent trade union since the government-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) was established in 1957.
Since 1998 over 2 million workers have participated in more than 3,300 factory occupations, strikes, demonstrations, or other collective actions protesting low wages, non-payment of bonuses, wage supplements, and social benefits, and private investors' failure to uphold their contractual obligations to their workers. The protests spiked sharply since the Nazif government accelerated the pace of privatization of public-sector enterprises in 2004. According to a recent report published by the Solidarity Center, The Struggle for Worker Rights in Egypt, privatization has usually meant less job security, longer hours, and a lower standard of social services for workers, while ETUF rarely defends their interests.


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