One of the most important recent developments in the struggle of Egyptian workers for decent living standards and democratic rights was the formation of the first independent trade union (syndicate) for over 50 years, last December. Abd El-Kadr Nada, Assistant General Secretary of the new union of property (real estate) tax collectors, spoke to the CWI.
“There are 55,000 property tax collectors, in every city and village. The official government union for public sector employees did not work for the workers, just its leaders’ personal interests. We felt we couldn’t fix the problem with the government union and make the leaders talk about our problems and rights.
“In 2007 we sent a message to every city and state. Fifteen agreed to be leaders of a strike committee. We did training and made a network, so that if the government arrested strike leaders there would be three or four others ready to step into their place.
“The strike started in September 2007 and 90% of the government’s property tax collection stopped. In December, 5000 strikers a day staged a sit-in outside the Ministry building in Cairo, which lasted 13 days. Strikers from different parts of the country took part in shifts. We caused no damage in the streets and gave no excuse to the police to arrest us. People living in the street gave water and food to the strikers. After the strike finished the workers gave the people a gift for the help they had received.
“Every evening there was a meeting to talk about the strike and discuss what was to be done the next day. One delegate from every city attended. Negotiators played a game with the government minister, telling him we needed to talk to all the leaders to settle, and then advising the meeting not to settle. In the end, the strike won a 325% pay rise.
“Every leader wanted to follow this by building an independent trade union. Since then, one leader from Mansoura has rejoined the government union, but another has stepped into his place.
“The government tax collectors’ union has nine offices in 26 cities. We have one small office, but people talk to us in every city. We have over 30,000 members. The government union now has 4,500. Half of them are leaving to join us. The other half want to leave but have been threatened with losing their jobs if they do.
“There haven’t been free trade unions in Egypt since the 1920s. The government philosophy has been to build unions to control the workers and so they’ve not allowed independent unions to start. They are scared more independent unions will succeed. They are scared a revolution will happen.”
Abd El-Kadr Nada agreed with the CWI that a political party to represent workers was needed in Egypt:
"We want to start a political party to join independent unions, students and farmers.Workers want a good salary, good health service and the right to be free; 80% of workers want socialism but don’t know it.
“We’ve done the first step. We want change from the bottom to the top – not from the top to the bottom. The government unions and the state security forces try to break us to make the President safe. We are not scared of the police and security forces. Hosni Mubarak wants to stay in power and his son is following. Independent unions are a problem for them. “