Industrial action over pay, conditions and government-appointed union ‘leaders’

A wave of strikes, occupations and workers’ protests has broken out in the past 48 hours in Egypt, starting to show the power of the country’s mighty working class. They are clearly inspired by the mass movement on the streets against Mubarak’s rule. Workers’ anger is boiling over after years of exploitation. They are demanding higher pay, better conditions and the dismissal of corrupt bosses and government-appointed union leaders.

Thousands of Petrotrade Company workers protested at the company’s Cairo branches, joined by Petroment and Syanco petroleum company workers. Workers occupied five Petrotrade branches, including 1,500 at the Haram and Faisal branches. Some demonstrated outside the Ministry of Petroleum. “Either Sameh comes down or we go to Tahrir,” they chanted referring to Petroleum Minister Sameh Fahmy. The workers complained that their monthly pay of LE500-700 was insufficient for a decent life and demanded LE3000-4000. The CEO threatened to bring in state security forces and threatened strikers with his military connections.

Five thousand employees of state-owned Telecom Egypt staged protests at three sites in Cairo. Monthly wages of around LE600 have remained unchanged for more than 20 years while deputy heads of the company are paid LE250,000 per month. Before going on to Tahrir Square, one telecom engineer said, "We protested today for the establishment of an adequate minimum wage and maximum wage for our company’s employees and administrators. Corruption is part and parcel of our company’s administration. We have not raised any political demands at our workplaces, but the popular uprising has assisted many employees to overcome our fears."

Five thousand post workers protested in front of the Egypt Post Authority demanding the appointment of 4000 workers on temporary contracts and ending corruption in the authority. Some workers have been on temporary contracts for fifteen years. “They cut our incentives by 50% in favour of consultants appointed from the military who receive more than LE20,000 a month,” said a worker who has been on LE600 a month for the past 20 years.

A kilometre away from Tahrir Square, 500 media workers protested outside the headquarters of the state-owned Rose al-Youssef newspaper and magazine. They denounced the pro-regime and anti-uprising coverage of their editor-in-chief. Two hundred journalists demonstrated outside the Journalists’ Union building in Cairo, demanding the recall of the president, who is a member of the ruling National Democratic Party and strong supporter of Mubarak. At the headquarters of state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper, Egypt’s largest daily, 500 print workers protested demanding full-time contracts, benefits and bonuses.

Solidarity

Four thousand workers from the Coke Coal and Basic Chemicals Company in Helwan announced a strike today. They are demanding higher salaries, permanent contracts for temporary workers, bonus payment and an end to corruption. They expressed solidarity with the protesters in Cairo. Also in Helwan, 2000 Silk Factory workers protested at the company headquarters calling for the removal of the board of directors.

In the Nile Delta City of Mahalla, 1500 workers at the Abul Sebae Textile Company protested to demand overdue wages and bonuses, and are reported to have set up a road block. Hundreds of workers from the Mahalla spinning company – the biggest factory in the Middle East - organized a sit-in in front of the company’s office calling for the delivery of overdue promotions. Six hundred textile workers in Kafr al-Dawwar protested, before and after their shifts, demanding overdue bonuses and food compensation payments. Eight hundred Nile Textiles workers organised a sit-in in front of its headquarters demanding better wages, a daily one-hour break and allowing them the vacation time dictated by law as they are only allowed one day-off per week.

In the Nile Delta Town of Quesna, 2000 Sigma Pharmaceuticals workers went on strike, demanding improved wages, promotions, and the recall of a number of senior managers. 1500 hospital workers at Kafr al-Zayyat, also in the Nile Delta, started a sit-in to call for the payment of their overdue bonuses.

Three hundred and fifty workers from the Egyptian Cement Company staged protests at their factory and outside their company’s headquarters in Qattamiya, demanding the establishment of a trade union committee and reinstatement of a union activist sacked a year ago.

In Suez, more than 400 workers from Misr National Steel went on strike, saying they have not received any bonuses for years and that the average salary at the company does not exceed LE600.

Corruption

One hundred and fifty mostly female staff at the Egyptian Animal Health Research Center staged a demonstration calling for the director’s resignation. “She’s totally corrupt,” said one doctor. “She used the money allocated for studying and preventing avian flu to build personal villas in Cairo and Alexandria. The only reason she has her position is because her brother works in the Health Minister’s office.” Workers cheered as the director’s car pulled up, saw the protest and then sped off.

Two hundred workers at the General Authority for Pharmaceutical Drugs Monitoring organised a sit-in in front of the headquarters demanding a minimum wage of LE1200 and permanent jobs for temporary workers. In Sadat City, 750 workers at Schweppes Beverages occupied demanding better wages, holiday pay since public protests on Jan. 25, and better working and safety conditions.

In Ismailia, hundreds of dockworkers affiliated with Suez Canal Authority, organized a sit-in in front of the company’s headquarters demanding parity of wages and incorporating their companies with the authority. They called for 7,000 workers of the five other companies affiliated with the authority along the Canal to join them.

In Cairo, the independent Property Tax Collectors Union organized a protest in front of the government-backed Egyptian Trade Union Federation, demanding the resignation of its head, Hussein Megawer, along with the rest of its leadership. They also demanded an investigation into ETUF corruption.

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