Hawamdiya Sugar Factory Protest
This protest I went to was by around 7,000 workers working at the Hawamdiya branch of the Sugar Factory. I was not allowed by the army to enter the factory and go speak to the workers, so the workers started going back and forth to speak to me and to argue with the officer that I should be let in. I sent solidarity greetings from the CWI to the workers inside the factory and gave the website address to many workers asking who we were out of interest. They kept telling each other about the CWI presence in solidarity and new workers kept coming up to me to tell me about their struggle.
At one point, one worker started shouting at the soldiers telling them this is a revolution. He said: “I will let her in myself, this is up to us we are in a revolution!” The atmosphere was very tense and the soldiers were very scared and kept phoning their top leader to ask what to do. Clearly, the army tops had been given an order over the phone to the officer who kept telling me and the workers around me that I should wait.
By the time I left, and after having argued with the one of the low rank officers to let me in, workers were now very agitated because temporary workers too were not allowed to enter and join their co-workers on the protest. Their demands which they also won immediately after I had left were an increase in the minimum wage and bonuses (some were calling for it be by 300%), for a housing allowance, meal allowance (some saying it should be at 450LE ($76) per month), for a committee of workers to coordinate with other branches (the enterprise has a total of 23,000 workers across Egypt), for the 5,000 temporary workers to be given fixed contracts, and for an increase in transport allowance.
•In Menufiya, workers at Masr Menufiya Textile Factory organised a sit-in in front of Mubarak industrial zone’s insurance office in Qwesna to protest against the exclusion of the 10 percent annual raise from their salaries.
•300 workers at the Fayyoum Sugar Company in West Cairo went on strike demanding settling workers on fixed contracts, the getting rid of corrupt management, the freezing of the official trade union committee, and the formation of a new workers committee. They were told their demands would be met on the same day.
•Cable Production Company in Giza also saw 350 workers on strike demanding a minimum wage at 1,200LE ($203), for health care provision, for wages to be paid directly to workers and not via the bank which is taking a charge from workers, for the formation of an independent trade union committee. They were also told their demands would be met on the same day.
•About 1,000 workers from the Egyptian-American Steel company in Sadat City organized a sit-in for 2 second consecutive days demanding an increase in their wages and for health insurance and meal incentives.
•Hundreds of workers at the Egyptian State Television Station went on strike calling for equal wages to those working in other televisions and complaining about the “bad coverage of the revolution” which were forced to carry out.
•In East Delta Flour Mills at Ismailia, Mansoura, Suez, Port Said, 4,000 workers went on strike against low wages, poor transport system, bias of the private sector mills at the expense of the public sector mills, for increasing the incentive from 30% to 100% on the basis of salary, for providing transportation for workers, to recover the share of supply that have been taken from the mills, the private sector to public sector mills, an end the unjust sanctions on workers, equal payment for colleagues who started at the same time and have had their wages delayed for a period of five years, the dismissal of Sami Yassin the company’s chief financial officer.
•Fayoum Sugar Company, 1,200 workers went on strike demanding equal pay with workers at the Nile Sugar Company which is owned by Naguib Sawiris, and for equal benefits as their colleagues who receive thousands of pounds per month from the Nile. They also demanded the return of all dismissed workers for defending the rights of workers, and the disqualification of managers whose age exceeds eighty years, and complained about Ahmed Al-Bakri whose estimated fortune is 30 or 40 million pounds, a young man in a public sector company reaching a fortune of millions! They called for general managers to be held accountable.
•Postal workers took strike action all over the country demanding equality in salaries and benefits, back dated to the previous two years, holding the telecommunications company accountable as it owns the post and reports to the same ministry. They called for the abolition of the unjust sanctions, the appointment of temporary employees, to resolve cases of obtaining the qualifications during the service, and the dismissal of advisers from the army who earn high salaries. The ministry made a concession of an increase of 11% in wages in an attempt to break up the protesters, but the workers refused the offer and said they will sit until the complete implementation of all their demands.
•Today, thousands of workers from Petrotrade and other companies belonging to the Ministry of Petroleum, protested in front of the Ministry of Petroleum, demanding temporary installation on the old list, equality of all workers in the rights and benefits, making those who are corrupt accountable.
•Workers the Ministry of Agriculture protested in their offices to demand the installation retrospective of the work time, and calculating the salary accordingly.
•9,000 aluminium factory workers went on strike to stop Wahab, chairman of the company, from work and to make him accountable through revealing the sources of his wealth.
•4,000 workers from the Egyptian Coal Company protested yesterday in Cairo’s Helwan district to demand better financial conditions and a share of the company’s substantial sales profits.
•More than 250 workers from the National Cement Company, a subsidiary of the Italian Cement Group, also staged protests to demand improved working conditions. They said they had been working for the company for 15 years and still received as little as LE459 ($77) per month.
•Workers at Omar Effendi Department Stores, for their part, said they would file a lawsuit against Gamil Al Qanbit, the Saudi investor who currently holds an 85-percent stake in the company, for failing to pay their salaries on time.
•200 workers from Lafarge Cement asked to be reinstated after having been sacked by the management.
•Workers of the Sohag Onion Production Factory called on newly-appointed Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq to cancel the planned sale of the factory to private investors and return it to the custodianship of the state.
•Yesterday morning, workers in Egypt’s Menoufiya Spinning and Weaving Factory protested in front of the Office of the Insurance Industry against the exclusion of their annual premium of 10% in the last year, and they filed complaints to include their bonuses.
•Around 500 workers and labour activists congregated outside the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) on Monday to demand the Federation’s dissolution. Protesters gathered at 4pm and chanted slogans calling for the right to conduct peaceful workers strikes, the trial of ETUF leaders, and the right to establish independent unions. "The federation is a den of thieves; the federation is a group of thugs," protesters chanted. Dozens attempted to storm and occupy the ETUF headquarters at around 5pm. ETUF security responded by beating protesters out of the building, which led to rocks being thrown back and forth. ETUF employees and security began to hurl bottles, sticks and rocks from the floors above, injuring a number of protesters and journalists. The officer called on three representatives from among the protesters to spell out their demands. Meanwhile, protesters chanted, "The people demand the removal of the federation," while others held up signs reading, "Put on trial those responsible for profiteering from privatization." The largest number of workers in attendance were those from the independent Union of Real Estate Tax Authority Employees (RETA Union).
Workers’ struggles were decisive in forcing Mubarak out
The Egyptian Finance Ministry had already announced on the Tuesday 8th, before the resignation of Mubarak, that it would open its doors to those wishing to apply for public-sector jobs in an effort to meet the demands of protesters, who demand a solution to Egypt’s chronic unemployment crisis. In a statement, the ministry said it would soon begin accepting job applications via mail, adding that the mailing address would be announced shortly. The ministry said it would examine the applications and determine which state authorities had vacant positions. The ministry also said it would coordinate with the private sector to further its efforts at job creation. But struggles carried on developing among workers who were now stepping onto the scene of the revolutionary process, with only some of them mentioned below:
Interview with a workers’ leader at the Iron and Steel Company in Helwan
13 02 2011
Youssef Shehwan, a workers’ leader at the Iron and Steel Company in Helwan, had a discussion with the CWI reporter and told the following about the magnificent and inspiring struggle of him and his colleagues, only a couple of days before the stepping down of Mubarak
14,000 workers from the state owned Iron and Steel Company in Helwan went on strike during the days prior to the resignation of Mubarak, inspired by the revolution. They demanded the resignation of the head of the official trade union committee at the factory who is one of the leaders of the NDP. A corrupt trade union bureaucrat who stood against workers’ demands, with an enormous personal wealth as a result of his position which he exploited to make his private profits on the back of the workers. The workers demanded that he is immediately sacked from the factory, and that his contract is terminated, and the head of the directing board responded under pressure and implemented these demands. Other demands which were met included an increase in the bonuses from 38% to 50%, an increase in the meal allowance, and the settlement of temporary workers on fixed contracts. A “25th January Revolution Workers Committee” was formed in defence workers rights and for the guarding of the company under public ownership. The committee is open for new workers leaders until elections take place for an official revolutionary workers committee which will take on the responsibility for pressurizing the directive board and for taking the initiative to launch an independent union. For the workers “the revolution has just started” and it is time to link the economic struggle to the political one.
•Clashes broke out in the Military Factories on the 10th after the workers of military factories number 45 and 54 had announced their strike. The minister of military production declared an “official leave” to the workers. The workers emerged to the streets irritated and had clashes with the military forces there.
•The same day, workers from other military factories number 63 and 360 went on strike seeking fixing temporarily workers and getting 100% bonuses. They broke the strike after a meeting with the board chairman who promised them to fulfil their demands. However they got surprised the following day when they heard about the verdict of their “official leave”.
•Also on February 10th, 24,000 workers of Misr Textile and Spinning Company in El Mahallah city had gone onto strike, asking the management of the company for raising their wages in order to fit with the high prices. Morning shift workers joined the others of the night shift and gathered together in front of the management building, announcing their strike against low wages, high prices, and deterioration of Egyptian workers’ life standards. They chanted "put your hand with my hand to defeat the thieves gang", referring to Egypt’s stolen fortunes. However, the company security chained the gate to prevent workers from getting in or out. The previous day, temporally workers in the company had protested for fixed working contracts.
•On the 8th February, workers at the International Company for Constructions & Special Maintenance (INTERMAINT) and Esenpro Company went on strike demanding permanent contracts.
•On the 9th February Helwan Cement Company workers protested for a one-day paid holiday for each four days of work, a meal for each worker working more than 8 hours per day, the right for health care, and permanent labour contracts with the contractor. Inhabitants of the area gathered around the workers asking for jobs for their sons and daughters.
•9th February also saw more than 2,000 workers at the Spinning and Weaving Company in Helwan going on strike. The workers gathered in a demonstration in front of the company’s management calling for the dismissal of the company’s Chief Executive Officer, the dissolution of the Union Committee, and increases in incentives.
•On 9th February, hundreds of workers at the Mahalla Spinning Company began an open sit-in in front of the company’s management calling for the settlement of late promotions, latest convened in 2008. They asked all the company’s workers to join them at the end of the 3pm shift in calling for the dismissal of the company’s Chief Executive Officer, as the company made losses since he took over despite the state’s settlement of its debts that used to generate huge annual interests.
•On the same day, more than 1,500 workers at the General Kafr El-Zayyat Hospital started a sit-in inside the hospital asking for the payment of late incentives. The sit-in started among nurses, who were later joined by doctors and other hospital workers.
•Also on the 9th, in Suez Governorate, more than 400 workers at the Misr National Steel Company started a strike asking for salary increases, asserting that they didn’t get any incentives over the last few years, and that the overage income at the company does not exceed E£600. The company is owned by businessman Gamal El Garhy.
•The 9th also saw workers of the Coke Company in Helwan going on strike, with more than four thousand workers gathered in front of the company’s management calling for rises in salary, permanent contracts for temporary workers, and paying increments dependent on realized increases in exports. The demonstrators in front of the Coke Company management were shouting anti-corruption slogans, hailing the people’s revolution, and chanting “where the press, here is are the wronged Coke workers”.
The need for a socialist alternative
Capitalist economists have already criticized the Egyptian government for hastening to appoint thousands of workers in the public sector, saying the move would put huge pressure on the national budget, which already has an 8 percent deficit. But workers have begun challenging capitalist economics which have failed tens of millions of workers, small farmers and the poor. They have been calling for an end to corruption and for the opening of the financial books to see where the profits have been stolen. A section of workers in struggle have already raised demands against privatisation and for the re-nationalisation of their companies under their control and management. Workers committees have already started to be formed across many workplaces and a denouncement of old corrupt official trade unionists has been made by all workers.
The CWI supports and stands behind the call for nationalisation of the economy to be planned and controlled and managed by workers through democratically elected representatives on workers’ wages and subject for recall if they do not represent the interest of those who elected them. We also call for the immediate linking up of struggles and workers’ committees all across towns and cities and the country as an immediate step towards the formation of a government of representatives of workers, small farmers, youth and the poor that could safeguard the revolution, start to fundamentally improve the lives of working people and convene a revolutionary constituent assembly that can democratically decide the country’s future. Such a movement could appeal to the rank and file soldiers and police to elect their own committees free from the tops of the state forces and in solidarity with their families, their sisters and brothers, the working class, the poor and small farmers.
The CWI argues that the working class has entered the revolutionary struggle which has threatened the interest of the corrupt and oppressive capitalist class in Egypt, as well as the interest of international capitalism which increasingly fears the spreading of the class struggles and the overthrow of their system for the profits of the rich.
Egypt, like many countries in the region, is a country rich in natural resources and has a developed productive working class which is a force capable of eradicating poverty and unemployment. Workers have once again shown to the world their resistance to the brutal and monstrous system of capitalism, and have stepped into the revolutionary process with a workers alternative – these are the first decisive steps towards the socialist transformation of society. Forward to the revolution, for a workers’ revolution, for international working class solidarity, and for socialism!