Egypt’s working class is on the move

 

The revolution in Egypt has partially been built on the back of workers’ struggles going on for several years, especially since the magnificent insurgency in Mahalla, the general strike in 2008, and the big strikes in Suez and Alexandria in 2009. This uprising has seen new groups of workers form independent trade unions, as a national labour movement takes shape. Yesterday, workers from five companies on the Suez Canal went on strike. They’ve been joined by workers from government, sanitation, courts, and elsewhere. Railway technicians and oil workers are joining the militancy today, according to Hossam el-Hamalawy. Factories in Suez, Helwan and Mahalla have gone on strike, and more workers from Mahalla will be joining tomorrow. Strikes are popping up everywhere. Now I’m hearing that iron and steel workers are among the strikers, and that their demands are as follows:

 

1- Immediate resignation of the president and all men and symbols of the regime.

2- Confiscation of funds and property of all symbols of previous regime and everyone proved corrupt.

3- Iron and steel workers who have given martyrs and militants call upon all workers of Egypt to revolt from the regime’s and ruling party workers federation, to dismantle it and announce their independent union now and to plan for their general assembly to freely establish their own independent union without prior permission or consent of the regime which has fallen and lost all legitimacy.

4- Confiscation of public sector companies that have been sold or closed down or privatized as well as the public sector which belongs to the people and its nationalization in the name of the people and formation of a new management by workers and technicians.

5- Formation of a workers’ monitoring committee in all work places monitoring production, prices, distribution and wages.

6- Call for a general assembly of all sectors and political trends of the people to develop a new constitution and elect real popular committees without waiting for the consent or negation with the regime.

 

A mass of striking workers will be joining the protest in Tahrir square this Friday, which is intended to be the next ‘big one’. One intriguing area of this development of militancy is among journalists in Cairo’s daily newspapers, who are in open revolt against their pro-regime managers and editors. This has been developing for over a week, but it now appears to have reached a crisis point. It no longer makes any sense to speak of this regime having any ideological hold, but pro-regime newspapers would still be able to confuse things, spread misinformation, black out the rebellion. This is, therefore, of some significance. Imagine if media workers take control of their enterprises, and turn them to service of the revolution.

Lastly, America and Britain’s named successor to Mubarak, the chief torturer Omar Suleiman, has been openly stating that there will be no challenge to Mubarak from within the state. This is as expected – no Tunisian solution has been possible in the Egyptian context. He is warning protesters that there must be a return to ‘normalcy’, but he is still saying for now that the army can’t force people to stop protesting. This is not to say that the state isn’t using force. The police have been killing people today. But the police can’t beat the protesters (so far), and only the army can. So, Suleiman’s caution is perhaps understandable not just as propaganda for an American audience, but partly as a result of a desire not to alienate the junior ranks of the army. The majority of the rank and file come from poor rural backgrounds, where communities have lost out from neoliberal land reforms, and are thus inclined to support the revolution. They may well be unwilling to murder their compatriots for this larcenous regime, and the US and the regime may be unready to put that to the test. But how long will that caution last when Egypt’s ruling class continues to feel the pain of daily protests and mass strikes, when the loss of surplus becomes unbearable? Will the party of order then demand a massacre? Would the revolution then need to take up arms?

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