Egyptian strike wave topples cabinet

March 28, 2014

Workers in the state-controlled textile industry, mostly women workers, and public transport workers, sanitation workers, office workers, doctors, and even policemen launched a wave of strikes in the middle of February that caused Prime Minister Hazem el-Biblawi and his entire cabinet to resign. The Biblawi government had condemned the strikers on Feb. 17, telling the Egyptian people that it was “time to maximize production and unite for the renaissance of Egypt.”

Apparently the textile workers, who were demanding a monthly minimum wage of 1,200 Egyptian pounds ($172) and the firing of corrupt managers, and union leaders did not agree. The textile workers at Mahalla Spinning and Weaving who had struck on Feb. 16 were still holding strong the next week. They were joined in their strike by textile workers at Kafr Al-Dawr in a solidarity strike (illegal in Egypt as in the U.S.) over nearly identical demands.

Workers had struck despite a 2012 military law outlawing strikes and sit-ins, and despite threats to jail strike leaders and bring in scabs to run the factories. At Attaba, the workers of the Port Authority seized its headquarters. The police tried to deny them food and water by chaining the doors of the building.

The bus drivers of Cairo went on strike, shutting down 28 garages, demanding not just the minimum wage, but improving the physical conditions of buses.

In an effort to make Egypt capital-friendly, the government has delayed implementing the minimum wage workers have demanded, and refused to pay back wages. Already the cabinet of new Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb has hinted it will do the bidding of the military by forcing strikers back to work. But the Egyptian workers have long memories. They were the ones who led the ouster of Mubarak, and they are clearly not satisfied with the status quo.

–Michael Gilbert

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