Hundreds of delegates to the sixth Cairo Conference against globalisation and imperialism met this week amid a growing movement for social justice in Egypt.
This year has already seen the biggest wave of workers’ protest in Egypt since the 1940s.
Now textile workers from Mahalla, who were the original spark for the movement, are to occupy their mill again this Sunday. This action will be part of a demand for a rise in the national minimum wage to £110 a month.
There is no doubt that the textile workers speak for millions of Egyptians who have seen their living standards plummet recently.
Those attending the conference were determined to link the strike wave in Egypt to other battles being fought across the world.
“We must bring together the struggle for social justice and the fight against imperialism,” said Egyptian opposition MP Hamdeen Sabahy at the opening rally of the the event.
The conference brought impressive international delegations from the anti-war movement together with Egyptian activists opposed to the regime of Hosni Mubarak.
Among the 1,500 who attended were delegations of Egyptian workers, peasants and students.
Islam Ady from Ain Shams university is a member of the Haqqi (My Rights) movement.
He said, “Our movement brings together activists from the Muslim Brotherhood, socialists and other political groups. We have one enemy – the privatisation of our education system.”
Gehad Tamman is a key activist in the Textile Workers League. He met British trade union delegates to discuss the Egyptian workers’ movement.
Speaking of their strike last year, he said, “International support for our strikes is very important to us.”
Egypt’s “economic miracle” has seen an annual growth rate of 7 percent and increases in profits of up to 180 percent. This growth is based on the impoverishment of the majority of the country.
Panic buying of bread due to a shortage is a sign of the sharpening social crisis in the country.
It has also found expression in a rebellion, which has spread from the industrial heartlands to government ministries and sections of the middle class.
At the same time another key battle is opening up. Workers who have led some of the most effective strikes of the past year have begun to organise independently of the state controlled trade unions.
The Textile Workers League, which is based in Mahalla and counts around 2,000 supporters, is largely drawn from the Misr spinning complex that has been at the heart of the latest strike wave.
Property tax collectors have also broken away from state unions and organised a successful strike at the end of last year.
The weakening grip of official trade unions on the workers’ movement has huge political implications for the regime.
Mubarak, a key US ally in the region, relies heavily on the official unions to mobilise an appearance of popular support for his regime, particularly during elections.
But this support was based on the state’s claim to provide secure jobs and a basic welfare system.
As living standards continue to fall few workers are prepared to heed the calls to tighten their belts.
Another worrying development for the regime is the widening of workers’ political horizons.
Since December 2006, workers have moved from demanding increases in wages linked to productivity and profits, to calling for a national minimum wage and for solidarity with the Palestinians.
Now the Mahalla workers have gone further. The strike set for this Sunday will mark another important milestone for this movement.
Email messages of support for striking workers in Egypt’s to firstname.lastname@example.org