Egypt’s workers have reclaimed May Day as a celebration of struggle and solidarity.
May Day was a fake under the dictator Hosni Mubarak, who ruled with the close support of the West until the revolution three months ago.
It saw state-run “unions” praising the regime that oppressed and brutally exploited the working class.
But the revolution has changed that. The centrepiece of Monday’s demonstration in Cairo’s Tahrir Square was thousands of members of the new unions that are independent of the state, the bosses—and NGOs.
Some of these, like the tax collectors, existed before the revolution, and played an important role in its development.
Others, like the bus workers, the rail workers, the postal workers and the teachers, have emerged since Mubarak’s overthrow.
They are asking sharp social questions.
Everywhere there are calls for better pay. Many workers get only £40 a month and they are demanding three times that as a minimum.
Everywhere there are demands to drive out the autocratic mini-Mubaraks in workplace—managements who were imposed under the old regime—and in some places they have gone.
A health worker told a delegation of British trade unionists in Cairo this week how in his hospital workers had challenged the old boss, elected their own management and then forced the minister to accept the change.
Hope and freedom are in the Cairo air. But there are formidable challenges ahead.
Mubarak has gone but workers are still poor, and the global crisis means that there will be no handouts to Egypt’s masses. Public services are massively short of funds.
A teacher told us how he now presides over a class of 90 children and once taught one of 146!
A worker in the military factories (industrial units run by generals) told the British delegation how workers are fighting for basic civil rights—at present going on strike means being dragged to a military tribunal.
There are still central democratic questions to be resolved.
The military remain in charge and are trying to tame the radical elements of the revolution.
But there are also developments on the left.
A Workers Party, whose members include the hugely respected activist Kamal Khalil, was present at May Day.
It is blocked from official recognition as a party by a series of obstacles—including having to announce a party in the media at a cost of over £50,000.
But the biggest problem is the ban on “class based parties”. This of course smooths the path for capitalist parties but blocks workers’ organisation.
Nevertheless, the Workers Party is a serious initiative which has already become a focus for key activists in the new unions. And it is also attracting support from peasants who want to join the workers’ offensive.
Socialist forces are pressing for agitation around social and political demands and for the revolution to go wider and deeper to offer real hope to Egypt’s workers.
A key test is the attempt by the state to smash the powerful bus workers’ union.
Its leader, Ali Fattouh, faces prison on 7 May if he is found guilty of inciting strikes. Everyone should send him messages of support.
Email messages of support for Ali Fattouh to email@example.com
EGYPT TRADE UNION SOLIDARITY RALLY
Trade unionists from Britain, recently returned from Egypt, will be reporting back on their visit, discussing the present situation in Egypt and organising solidarity at a meeting next week. Thursday 12 May, 7pm,
NUJ Head Office, Headland House, 308-312 Gray’s Inn Road, London WC1X 8DP. Hosted by Mena