Leading trade unionist and bus worker Ali Fattouh was found not guilty in Egypt last Saturday of “bringing his employer into disrepute”.
This is a major victory for Egypt’s growing trade union movement, after an international campaign of solidarity with Ali and his union.
Ali angered Egypt’s new military rulers through his central role in establishing the newly-formed Cairo Independent Public Transport Workers Union. He also organised strikes, which are banned by the military.
Ali’s lawyer, Haitham Muhammadain, spoke to Socialist Worker:
Ali Fattouh was taken to court because he is a workers’ leader and, more than that, has played a key role in founding an independent union. That’s the main reason why he was put on trial.
The prosecution was brought by the director of the Public Transport Authority (PTA), which is part of the office of the presidency.
It was the management of the PTA which made the complaint to the administrative prosecutor, who brought the case.
There are other cases going on at the moment against workers. For example, five workers from the Petrojet company will be up before a military tribunal this Thursday.
They are being prosecuted for striking. The military police took them from the middle of a demonstration in front of the Ministry of Petroleum.
These are workers who don’t have a union, so they don’t have the same strong organisation that the PTA workers do. Ali’s colleagues were ready to organise a strike and shut down the city if he had been jailed.
We can see the same thing happening with another case, where five activists in the Health Technicians Union from a hospital in the city of Mansoura were arrested a few days ago and brought before a military tribunal.
The union intervened and threatened a strike, and the activists were released by the military tribunal the same day. It is clear that unorganised workers are the ones in real trouble with the courts.
The strongest sections of workers, where there are strong unions, react quickly and are forcing the courts to drop the charges.
International solidarity is very important.
On the one hand, the Egyptian government and the military council are sensitive to pressure from outside. And on the other, it increases the confidence of the workers themselves.
The PTA workers were really pleased to know about the solidarity from workers in Britain and it made them more confident to fight back.
The battle ahead for us now is going to be getting the law on trade union freedoms enacted.
A draft law, which gave independent unions the right to organise for the first time, was proposed months ago. But the minister has not signed it into law.
There is a possibility that the government will change its mind and will try and reverse the decision to allow independent unions to form, as the unions are making huge problems for the government now.