There is no mistaking the raw class anger in strikers’ chants across Egypt these days. “Who are they and who are we?” is a favourite of striking workers at Cairo’s Public Transport Authority (PTA).
“They” are the “moneymen”, the corrupt and complacent politicians who promise the earth and deliver only dust.
“Listen up, lords and ladies—a kilo of meat is ten pounds,” chanted the PTA workers during a protest outside parliament last week. “They’re all dressed in the latest fashion and we’re living ten to a room.”
The 40,000 PTA workers had been on strike for two weeks as Socialist Worker went to press.
The transport minister recently announced concessions and declared the strike to be over. But around 1,000 workers marched on the state TV building chanting “Lying TV! We’re still on strike.”
The sticking point was not the increased end-of-service lump sum, nor the implementation of a 200 percent bonus payment promised to public sector workers.
The workers have set their eyes on a much greater prize—returning the PTA to central government control. The slogan “Back to the Ministry of Transport” is being raised by bus workers across Egypt.
For the PTA workers in Cairo the demand means ending the role of the local Cairo governor in running the authority. Bus workers in Alexandria and the Red Sea ports raised the same slogan in their recent strike.
They called for complete renationalisation by dissolving the semi-privatised “holding company” running the bus service.
The stakes are very high in these strikes. Both the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the Islamist parties which dominate parliament are desperate to reassure big business inside and outside Egypt.
Draft legislation curbing strikes and protests is being discussed at the moment. Attacks on strikers and trade union activists by the security forces and thugs have dramatically increased.
Striking shipyard workers in Suez were arrested and jailed on the orders of a military court earlier this month. The leaders of the independent union at the Cairo PTA were ambushed by knife-wielding thugs recently.
Student activists at Cairo University also came under attack by thugs during a sit-in last week. Protests have erupted on the campuses after the higher education ministry announced that student union elections would go ahead without any changes to the student union constitutions.
Revolutionary activists in the student movement oppose such a move, which will block the creation of genuinely independent student unions.
But the Muslim Brotherhood’s student organisations support the student union elections under the old system. They look set to capitalise on their close relationship with the generals.
Supporters of former dictator Hosni Mubarak are showing signs of revived political confidence. Rumours abound that Omar Suleiman, Mubarak’s hated intelligence chief, is planning to stand in the presidential elections.
Ahmad Shafiq, the last prime minister appointed by Mubarak before his fall, has already gathered enough nominations to launch his presidential campaign.
As the Revolutionary Socialists (RS) warned in a recent statement, “The Mubarak regime is seeking to renew itself and to move from defence to attack.”
The role of parliament is central to these plans. As the RS statement explains, the Brotherhood and the generals want a presidential candidate who will guarantee “safe exit for the military council whose hands are stained with the blood of the martyrs”.
In return, the Islamists hope to build on their huge majority in parliament by dominating the constituent assembly tasked with drafting a new constitution.
This does not mean that revolutionaries can afford to ignore the electoral battles to come. Millions of Egyptians see the elections as a chance to choose a civilian president—the first in Egypt’s history.
More importantly, they hope to get rid of military rule through the ballot box. The best guarantee of winning social justice and democracy is not to be found in parliament, however.
It lies in continuing and deepening the strikes and protests that have so far held the counter-revolution at bay.