Workers’ tents and banners started to appear in the street outside the Abidin palace in Egypt’s capital Cairo a few weeks ago.
From his ornate windows, newly-elected president Mohammed Mursi watched in alarm as their numbers grew.
Then the strikes began. First came a wave of factory occupations in the industrial towns of the Delta and the Suez Canal.
Then 23,000 workers at the giant Misr Spinning mill in Mahalla al-Kubra occupied their factory for a week. Solidarity action spread the strikes right across the public sector textile industry.
Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood has waged a ferocious campaign against strikers, while employers’ thugs and the police have attacked them. Yet the workers’ struggles are making gains.
Revolutionary Socialist activist Hisham Fouad said that the Mahalla workers forced concessions from the government that will benefit tens of thousands of other workers too.
“Workers won a six and half months profit-sharing bonus and there will be administrative reform in the company,” he told Socialist Worker. They also won an increased lump sum on retirement.
The agreement will be implemented across the public sector textile factories that employ an estimated 100,000 workers.
“These gains have restored Mahalla workers’ confidence, and shown the importance of uniting textile workers in a coordinated way behind united demands,” added Hisham.
Strikes had already erupted in several textile factories before the Mahalla occupation. Workers at Mit Ghamr Spinning occupied their plant at the start of July.
“We are one hand with the Mahalla workers,” strikers said. “The whole textile sector is one hand. If we go back to work, we should all go back together. If we’re occupying our factories, we should all occupy together.”
Employers and the police have launched brutal attacks on striking workers. Locked-out workers from the Ceramica Cleopatra factory faced teargas and rubber bullets as they demonstrated in Suez on 17 July.
Protesting workers from the Al-Samouli textile factory in Mahalla were shot in an ambush by “unknown assailants” on 22 July.
At least one worker has been killed in these attacks. But Hisham believes that the attacks will not end the strike wave.
“The Muslim Brotherhood tried to smear the Mahalla strike as being led by remnants of the old regime,” he said. “But in the end, a representative of the president was forced to meet the Mahalla delegation.
“Workers’ strikes will not subside, but they’ll unfold at their own pace. They will become more radical and will clash with the president very soon.”