Around 3,000 textile workers in Mahalla, northern Egypt, walked out on Tuesday in a sign of growing discontent at spiralling living costs.
The workers are demanding higher wages and payment of bonuses. As one worker told the Mada Masr website, “We are all demanding that our incomes be augmented in line with the constantly rising cost of living.
“We’re also demanding that our basic wages be increased so that we are able to cope with the new austerity policies.”
Despite working for a nationalised company, the workers do not get the national monthly minimum wage that other public sector workers get. “Even this monthly minimum wage is insufficient to provide for workers and their families” said the worker.
The rising cost of living is the driving force behind their walkout, but their demands go beyond “economic” ones.
The workers are also fighting for the reinstatement of victimised workers and recalling the bosses-sanctioned trade union committee. As the worker explained, “This union doesn't represent us.
“It represents the company’s management and it always aligns itself with management’s policies.”
They work in the clothing section of nationalised Misr Spinning and Weaving Company, the country’s largest textile mill. Workers said that they could pull the rest of the company out if their demands are not met.
The Mahalla textile workers’ strike is not isolated. While the butcher Abdel Fatah el Sisi’s regime has put down strikes through repression, it is significant that workers keep organising and fighting back.
Police stormed the IFFCO oils and soap factory in Suez and broke up a workers’ sit-in against bosses’ attacks on bonuses last month.
A shutdown hit the Covertina Sweet Factory around the same time—and the previous month workers at the Fayyoum Sugar Plant also struck.
Meanwhile, bus workers leaders in the capital Cairo have been fighting persecution by the authorities. A number of militants are appealing a two-year jail sentence and £5,000 fine imposed on them for striking in 2014.
Faced with a growing crisis for Egyptian capitalism, the regime is leaning more and more on Gulf capital and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Through short-term loans and investments—and ruthless repression—it hopes to keep a lid on the situation.
But in return for the IMF loan, the regime has to pushy through a brutal “structural adjustment programme”. This is hitting working class living standards—and driving some resistance—and also impacting on the middle class.
Mahalla was at a centre of working class militancy and was at the forefront during the Egyptian Revolution of 2011. This walkout shows that while the regime has put down struggle, it cannot bank on pacifying a working class with a militant tradition.