Thousands of textile workers began an all-out strike in the industrial powerhouse of Mahalla in nothern Egypt last week.
As many as 16,000 downed tools at the state-owned Misr Spinning and Weaving Company. They are demanding payment of promised bonuses and higher wages and other allowances.
The workers have vowed to keep up their strike until their demands are met. One worker, Faisal Loksha, told the Ahram Online news website, “For the past couple of weeks, we have organised short rallies inside the factory.
“As our demands had not been met, we decided to go on strike in the factory.”
Workers began their strike by staging a sit-in inside the factory, coming in for their regular shifts without operating the looms.
As another worker explained to Daily News Egypt, “We will maintain the strike inside our factory and will not go outside.”
Workers across the factory complex’s 25,000 workforce are taking part in the strike, forcing it to a standstill.
They escalated to an open-ended strike last Monday. Their strike is a sign of growing anger at plummeting working class living standards.
It also points to a renewed confidence among groups of Egyptian workers in the face of the military dictatorship’s repression.
Their action broke out as the Egyptian government released new inflation figures, which showed prices rising from 29.8 percent to 33 percent within the space of a month.
It also hiked fuel prices by up to 50 percent, including a 100 percent hike on the cooking gas cylinders which poor Egyptians rely on.
Alongside a new VAT tax on consumer products, this has hit working class livings standards hard.
This points to much bigger difficulties that Abdel Fatah el-Sisi’s regime is facing. Behind its latest round of austerity measures is a £9 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund last November.
A key part of this deal was “floating” the Egyptian pound on the international markets, meaning the currency exchange rate is no longer fixed by the government.
After the floatation the Egyptian pound lost half its value, causing prices to rise at their fastest rate for almost 12 years in December.
The regime has made promises to some groups of workers about protecting living standards in the hope of staving off resistance.
But not keeping them could fuel more anger—as with the promised bonuses at Mahalla. The action there shows that workers at can still fight back and shift the situation.