Socialist Worker

Strike gives hope in Egypt’s textile mills

The Mahalla textile strike shows the potential for Egyptian workers to fight in the face of repression, writes Tom Kay

Issue No. 2569

Inside the sit-in strike

Inside the sit-in strike


A recent 14-day strike by Egyptian textile workers was an impressive display of workers’ organisation and resilience in the face of Abdel Fatah el-Sisi’s military regime.

At its height, the strike involved 16,000 workers at the state-owned Misr Spinning and Weaving Company in Mahalla in northern Egypt.

It was suspended on Tuesday of last week after management agreed to consider the workers’ demands.

When workers launched their strike on 7 August, bosses had insisted that their demands would not be met.

The Misr Spinning and Weaving Company chair threatened to lock out workers.

But this threat was met by a demonstration of thousands of workers and their families through Mahalla.

There were also signs that their action could spread. Some 3,000 workers at the nearby Al-Nasr Processing and Dyeing factory joined the strike, and other factories reported slowdowns.

This clearly made bosses nervous, with Al-Nasr management quickly making promises to resolve the dispute.

The Misr Spinning and Weaving Company chairman instructed factory management to open dialogue with the workers.

Before the strike was suspended bosses had ramped up their rhetoric, branding it as “led by terrorists”. This is a reference to the banned Muslim Brotherhood organisation.

Promised

But last Sunday a leaflet signed by the company’s commissioner-general and a group of local MPs promised to consider workers’ demands within the week.

Workers responded by suspending their strike. But they made clear that it will restart after the Eid Al-Adha festival, ending on 4 September, if the promises prove hollow.

While the outcome of the dispute is yet to be seen, it is hugely important.

The Mahalla workers refused to be intimidated by the security forces, and have successfully forced Egypt’s largest state-owned company to consider their demands.

This may seem a small step, but is significant in a country where strikes are illegal and strike leaders and thousands of activists have been jailed.

Workers’ demands included payment of a delayed 10 percent bonus and increasing the monthly food allowance. These issues point to bigger problems the regime is facing.

It has recently pushed through series of “economic reforms” in exchange for a $12 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan.

The IMF declared the Egyptian Central Bank’s governor its “Central Bank Governor of the Year” for the role he played in pushing through the free market reforms.

But these measures have seen inflation jump as high as 30 percent, plunging millions deeper into poverty.

Further laws favourable to foreign investors are expected soon. But alongside more attacks, there is a potential for a fightback.

Recent weeks have seen wildcat strikes by Egyptian train drivers over safety and large protests by residents of Warraq Island in Cairo. The regime is trying to demolish their homes and sell land to investors.

Resistance at Mahalla has often played an important role in Egypt, including during the 2011 revolution.

Mass strikes and uprisings in the city can give confidence to workers and poor people across Egypt to fight.


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