We live in a big prison. How else could you explain why state security forces prevented a solidarity delegation going to visit 400 striking weavers at the state-owned Esco company?
The strikers are occupying their factory. The delegation set out to take them tea, sugar and sweets to celebrate the Islamic festival of al-Mouled, Muhammad’s birthday. If the workers were prisoners, jailed for drugs crimes or embezzlement, they would have been granted this visit.
But the weavers have committed a greater crime in the government’s eyes. They have been on strike and occupying their factory since mid-February against the privatisation of their company under the Egyptian government’s wholesale sell-off plan.
The government has decided to sell it off for a sum of four million Egyptian pounds — about £350,000 — although its estimated value is 60 million Egyptian pounds. More than seven million Egyptian pounds have been spent on updating it to prepare for privatisation.
The Egyptian Anti-Globalisation Group (Ageg) called for the solidarity visit to the strikers, whose factory is in Qaliub, an industrial and textiles centre 15 kilometres north of Cairo.
Activists gathered in front of the lawyers’ bar association in Cairo — a traditional rallying point — and a bus full of people set out to visit the factory. We wanted to support the workers in their struggle, express solidarity and salute them for their determination in taking on the unholy alliance between capital and the state, with all its security apparatus and ministries.
But the delegation was not alone on the road to Qaliub. A security car followed, reporting the bus number to all the security checkpoints in the Qaliubeyya region.
We had been told that riot police and state security intelligence officers had gone ahead and had been waiting for the delegation since the early morning, surrounding the factory and the local area, installing checkpoints and preventing traffic from reaching the factory.
When we reached the Qaliub bridge we had no choice but to drive into one of those blocked streets. We met a gathering of security officials who prevented us from reaching the factory — and even from leaving the bus, saying they had orders from the public prosecutor to prevent anybody contacting the workers.
We demanded to see the order but they refused. Journalists in the group tried to explain that they were here on a professional mission to cover the strike for their newspapers. The security officers insisted this was forbidden.
Lawyers explained that they needed to meet their clients among the workers — forbidden. We wanted to give our modest presents to the workers and asked that someone deliver them — forbidden. That one of the workers come out and take them — forbidden.
In the end they took the licence of the bus driver to force him out of the area and accompanied the bus with a security car most of the way back to Cairo.
At the Qaliub police station journalists tried to file a complaint that they had been prevented from dong their job. The police refused to file the complaint, saying it was a “private matter”.
But they allowed the industrialist Hashem El Doghry, who wants to buy the company, to drive into the factory in an attempt to remove stored products that the workers are holding at the factory until their wages are paid.
The workers succeeded in forcing his car out of the factory, preventing the removal of their goods.
Are the Esco factory strikers detained? Even detainees are entitled to receive visits from lawyers and journalists and during national celebrations are allowed visits from family and friends.
Did the police really have a prosecutor’s decision to block any contact with the workers? In whose interest was this?
The government is driving through this privatisation process. But where is the General Federation of Trade Unions? It has no legitimacy if it does not represent the workers and does not support their demands.
When the workers sought the federation’s help, it closed its doors to them. When the workers decided to organise a sit-in at the federation’s headquarters, it closed down its facilities, leaving the workers to spend a cold night on the pavement
Not only has the federation refused to support the workers’ demands, it has played an active role in favour of selling the facto. It has denounced the workers’ right to defend their company and listing lie after lie about the benefits of privatisation.
The workers’ response is clear — they will continue their strike and occupation until their demands are met.
We send solidarity greetings to the Esco workers, who celebrated the al-Mouled feast in struggle. And we say, “al Masanee lil ummal, mesh lil esabet ras al-mal” — Factories belong to the workers, not to a gang of capitalists.
Send messages of support and solidarity for the striking workers to firstname.lastname@example.org
Ageg website: www.ageg.net/About_us_English.htm (in Arabic and some English)