Why the army is putting down Egyptian labor protests


Via Mada Masr, as is the link below.

Egypt just saw some labor strikes, to which nobody has paid attention. First of all, here’s what happened (at length–sorry, but it all deserves to be read):

Security crackdowns against two labor strikes — at the Suez Steel Company and Scimitar Petroleum Company — and a potential one at the Misr Textile Company in Mahalla, have been eclipsed by news of crackdowns against the Muslim Brotherhood.

Receiving negligible media coverage, these industrial actions were crushed by police and the Armed Forces within the span of less than one week. Security forces arrested two strike leaders as they surrounded the Suez Steel Company on August 12, while the strike at the Scimitar Petroleum Company was forcefully put down on August 17 and a host of strikers briefly detained, with legal charges leveled against them.

Furthermore, on August 21, police forces stormed and searched the homes of four workers from the Suez Steel Company, and arrested one union leader in the process. Fourteen strikers from the company have been threatened with prosecution and/or dismissal.

The demands of the Suez Steel Company workers include the payment of their wages for the month of July and the payment of overdue profit-sharing. Meanwhile, workers at the Scimitar Petroleum Company have been demanding overdue bonuses and the reinstatement of several sacked workers, along with better wages and working conditions.

Meanwhile, in an attempt to frighten or threaten the workers, the army deployed its APCs earlier this week inside and around the Misr Textile Company in Mahalla where nearly 20,000 workers are on strike demanding improved wages and overdue bonuses. Army officers have reportedly called on workers to end their strike and to move towards negotiations.

But in a context where the security apparatuses are mobilized against any protest movement in the wake of the current regime’s war on the Muslim Brotherhood, industrial actions are slammed as destabilizing and quelled. Moreover, the ruling regime has recently tried to associate them with what it deems a Brotherhood threat.

According to Fatma Ramadan of the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU), “these latest crackdowns are part of the security forces’ ongoing policy against industrial actions.” She explains that since the fall of former President Hosni Mubarak, the security apparatuses are “repeatedly attempting to criminalize workers’ strikes and protests and to portray striking workers as trouble-makers, counter-revolutionaries, hired-hands and provocateurs seeking to harm the economy.”

In relation to the current period following the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi in July, Ramadan adds, “The police are utilizing these exceptional laws as a pretext to crackdown on striking workers. Under these exceptional circumstances and this atmosphere of fear, striking workers are being labeled as terrorists or agents of the Muslim Brotherhood, along with other baseless accusations.”

Amr Youssef, a union organizer at the Suez Steel Company whom police arrested as he attempted to enter the factory gates on August 12, recounts that 14 workers have been threatened by both their employer and the security forces. “They’ve threatened to sack us from our jobs, while also claiming that we are Muslim Brotherhood supporters,” he explains.

“In our earlier protests, they had claimed that we were feloul (Mubarak loyalists,) then they claimed we were communists seeking to destroy the company and destabilize the Egyptian economy. In reality we are non-affiliated workers. We are not feloul, communists, or members of the Brotherhood,” he says.

So, union-busting, violence, total lack of respect or receptiveness to workers and their needs. Now, Sisi’s comments, which are completely consistent with the army’s interests and the unpleasant, illiberal nationalism that’s swept Egypt recently:

Sisi addressed the nation on August 18, speaking in defense of the ailing national economy and against work-stoppages. “We must seek to double our production,” he said.

Sisi also sought to associate labor protests with the Muslim Brotherhood: “Don’t give anyone the chance to interrupt your work. Let’s all work, let’s build our country and let’s move forward. This is what we need to do.”

Moreover, Sisi called on workers to take action against “instigators” of strikes. He added, “Tell those neighbors, please no more. If we can do this, we will effectively contribute to avoiding bloodshed and casualties. Moreover, we will help quell this sedition. And again, don’t let anybody interrupt production because this is another means of tearing the country down.”

However, Sisi did not mention the negative economic repercussions associated with his heavy-handed security crackdowns, curfews and emergency law.

Never forget that the army controls roughly a third of the Egyptian economy. Aside from security issues in the Sinai, their major reason for deposing Morsi likely had a lot to do with economic problems, because what hurts Egypt’s economy as a whole hurts the army as an economic enterprise. The army’s interest is not the people, it is not the people’s rights, it is not, to borrow a trope, “the little guy”; it is the army. That is what this is about.

Second to the economic concern is the fact that if the army wants to keep up the pretense that it is the liberator of the people, that the coup was the people’s will, that the interim government is legitimate, that, basically, everything is going better than it was, it can’t stand for non-Ikhwan unrest. This is why it’s trying to paint the strikers as Ikhwan, and it’s why they won’t stand for this or anything like it. All threats must be Ikhwan, all threats must be demonizable as un-Egyptian, and any threats that aren’t Ikhwan—because the Ikhwan “threat” is helping fuel loyalty to the army—must be eliminated as quickly as possible.

There are a lot of great comments from labor organizers in the article that I haven’t quoted, so I really urge you to read the whole thing.

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