Egypt: unions and parties organise

Submitted by Matthew on 23 February, 2011 - 2:02

So far 13 new political parties have announced their existence in Egypt. Among them is a “Liberation, Development and Defence Front”, which declares itself as of the secular left, and has collected 20,000 signatures calling for its recognition. It seems likely this is an intiative from people from a broadly Communist Party background (although the Egyptian CP formally dissolved in the mid sixties).

Within the youth organisations which were central to organising the protest movement from January 25 onwards, there are attempts to develop more long-term forms of organisation. When a committee of the various youth organisations proved to consist entirely of men, angry women set up their own organisations...

This is a measure of the profound change that has occurred in Egyptian political culture.

Kamal Abbas was the leader of major strikes back in 1989 in the huge Iron and Steel plant in Helwan, just south of Cairo. He was sacked and threatened many times with jail. He was a founder of the Centre for Trade Union and Workers’ Services (CTUWS) which has been central to organising and publicising the new, independent unions which have formed during the revolution which ousted Hosni Mubarak.

In mid-February he sent a message of support to the workers fighting for their rights in Wisconsin, USA. “Today is the day of the American workers. We salute you American workers!” (Video here: /must-read/statement-kamal-abbas)

There’s no cheap anti-Americanism here: these militants understand who their necessary allies are.

It was the development of a general strike which actually spelled the end for the Mubarak regime, especially as it gripped the economically vital Suez Canal. Immediately, the new military rulers called for workers to go back to work, and threatened to ban strikes. The workers paid no attention. Across the country, strikes only intensified. Major struggles occurred in Helwan, and Mahalla al-Kubra, where there is a huge textile plant which has been central to opposition to the government since 2006. At the time of writing strikes continue despite further government threats to ban industrial action.

Workers’ movement activists also successfully forced the government to withdraw the appointment of Hussein Megawar, leader of the official state-run union federation, as Minister of Labour. In addition to his lamentable record as the federation’s boss, Megawar is widely believed to have been an organiser of the pro-government thugs who attacked Tahrir Square on 2 February in an unsuccessful attempt to intimidate the revolution.

Generally there is a mood of suspicion about the army. The Western media has tended to portray the Egyptian protestors as naïve or gullible, simply welcoming the transfer of power from Mubarak to the military command as in the national interest. In fact, it took some time even to clear Tahrir Square of demonstrators, and last Friday (18 February), a week after the dictator’s fall, over a million people came back onto the streets to demand that the army fulfill its promise to introduce democracy.

The immense blossoming of civil society continues. All over Egypt, new political parties are being formed — sometimes with no clear political programme, but simply out a desire to continue the struggle and not return to things as they were before.

The first political party to be officially recognised was the centrist-Islamist Wasat Party, a split from the Muslim Brothers in the 1990s. Meanwhile there are indications of serious divisions within the Brotherhood, the largest and best organised of Egypt’s opposition movements.

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