Independent Egyptian unions hold their first conference

Submitted by AWL on 3 March, 2011 - 4:46

Tamer Fathy, International Coordinator of the Centre for Trade Union and Workers' Services, spoke to Sacha Ismail.

We held the first conference of our independent union federation yesterday [2 March - see here]. It was attended by hundreds of activists from sectors including the retail tax collectors, health technicians, pensioners, teachers, telecommunications, textile workers, iron and steel, from the industrial regions of Sadat City... The 24,000 workers at the Misr Spinning and Weaving Company at Mahalla, in the Nile delta, have decided to leave the state union federation and join ours.

We have two main immediate demands:

1. That the government dissolves the official union federation, hands over its premises and documents and recognises our federation.

2. That all global labour federations end the membership of the official unions and recognise and support our independent unions.

We want a definite timetable for these demands, and for the establishment of collective bargaining.

The strikes which began before Mubarak fell are still spreading. Their main focus is the removal of corrupt bosses linked to the old regime, plus wage rises and permanent contracts for temporary workers. The army tried to ban these strikes, but failed completely. Now the authorities are engaged in a "cold war" against workers, trying to mobilise public opinion, arguing that this is not the time for strike, that we need to build up "our" economy and so on.

They call our demands "sectional", but we say they are social and national demands. We are fighting for the interests of the working-class majority.

In Mahalla, the workers launched an open strike to win a wage rise and remove the General Commissioner of the company. They won their demands, and one of the workers' leaders was appointed as the new General Commissioner. The workers will be paid for their days on strike, but increase productivity to make up for the hours lost.

Some left activists have set up a new Labour Democratic Party. I'm not sure how big it is, or who exactly is involved. Some of this party's activists were at our conference yesterday, and they distributed a leaflet. My own view is that we need to build a strong union movement before we can form a party. At the moment workers' demands are mainly economic. These must be satisfied before they can think about political demands. The key thing now is to build up the trade unions and after that we can talk about a labour party.

Unions in other countries should make solidarity with our demands for the dissolution of the official unions, and for their removal from the global union federations.

● For further reports on the conference see the Egypt Worker Solidarity website.

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