Conflict & Justice

Egypt workers strike, call for a labor revolution


This screenshot from Egyptian TV shows massive crowds protesting in the Nile Delta city Mahalla, where thousands of textile workers have been on strike for days.

Egypt's largest textile manufacturer, Misr Spinning and Weaving, is totally shut down this week as 23,000 workers have been on strike since the weekend, demanding higher pay and an increase in shares of the company profits. Thousands more have joined the strikes as protests and violence have spread through Egypt for a fourth day.

Tear gas was used against striking ceramic workers in Suez Wednesday evening, and between 3,000 and 4,000 workers staged a sit-in at the textile factory in the northern city Mahalla during the day, expecting a delegation of negotiators from newly elected President Morsi, but none came. 

It doesn't seem as though there are any signs of workers heading back to work, according to labor leaders like Hamdy Hussein, who told Reuters that other left-wing groups have essentially stolen the thunder of labor activists who were the impetus for last year's revolution. 

"The coming revolution will correct the path of the first one. It will be a labor revolution. Workers sparked the first revolution, then it was stolen from them," said Hussein.

More from GlobalPost: Egypt's labor movement finds its own strength

Yesterday, close to 12,000 workers from other state-run sectors joined the mass protests, calling for an end to corruption and total removal of the management, which allegedly didn't deliver on a promise of bonuses, according to AP. Workers from seven other companies joined the strikes as well, and six protesters were arrested during a violent protest on a Suez government building that ended in smashed windows and doors, according to an article on Counterfire.

However, reports of labor unrest spreading across multiple cities in northern Egypt apparently hasn't convinced Morsi to act just yet, although there are reports of politicians attempting to negotiate with some workers in the Nile region. 

The World Socialist Website, an international Marxist news blog, known for accurate labor reporting, if slightly biased pro-worker sentiment, linked to a video of striking laborers in Mahalla, and translated a female worker angrily complaining about Morsi's lack of action through these four days of protests.

More from GlobalPost: 5 human rights issues Egypt must address

“The first thing he does when he gets his hands on the presidency is to forget about us. He’s only thinking about those earning 200,000 or half a million. He doesn’t think about the workers who are sweating blood. Where are our rights? We can’t even afford a crust of bread. Where is our president now? We want the minimum wage. Not one of our demands has been met," she says. 

It's still unclear if or when these protests will end, or if demands will be met. But social media organizing is growing, and support for the workers is evident on Twitter, where the hashtag #egyworkers is moving relatively quickly. 

For more of GlobalPost's coverage of labor news from around the world, check out our Special Report "Worked Over: The Global Decline of Labor Rights."