Egyptians in Nile Delta go on labor strikes

Posted on August 18, 2009

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By Abigail Hauslohner/Al-Mahalla al-Kubra
Time Magazine

In the Nile delta region where the famous Egyptian cotton is made, laborers are striking and blaming the government for their poor condition.

The strikes involving several dozen workers in the Nile Delta town about 60 miles north of Cairo are just the latest in over a dozen that have already occurred the same week — and that’s just in Mahalla. A number of similar strikes are underway throughout the area, in what is shaping up to be another long, hot summer of discontent in the Nile Delta.

The densely populated Delta has some of Egypt’s best farmland, and is also the country’s industrial heartland. Mahalla, where tens of thousands of striking textile workers have won their demands on multiple occasions over the past three years, has become a symbol of labor militancy. Many of the strikes are called by the Independent Textile Workers’ League, which operates like a union but without official recognition. “Since December 7, 2006, when the workers of [Misr Spinning and Weaving Company] factory went on strike, that was a historical day. It was the first and the biggest strike in Egypt. And the strikes haven’t stopped since,” says Husseini.

Strikes, sit-ins, and factory occupations are technically illegal in Egypt — except in the unlikely event that they were authorized by the government-run Egyptian Trade Union Federation. But legal restraints have not stopped workers from laying down their tools; analysts attribute the phenomenon to the declining living standards that have accompanied the government’s market-oriented economic policies, combined with the absence of democratic channels of recourse in President Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian regime. By some estimates, Egypt has seen at least 250 strike actions this year alone, organized locally and often featuring women workers playing a leading role. “Everything in the country is expensive, and most workers work two jobs, and still, it’s not enough,” says Wael Habib, a Mahalla strike leader. [more]

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