Tomorrow, we celebrate May Day in Tahrir Square. It’ll be probably the first real celebration of that event since 1951.
The July 1952 coup which brought Nasser to power had inaugurated its rule with the execution of two communist workers in Kafr el-Dawar textile mill, Khamis and el-Baqri. May Days under Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak were nothing but hallow celebrations, where the president was expected to make a “surprise gift” to the workers, decreeing some bonus or raise, in a closed conference room with the stooges of the state backed Egyptian Federation of Trade Unions (EFTU).
I remember every May Day, when I used to watch with endless boredom Mubarak’s speeches, interrupted by the cheers of the EFTU hypocrite officials praising him. I’d flip the channels and watch with envy workers and activists in other countries marching freely in the streets, while all our attempts, as activists over the past years to hold any celebrations in the streets were always met with the iron fist of the security forces. As labor organizers, we would be content if we could pull together a conference in some closed hall inside one of the offices of the NGOs or political parties.
This year is different.
Some are hoping tomorrow there will be a one million worker protest in Tahrir. I do not think our mobilization at this point will bring out those numbers. I’m hoping for at least “thousands” to show up. But to be honest, the numbers are not the main issue here, despite their importance. Tomorrow is a historical day, where independent trade unionists, after years of fighting, will get the chance in Tahrir to declare their new federation, where left wing groups can state publicly and freely their different views on the current situation and which step to take next, where young Egyptians who were not necessarily connected to the labor movement will get the opportunity to meet labor organizers and campaigners and see how they could help.
And while we celebrate in Tahrir tomorrow, the state-backed EFTU is also throwing a party, “under the sponsorship of the army” somewhere else (either at the Military Production training center or the EFTU main headquarters). The EFTU had initially announced it was canceling its celebrations of May Day this year, following the imprisonment of their boss, Hussein Megawer, pending investigation into his role in the 2 February thugs’ attacks on Tahrir protesters. But then the EFTU changed its mind and announced they were holding the celebrations, sending invitations to Field Marshall Tantawi, our “revolutionary” PM Essam Sharaf–whose “revolutionary” cabinet has already criminalized strikes and prosecuting independent trade unionists–and Ahmad el-Borei, the labor minister.
Will Essam Sharaf accept the EFTU invitation, or will he come to Tahrir to celebrate with us? Who brought him to power, Megawer’s thugs or the Tahrir revolutionaries? And why hasn’t the EFTU been dissolved by now? The dissolution of this corrupt institution, whose head is officially a thug, has been one of the central demands of the labor movement for years, not just during the revolution. And even after overthrowing Mubarak, the EFTU continues to play its role in controlling and sabotaging the labor movement, with their agitation against independent unions.
Dr. Sharaf, do NOT honor those thugs with your presence tomorrow. Those thugs should be in jail and this institution should be immediately dissolved.