20,000 demonstrate in Mahalla for minimum wage

by , under Blog

I have to run out now to catch an appointment in Ashby, but I’ll post the reports and photos I received from my contacts in Cairo and Mahalla as soon as I come back home.

حوالي ٢٠ ألف من عمال وأهالي المحلة يتظاهرون للمطالبة برفع الحد الأدنى للأجور، ١٧ فبراير ٢٠٠٨، عدسة كريم البحيري

I LOVE YOU MAHALLA!

UPDATE: I’m back and the news from Mahalla is thrilling!

Only one day before the convening of the National Council for Wages (the govt entity in charge of setting the minimum wage, and which has not convened since the mid 80s!!!) 10,000 textile workers from Ghazl el-Mahalla took to the streets around 4pm demanding raising the national minimum (monthly) wage to LE1200. Mubarak’s Central Security Forces were out in full gear, and tried to prevent the workers from marching, but the workers managed to storm the company gates, chanting:

” يسقط يسقط حسنى مبارك – ياحاكمنا من عابدين حكمك زفت وزى الطين – هما بياكلوا حمام وفراخ واحنا الفول دوخنا وداخ – ياجمال قول لابوك فى الغربية بيكرهوك

“Down Down Hosni Mubarak!”… “You, who’s ruling us from (the Presidential Place in) Abdeen, your rule is shit!”… “They (the elite) are eating chicken and pigeons, while we are sick of eating beans”… “Gamal (Mubarak), tell your dad, the Gharbeia province (where Mahalla is located) hates him!”

The demonstration, which lasted for roughly an hour, soon swelled as the Mahalla citizens joined the workers and started marching through the streets of the town. The estimates I heard from my sources in Cairo and Mahalla varied.. Some said 5,000 more citizens joined the march, while others put the number at an extra 10,000.

You can read Kareem’s report about the mass protest here. Also, check out some of the photos he took:

Some more photos, below, taken by Ad-Dustour’s correspondent Muhammad Abul Dahab:

The protest was organized by labor activists in the Ghazl el-Mahalla company in secrecy, and they notified in advance only a selected number of activist journalists.. This demonstration is ULTRA-SIGNIFICANT:

1- Whatever happens in Ghazl el-Mahalla sets the tone for the entire working class in Egypt, both in the textile sector and others.. This is not new… The strikes by the biggest textile mill in the Middle East, with its 27,000-strong labor force working shoulder to shoulder on the factory floor, have been instrumental in pressuring the regime into economic concessions that get generalized for the whole class since the 1970s if not before. The most recent example of course is the December 2006 strike that launched the Winter of Labor Discontent. HOWEVER, in previous strikes Ghazl el-Mahalla workers struck over demands related to the company ONLY.. and the generalization of gains to other fellow workers used to come by the domino effect… BUT in today’s demo, it was the first time since the January 1977 Bread Intifada that Ghazl el-Mahalla workers took to the streets with NATIONAL demands for the whole class.

2- There’s an increasing process of politicization among the workers in Ghazl el-Mahalla (and elsewhere)… with a clear anti-Mubarak sentiments. I wasn’t present in the December 2006 strike, but those who were there said the anti-regime chants could be heard quietly every now and then but not as much as they were heard in the September 2007 and certainly it was never as clear as yesterday. The chants against Mubarak and his family means more political crystallization for the current labor movement.. and what a leap forward today’s chants in that regards were.

3- Despite repeated requests from friends and readers, I deliberately do NOT blog about the internal politics of strikes, and Who’s Who, and what faction is doing this and what group is doing that… because we are living under a dictatorship, and speaking in details about what’s going on will bloody jeopardize the security of the activists in the factories and will mess up the future of some strikes. Having said that, it is no secret that the revolutionary left is witnessing a revival now, with the establishment of a foothold in some of the major industrial centers… and today’s demonstration which was mobilized by our friends in Mahalla is a clear example of the increasing mobilization capabilities of this leftist revival… One thing I can divulge about Mahalla though, is that among the independent activists whose role was central in December 2006 and in lobbying for the impeachment of the corrupt govt-backed Factory Union Committee officials, there are some who have been gradually co-opted by the authorities in exchange for promises that they would be the “unofficial representatives” of the workers.. This was sensed by some activists including myself in the summer of 2007 during their negotiations with the Labor Ministry and the General Federation, but became clear in the September 2007 Strike (and I’m not gonna mention names or add details, but I think those in Cairo and Mahalla who are reading this know exactly whom I’m talking about). I wouldn’t have even mentioned that, except it’s becoming clear that their role is increasingly negative now in the factory politics, and they have intervened more than once to abort or diffuse protests, or ride the wave if it became clear that the protest will go ahead whether they were there or not… Their role has become sabotaging on occasions, in the same fashion as trade union bureaucrats in Western bourgeois democracies act… It even reached the extent that one of them told Al-Jazeera and Orbit today that the demo included only 150 workers!!!!!! However, this is already costing them politically a lot on the factory floor, in terms of their legitimacy.. And probably the only positive outcome from this is that the other more militant strike leaders who are either members or close to the revolutionary left are now gaining more ground and credibility…

Some Socialists I spoke to earlier in Cairo and Mahalla were literally in tears… tears of joy and happiness that today’s demo was successful. It is another landmark in the struggle to overthrow the West-sponsored Mubarak’s dictatorship… and I can assure you, dear readers, this is just the beginning.

Keep your eyes on Mahalla. More to come.

UPDATE: Here’s a report by Reuters (Arabic Service) on the protest.

UPDATE: Here’s a report by AFP:

At least 10,000 employees of Egypt’s biggest textile factory protested against price hikes on Monday, demanding a sharp rise in the minimum wage nationwide in the first such protest in decades.
Thousands of textile workers gathered at the Ghazl al-Mahalla factory north of Cairo shouting slogans to protest against the rise in the price of basic commodities, a security source told Agence France-Presse.
The workers are demanding that the minimum wage be raised to 1,200 Egyptian pounds ($218) a month for all workers around the country.
“This is the first time there’s a big workers’ demonstration for national demands,” said Sameh Nagib, a sociologist at the American University in Cairo. “This hasn’t happened for decades.”
The demonstration at Mahalla, which has seen a string of strikes in recent years, came as the government’s National Council for Wages met to discuss raising the minimum wage from the current 105 Egyptian pounds.
It is the latest in a spate of industrial action in the country.
Egyptian civil servants working for the Real Estate tax office held a sit-in in December demanding to raise their monthly average from 300 pounds to 1,500.
In September, at least 24,000 workers at the Mahalla factory went on strike over unpaid profit shares and low wages.
The government subsequently agreed to their demands and similar strikes were held in other factories.
“Maybe it’s because of this year of strikes, there’s a lot of pressure (on the government) to come up with a statement or a plan of action,” said Nagib. “Under this pressure they have to do something serious.”

  1. mado

    بجد المحلة رجالة بردو الاضربات بدأت من المحلة وبعدين كلو بداء يطالب بحقوقه زي عمال المحلة.
    بجد فعلا الثورة قادمة ياحسام

  2. Hossam el-Hamalawy

    أكيد يا مادو… وعاوزينك تشد حيلك كدة يا جميل وتصمم لنا شوية جرافيك عن عمال المحلة والثورة.. انت فنان ولازم توظف موهبتك لمساعدة العمال لأنهم هم الأمل الوحيد للاطاحة بحسني وخنازير الداخلية…
    معلهش ما عرفناش نتقابل قبل سفري في القاهرة.. لكن كلها كام شهر وراجعلكوا يا جميل….
    ويسقط مبارك كلب الأمريكان

  3. mado

    يسقط مبارك كلب الامريكان كمان مرة : )
    اكيد هصمم انشاء الله المشكلة بس اني كونت مشغول.وطبعا لما تيجي مش هسيبك.ترجع بالف سلامة يارفيق.

  4. Hossam el-Hamalawy

    أكيد يا زعامة لينا قعدة واتنين وتلاتة كمان لما أرجع لمهد الحضارات مدينة نصر.. والمشاريب عليا والدخان عليك.. وقريب حنشرب نخب الانتصار على الدكتاتور وكلاب الأمريكان كلهم في الشرق الأوسط… الثورة لما حتقوم في مصر حتزلزل المنطقة كلها…
    شد حيلك وما تحرمناش من التصاميم الثورية