The Tunisian revolution was led by the UGTT – as the better informed media worked out – but the Egyptian uprising has been less linked to trade unionism. However, Egypt isn’t just a story about democratic rights and state repression. The country has been increasingly wracked by labour unrest as food prices and unemployment rise and wages stagnate. In Egypt, the trade union movement has traditionally been state controlled since Nasser became President in the post-war era, whereas in Tunisia the unions trod a fine line between links with the authoritarian regime and independence.
So in Egypt, while the official trade unions have tried to keep a lid on the unrest, workers have had to form new organisations to represent their interests, starting with tax collectors and then health technicians. On Sunday, a new union confederation – the Egypt Federation for Independent Unions – was launched in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, and on Monday they launched their first set of demands (see below and here) and called for a general strike, as their Tunisian counterparts did at the height of the uprising there.
As in most democratic revolutions, trade unions will be vital to ensuring that the interests of ordinary people don’t slip quietly off the stage as one elite replaces another. The new Egyptian trade union movement has the support of the International Trade Union Confederation, and deserves support from all of us.
Here are their main demands:
- Egypt citizens right to work – and binding the government to “unemployment compensation”.
- Define a minimum wage no less than 1200 LE, with a yearly raise proportionate to inflation; guarantee workers rights to bonuses and benefits according to work value, especially work compensation for those facing work hazards. Moreover, maximum wage should never exceed minimum wage by more than ten times.
- The right for all Egyptian citizens to fair social security including the right to health care, housing, education “ensuring free education and syllabus development to cope with science and technology evolution”, the right for all retired to decent pensions and benefits.
- Workers and employees right to organize, to create their own bylaws, to remove all legal restrictions regarding this right.
- Free all detainees imprisoned after January 25th.