Vol. 75/No. 17 May 2, 2011
‘Strikes turned into
rebellion against regime’
Egyptian textile workers press fight
for political space to organize and act
BY PAUL MAILHOT
MAHALLA, Egypt, April 6—“Textile workers had been at war against the Hosni Mubarak regime since 2006,” explained Kamal Fayoumy in an interview with the Militant newspaper, describing scenes of mass struggles in the mill towns of Tonton, Shebeen, and Mahalla over the past several years.
Fayoumy and four other textile workers who are part of the workers’ leadership at the Misr Spinning and Weaving Company, and represent the workers in negotiations with the government, spoke to a Militant reporting team visiting this textile area in early April. Like many large-scale industries in Egypt, the plant of 21,000 workers is run by the government. Up until recently, so has the union.
With the fall of the dictator in early February, after sustained mobilizations throughout Egypt pressured the military to push Mubarak aside, workers throughout the country have been pressing for greater freedoms to organize, better pay and working conditions, decertification of unions that were tied to the government, and formation of independent unions.
The struggle to bring down the Mubarak dictatorship was given tremendous impetus by the struggles of the 100,000 textile workers in this region north of Cairo, particularly since 2006. It has put workers in a stronger position today to continue fighting for their rights.
“On April 6, 2008, we had our own January 25 revolution in Mahalla,” explained Fayoumy, referring to events in January and February 2011 that led to Mubarak’s fall. “The workers’ strike and protests here in 2008 turned into a rebellion against the regime. There was a gigantic picture of Mubarak in the Mahalla town square. We tore it down. Our struggle had turned into a fight not just for better working conditions, but for dignity and freedom as well.”
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