Egypt’s Labour Day rally mobilises workers
The country’s revolution has radicalised millions of Egyptians and energised the nation’s political left.
Mona Dohle Last Modified: 04 May 2011 13:18
From Al Jazeera English
Red flags were waving eagerly as thousands of Egyptians celebrated Labour Day at Tahrir Square. Workers from factories across Egypt, the newly founded Federation of Independent Labour Unions, as well several leftist parties rallied to celebrate their new freedoms.
Ahmed El-Borai, Egypt’s minister of manpower and immigration, announced last month that Egyptian workers will have the right to establish independent labour unions. This marks an unprecedented level of organisational freedom in Egypt’s long history of labour struggle. However, despite the first Labour Day celebration after the resignation of Mubarak, many challenges for workers remain.
Among the parties present at the rally were the Workers Democratic Party, the Socialist Popular Alliance, the Egyptian Socialist Party, the Communist Party and the Revolutionary Socialists. One of the key issues of debate concerns the role of the state within economic development. Whereas the Workers Democratic Party pledges for the re-nationalisation of large parts of the formerly privatised industry, others are demanding a limited role of the private sector in autonomous development.
However, beyond those abstract debates, many workers are, above all, interested in an immediate improvement of their living conditions. One of the key demands is to raise the monthly minimum wage, currently set at 400 Egyptian Pounds (about US$70) to 1200 Egyptian Pounds (about US$200). They wanted wages to be tied to the rising inflation, with protesters demanding a maximum salary set at about 15 times the minimum wage.
These demands stand in the tradition of Labour Day, which is celebrated to commemorate a general strike in the US in 1886, starting on May 1. The strike was largely led by immigrant workers from Germany, Ireland, Bohemia, France, Poland and Russia. It was part of a wider series of uprisings inspired by the Paris Commune in 1872. One of the slogans at that time was “bread or blood”. The protesters got the latter, as the state clamped down on the movement – killing dozens and wounding hundreds. Exactly 125 years after the US army brutally crushed the uprisings, the key demand of the workers in 1886, “a day on which to begin to enjoy eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for what we will”, has still not materialised for many Egyptian workers.
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