28 Mar 2012

Egyptian strikes radicalise workers further

By Anne Alexander
There is no mistaking the raw class anger in strikers’ chants across Egypt these days. “Who are they and who are we?” is a favourite of striking workers at Cairo’s Public Transport Authority (PTA). 
“They” are the “moneymen”, the corrupt and complacent politicians who promise the earth and deliver only dust. “Listen up, lords and ladies—a kilo of meat is ten pounds,” chanted the PTA workers during a protest outside parliament last week. “They’re all dressed in the latest fashion and we’re living ten to a room.” 
The 40,000 PTA workers had been on strike for two weeks as Socialist Worker went to press. The transport minister recently announced concessions and declared the strike to be over. But around 1,000 workers marched on the state TV building chanting “Lying TV! We’re still on strike.” 

The sticking point was not the increased end-of-service lump sum, nor the implementation of a 200 percent bonus payment promised to public sector workers. The workers have set their eyes on a much greater prize—returning the PTA to central government control. The slogan “Back to the Ministry of Transport” is being raised by bus workers across Egypt. 
For the PTA workers in Cairo the demand means ending the role of the local Cairo governor in running the authority. Bus workers in Alexandria and the Red Sea ports raised the same slogan in their recent strike.

High stakes

They called for complete renationalisation by dissolving the semi-privatised “holding company” running the bus service. The stakes are very high in these strikes. Both the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the Islamist parties which dominate parliament are desperate to reassure big business inside and outside Egypt. 
Draft legislation curbing strikes and protests is being discussed at the moment. Attacks on strikers and trade union activists by the security forces and thugs have dramatically increased. Striking shipyard workers in Suez were arrested and jailed on the orders of a military court earlier this month. The leaders of the independent union at the Cairo PTA were ambushed by knife-wielding thugs recently.

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