A delegation of activists from UK and Irish trade unions visited Cairo 29 Oct-4 Nov with MENA Solidarity network. Ian Bradley an electrician and UNITE union activist; Mary Compton from the NUT and Teachersolidarity.com; Colm Bryce, a UCU activist in Derry, and Anne Alexander from MENA Solidarity Network took part in the visit. If you would like someone from the delegation to speak at your union meeting, please get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org
Over the coming weeks we’ll be publishing a series of detailed reports about our visit, but for now, here are some of the highlights of our meetings.
Tuesday 30 October
We were invited to attend the organising meeting of the newly-launched campaign ‘Trade union rights are our way to social justice’ at the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU) offices in Sayyida Zeinab, Cairo. The campaign brings together a wide range of independent unions through the independent union federation, workers from major companies such as Misr Spinning in Mahalla, the Amiriyya printworks and the Suez Canal company, as well as political parties and youth organisations. We heard about how repression of trade unionists has dramatically increased in recent months, with large numbers of striking workers being detained by the police.
The Muslim Brotherhood-led government has taken an active role in this crackdown. MB leaders have condemned the strike wave and there has been no sign that the government will bring in a law on trade union freedoms which would finally give the independent unions full legal rights. Before the revolution, the only legal union organisation was the Egyptian Trade Union Federation which was run by the ruling party.
We spoke about the campaigning work we’ve done in solidarity with the independent unions in Egypt around strikes and protests here, such as the 20 October demonstration. We agreed to help the campaign produce an English-language briefing to update trade unionists around the world on the fight for trade union rights and social justice in Egypt.
Wednesday 31 October
We visited al-Muneera Hospital in Cairo at the invitation of the doctors’ strike committee in the hospital and heard from striking doctors and nurses about their battle for decent pay and conditions and a rise in state spending on health. Doctors across Egypt are taking part in a partial strike which means that they are providing emergency cover and treating patients for free.
We met Tareq al-Beheiry, one of the leaders of the Cairo Public Transport Authority Workers’ Union. Tareq told us how he and his colleagues were attacked in March this year by thugs wielding a machete inside the Public Transport Authority headquarters as they were going to a negotiating meeting. Despite this, they still organised a successful strike which won a big rise in the end-of-service bonus for workers on retirement. During the latest strike in September this year, Tareq was arrested, and Muslim Brotherhood MPs denounced the bus workers as ‘traitors’. The union’s main focus at the moment is on winning support for their campaign to improve the bus service by bringing it back under Ministry of Transport control.
Thursday 1 November
We joined hundreds of striking doctors and their supporters for a solidarity action which linked the Doctors’ Union headquarters on Qasr al-Aini Street with the Ministry of Health via a human chain a kilometre long.
NUT and UCU colleagues held meetings with leading activists in the Independent Teachers Union and the Egyptian Teachers’ Federation where they heard in detail about the unions’ role in the fight against neo-liberal education policy and teachers’ battles for a decent wage.
The whole delegation took part in a meeting at the EFITU union offices with representatives from the following unions: Water Company Workers Union, American University in Cairo Workers’ Union, Union of Cultural Palaces Workers, Labour Ministry Workers Union, EgyptAir Flight Attendants Union, Pharmaceutical Trade Workers Union and representatives of the 6th April Youth Movement. We had a wide-ranging discussion about the challenges faced by workers in all these different sectors and talked about what we can do to build solidarity.
Friday 2 November
We met trade unionists and youth activists from Suez, including workers from Ain Sokhna Port. Ali and Ibrahim, who work for Dubai World, told us how workers’ hopes that the Muslim Brotherhood would bring in real social and political change have been disappointed. Mustafa al-Masry, treasurer of the independent union at Aleco, a factory which makes aluminium facades for buildings, explained how he is one of a number of activists in Suez who are involved in linking up the revolutionary youth movements which grew up after with the revolution with the workers’ movement.