Egypt: Independent unions call on generals to honour promises of trade union freedom

Egyptian Independent Union Federation

Letter to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces

28 June 2011

We present this letter to you in the name of the independent unions which were set up before the glorious revolution in the face of opposition from the State Security apparatus, the dissolved National Democratic Party, and the Egyptian Trade Union Federation controlled by these bodies. We also speak here in the name of the independent unions which were formed in the light of the new dawn for Egypt represented by the 25 January revolution that you played a crucial role in protecting, and which ushered in a new stage in the history of national action in Egypt.

The strength which the working people of this country showed during the revolution has opened the door to trade union freedoms despite the powerful forces of oppression and exploitation which existed under the old regime. These freedoms are based on Article 4 of the Constitutional Declaration of 30 March 2011, and the international conventions signed by Egypt, most importantly ILO Conventions 87 (Freedom of Association and the Right to Organise) and 98 (Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining), the International Convention of 1981 and the 1998 ILO Declaration of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.

The emergence of the independent unions has resulted in Egypt’s name being removed from the ILO’s blacklist of labour rights violators, thanks to the sacrifices of the martyrs who fell in order to set Egypt on the right path.

The thousands of strikes which spread across the country in the five years before the revolution were all outside the legal framework established by the government, (although if genuine unions had been allowed to exist, they would not have been ‘illegal’). Since the role of trade unions is to take part in negotiations and to improve working conditions through dialogue, genuine trade unions in Egypt will avert unrest and strikes. Employers see that it is in their interests to facilitate the establishment of genuine trade unions in order to negotiate with workers, while the workers themselves have shown that they want to form independent trade unions.

The only danger facing trade union work in Egypt is the threat from a handful of people who behave as if the trade unions are their own personal fiefdom. Although they have no grassroots support and are past the age of retirement, they continue to monopolize trade union work in complete contravention of both the old and new trade union legislation. These individuals have been the subject of numerous reports by the central authorities, and numerous court decisions, including a court ruling for the dissolution of the local, industrial and national structures of the old Egyptian Trade Union Federation, but these decisions were not implemented because the old federation was an arm of the state, the security apparatus and the ruling National Democratic Party. The old trade union federation has become like a broken-down bus: there is no reason to keep it. This is simply a matter of respect for workers, because of the blatant fraud in the elections for lower-level positions, and the complete absence of elected officials in the higher levels of the union structures.

There is no alternative to the dissolution of the local, industrial and national structures of the Egyptian Trade Union Federation, in order that it can join its sister organisations – the State Security apparatus, the National Democratic Party and the local councils.

We affirm that the independent unions now being established are completely independent of all other parties, groups, associations or political forces of any kind,  whether inside or outside the country, and are only answerable to the free will of their democratically-elected general assemblies.

If freedom of association has been guaranteed for the political parties of the elite, then why should powerful stakeholders in the revolution, such as the workers and peasants be denied the right to form trade unions? Why should the producers, the great heroes of our economic battles be denied the right to form unions? The heroes of production are looking forward to rebuilding Egypt and the youth of this country themselves insist on the establishment of free trade unions to defend them as they dedicate themselves to work and production.

The aspiration to participate in the building of the homeland is strong in our people and will only be achieved through the establishment of independent unions expressing the wishes of Egypt’s workers and peasants and the fair employment relations which these unions contain.

Those who would sell the trade unions, in close co-operation with the remnants of the old regime which still remain in their positions, are planning to overturn trade union freedoms, despite the fact that the aims of the revolution which you are safeguarding include social justice and freedom, and that these very slogans shook the streets of Egypt.

We affirm that the forces of darkness and the remnants of the old regime in the ETUF are fighting against the realisation of these slogans in order to defend the personal interests which they acquired through monopolizing trade union work, while the rank-and-file of the ETUF unions is being denied the chance to enjoy the new dawn of our freedom.

We are confident that your decision will be for the benefit of the productive forces in this country, who have been denied their rights for the sake of a handful of corrupt people who squander the country’s wealth. We hope that you will speed up the issuance of the Law on Trade Union Freedoms and dissolve the ETUF, as this body reflects the interests of a corrupt handful. We are confident that your final decision will be for the interests of the majority and will prove beyond a doubt, to be in favour of the young people who are building this country into something we can all be proud of.

Long live the Egyptian Revolution!

Eternal glory to the martyrs!

Egyptian Independent Union Federation

28 June 2011

Signatories:

1. The Real Estate Tax Authority Union

2. The General Public Transport Authority Workers’ Union

3. The General Union of Civil Aviation Pilots

4. The General Union of Builders and Woodworkers

5. The Egyptian Peasants’ Union

6. The General Union of Antiquities Workers

7. The General Union of Sales Tax Workers

8. The General Union of Health Sciences

9. The General Independent Union of Teachers

10. The General Union of Communications Workers

11. The Manshiyet al-Bakri Hospital Workers’ Union

12. Du’aa Hospital Union

13. The General Union of Workers in the Ministry of Labour

14. The Media Production Workers Union

15. The General Union of Pensioners

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