Egypt: Women workers speak out

MENA Solidarity Network will publish an 8 page briefing on the role of women workers in the Egyptian revolution to mark International Women’s Day this year. Featuring interviews with activists from the teachers’ unions, health service, local government and media, it shows a hidden side of the Egyptian revolution.
[Update: 13 March: read the briefing in full here]

The stories told by the women in the briefing are only a small fraction of the hundreds of thousands of women workers who have been at the heart of the huge waves of strikes which have shaken Egypt since 2006, and which played a crucial role in the downfall of Mubarak. They are representatives of a new generation of activists in the workplaces and the streets who showed that ordinary people can still bring tyrants down.

There are many questions which hang over the future of the revolution. Will these women find a way to translate the gains they’ve made in self-organisation in the workplaces into a stronger voice in the political arena? The contrast between the upsurge in women’s activism in the workplaces and the street and the small numbers of women elected to the post-revolutionary parliament is stark.

And for the women activists who speak out in this briefing, the question of who the parliament represents is not just a question of gender. All the mainstream parties in Egypt are agreed that the workers’ strikes and protests must stop, and they have no alternative to continuing the neo-liberal policies which have forced millions deeper into poverty. This is why the ‘feminism’ of the old regime, represented by the dictator’s wife, Suzanne Mubarak, had nothing to offer Egyptian women workers. While she sat in air-conditioned conference halls discussing women’s rights, women like the activists here were fighting stop privatisation, cuts in welfare and education and for their right to organise and speak out at work.

Teachers’ unions build unity from below

Hala Talaat is a member of the Egyptian Teachers’ Federation’s union committee in Giza.

“We are organising union committees across the country so that we can be a strong union and to stand up to the massive corruption we see in the Ministry of Education. The Ministry behaves like the police towards its employees and towards teachers. We’re also trying to build up the idea of unity between teachers, administrators, caretakers and other staff. The ministry is always trying to set the teachers against the other grades of staff for example. We’re using the union to make us all ‘one hand’ in the educational institutions, until we get to the stage where we can kick out the corrupt managers who run the education system because they have a completely fossilized mentality, and they won’t allow any kind of development and are blocking our attempts to push things forward.”

‘Our strike was 100 percent solid’

Dr Shima’a Mosallam is a founding member of the independent union at Abbassiya General Psychiatric Hospital, Cairo where she is a doctor.

“In May 2011 doctors went on strike for better pay and more funding for the health service. We had already had a group of activists organised through the Doctors Without Rights network so it was quite straightforward to mobilise support. I and my colleagues in the Higher Strike Committee were organising the strike across the whole country, and other colleagues were organising the strike in the hospital itself. We had a big group of activists involved and our strike was 100 percent solid, no-one broke the strike.”

Read Hala’s and Shima’a’s full stories online here and here.
Email menasolidarity@gmail.com for a copy of the briefing delivered to your inbox or for details of how to order hard copies for your union branch.

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