Egypt: Women workers speak out – ‘Here are the women’

Mansura Espana Garment workers occupied their factory in 2008. Picture by Hossam el-Hamalawy

It was strikes by women workers which set Egypt on the road to revolution. Women textile workers in the giant mills of Mahalla al-Kubra sparked the huge strike there in December 2006 which set Egypt on the road to the revolution of 2011. Like their counterparts in Russia in 1917 they took their male colleagues by surprise. Three thousand women garment workers demanded that their male colleagues stop work. “Where are the men? Here are the women!” they chanted.

The strike wave spread across Egypt, engulfing the textile sector then moving into transport, local government, education and manufacturing. In the process hundreds of thousands of women gained experience as strike organisers and activists. Women at the Mansura-Espana garment factory led a factory occupation for several weeks in 2008. In order to stop the factory owner locking them out and selling the land to a property developer, the workers organised a sit-in, sleeping between the machines at night. Managers threatened to report the women activists as prostitutes because they were spending the night with male colleagues in the occupation.

Women activists also played a leading role in the 2007 strike by Property Tax Collectors. These low paid civil servants took on the Ministry of Finance and won over 300 percent pay rises following a national strike organised by local strike committees and underground networks of activists. The strike committees laid the foundations for the first independent union in Egypt for more than fifty years.

This is part of the MENA Solidarity Briefing: “Egypt in Revolution: Women workers speak out”. Read more by clicking on the links below

Building the Independent Unions

Teachers’ unions build unity from below
Revolution in the hospitals: ‘The independent union knits everyone together’
‘Our strike was 100 percent solid’
Women on the frontline of protest
Media workers fight to clean up state TV

To order hard copies of the briefing email
Get involved with building solidarity: find out more here


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