Egypt: Women workers speak out – Building the independent unions

Under the Mubarak regime there was only one legal trade union federation, the ETUF, which was dominated by the ruling National Democratic Party. Its leaders opposed strikes and refused to take up workers’ demands. Almost all the strikes since 2006 have been organised outside the old trade union federation. After the success of the Tax Collectors in organising the first independent union, other groups of workers have begun to organise themselves. Here a woman activist from the Local Information Centres talks about why she and her colleagues started an independent union.

“We organised a demonstration outside the ETUF, and actually there were more police than protestors, but it was the right thing to do, because you had Hussein Megawer, who is supposed to represent all the workers in the country, sitting in his office there, and we were saying ‘where are you?’ He was sitting in his office while we were out on the pavement protesting, we even slept out in the street outside the ETUF headquarters, and faced arrest on a daily basis and at first he wouldn’t even come out of his office to talk to us. When he did finally come out, it was in order to try and get us to go away. So what use is a trade union federation like that? What good does it for workers? Who is going to defend our rights? We don’t want a trade union federation like the old one.

So we’re building an independent union from today, its real. We’re the ones who are building the union, and we’ve been able do things for workers you could never imagine. We have to put all our energy into building the independent unions. I’m one of 32,000 workers in the Local Government Information Centres, and together with my colleagues from around the country we had no-one who would speak up for us. In fact the ETUF and Hussein Megawer used to tell lies about us. So we’re speaking up for ourselves. We’re saying we need a union federation which stands up for us and supports the independent unions. If the old union federation won’t defend our rights, we’ll defend them ourselves.”

Activist from the Local Information Centres, August 2011

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

‘Here are the women! Where are the men?’
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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