Demonstrations, nationwide strike rock Egypt, world labor voices solidarity

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As Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was preparing to announce he would not seek another term in office, more than 1 million people turned out in Cairo's Tahrir Square today to protest his teetering government. An army press release, published on the MENA state news agency "acknowledge[ed] the legitimate rights of the people," and the military has refused to take action against demonstrators.

Demonstrations took place across the nation, with more than 250,000 people coming out in Sinai. In Cairo, protesters held a mock trial of Mubarak, and then burnt him in effigy.

A general strike, to continue until Mubarak's government falls, has been called by the newly formed Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions.

The AFL-CIO, America's main labor federation, along with nearly all the rest of the world's trade union movement, has thrown its weight behind Egypt's pro-democracy demonstrators.

More specifically, world labor is in solidarity with the Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions and its call for the nationwide general strike, aimed at bringing down nearly three decades of Mubarak's dictatorship.

"The people's movement for democracy in Egypt and the role unions are playing for freedom and worker rights inspires us and will not be forgotten," Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said in a letter to the Egyptian organizers.

Trumka's letter was to Kamal Abbas, the general coordinator of the Center for Trade Union and Workers Services, and Abu Eita, leader of the Real Estate Tax Authority Workers. Both organizations have been instrumental in pulling together the FETU, which Trumka welcomed into the international labor movement.

"We learned that your organizations joined with retirees, the technical health professionals and representatives of workers in the important industrial areas to announce the organization of a new labor federation to represent workers in a new era of democracy in Egypt," Trumka said in the letter. "We salute you in this brave endeavor and join the international labor movement in standing with you."

RETAW is the first independent trade union formed in Egypt in more than half a century. Its legal status has been in a grey area: the government has neither banned nor accepted its application for recognition. CTUWS was the target of government attacks over the past few years. In 2007, several of its offices, including its national headquarters, were shuttered, but a 2008 court ruling forced the regime to allow the Center to function.

FETU's first act was to plan the nationwide general strike. A letter circulated by the CTUWS gives a flavor of the demands. "The Egyptian people call to overthrow the regime," it reads.

According to CTUWS, the anti-Mubarak protesters were further incensed after an earlier speech in which the current president asked his cabinet to resign. Rearrangin the government while staying on as president himself only made the protesters "more determined." The letter called for the release of all arrested people, the end of the state of emergency imposed by Mubarak and prosecution of those responsible for corruption and the shooting of protesters.

More fundamentally, CTUWS calls for the dissolution of the nation's legislature and the constitution of a "national salvation government with the participation of all the political powers" and an "association" to "draft a new constitution for establishing a civil state which observes human rights."

A Jan. 30 press release announcing the formation of the FETU - an alternative to the government-run Egyptian Federation of Trade Unions - reiterated the demands, and stated that "the labor movement is in the heart and soul of the Egyptian Peoples' revolution and its emphasis on the support for the six requirements as demanded by the Egyptian People's Revolution."

The same day, organizers held a press conference in Tahrir Square, announcing the FETU and the "formation of committees in all factories and enterprises to protect, defend them and to set the date for the general strike."

According to Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, "This is a hugely important step for all Egyptians, who have for so long been denied the right to democratic representation at work."

"Independent unions, which the regime refused to recognize, have organized thousands of local strikes, sit-ins and protests in recent years, and have been a moving force behind the massive mobilization of Egypt's people that we have been witnessing in recent days," she continued.

The AFL-CIO is a member of the ITUC, which represents 176 million workers in 151 nations.

The World Federation of Trade Unions, which represents millions of workers in dozens of countries, also sided with Egypt's workers.

"The working class of Egypt is leading this struggle and we wish them success in their targets," read a WFTU press release. "We demand from the government of Egypt to immediately stop the murders and arrests of demonstrators."

The general strike will continue, organizers say, until Mubarak goes and the people's demands are met.

Image: Ron Rothbart // CC BY 2.0

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  • Very thorough article. It's a contribution to the success of the Egyptian people, whatever decisions they may make as to what "comes after" getting rid of Mubarak.

    We may hope that they choose socialism rather than fascism, which Mubarak and possibly some of the theocrats might prefer, or mild reforms covering a continuing fealty to world capitalism as the social democrats are hoping for.

    Whatever they choose and are able to get, it's not going to be decided by armchair socialists in the United States. It's going to be decided by those involved in the struggle in Egypt, and to a lesser extent, in the rest of the world, including the U.S..

    We must do what we can!
    --Jim Lane

    Posted by jim lane, 02/06/2011 2:50pm (4 years ago)

  • I appreciate the remarks by James Stewart. I think it's fair to say that what comes next is the business of the organizations and movements assembled in Tahrir Square. Not to be smart, but the first order of business is to get rid of Mubarak regime, proving to be a tough task. Then the forces that were unified and participated in this extraordinary process will negotiate. They come from various places in Egyptian society and have relative strength. There is no guarantee that the most progressive government will come out of this struggle. In fact there are no guarantees what so ever. We will watch, cheer them on and offer appropriate support which includes asking our government to support the democratic movement and its demands.

    Posted by Beth Edelman, 02/04/2011 4:11pm (4 years ago)

  • I see a lot of this on Link TV on Dish Network and I see no report of anyone who seems to have any sort of goal other than the eviction of the president, after which, what? I see the working class and others in the square having, no doubt, a great demonstration of their opposition to the government, what I have yet to hear anything about any real goal. Nothing.

    It reminds me a little of the rallies against the draft when we had a clear idea of what we didn't want, but no coherent notion of what we did want. As a result, we really didn't get anything. The draft was dropped later and the war ended from its own folly as much as anything. It would be unfortunate if, after all this bravery and enthusiasm if they got nothing more than the next scheduled election.

    I would be pleased to read something about where all this might be going.

    Posted by James Stewart, 02/01/2011 7:00pm (4 years ago)

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