The LabourStart international trade union news and campaigning website has launched an online campaign in support of Kamal Abbas:
“Kamal Abbas, a leading figure in the fight to create independent democratic trade unions in Egypt, has been sentenced to six months in prison for the “crime” of insulting a Mubarak-era hack at an International Labor Organization conference.
“Abbas is used to such treatment at the hands of the Mubarak regime, which jailed him and tried to crush the Center for Trade Union and Worker Services (CTUWS) which he headed.
“But the Mubarak era is supposed to be behind us. After all, we are now one year into the Arab Spring.
“The world’s trade unions are calling for a massive online mobilization to demand that the charges be dropped.
“Please take a moment to click here and then spread the word.”
Join the Facebook Campaign here: https://www.facebook.com/events/385251511502972/
A “misdemeanour court” in Helwan, near Cairo, has sentenced Kamal Abbas, general coordinator of the Centre for Trade Union and Workers’ Services (CTUWS), to six months in prison for “insulting a public officer”.
That would be bad enough. But the public officer in question is one of the leaders of Egypt’s pre-revolutionary, government-controlled “unions”!
At a session of the International Labour Organisation last June, representatives of the CTUWS and the new independent unions clashed with representatives of the state-run “Egyptian Trade Union Federation”. Abbas is supposed to have “insulted” the ETUF’s acting president Ismail Ibrahim Fahmy, because he criticised the role of the ETUF and rejected the idea it represents or can represent Egyptian workers. (See here for the CTUWS’s report.)
Abbas, who visited the UK last year on a tour organised by the TUC, the FBU and Egypt Workers’ Solidarity, was sentenced in absentia; he is appealing and now waiting for a new court date.
This is an attack on freedom of expression but also on Egypt’s independent workers’ movement, which comes in the context of continued militant struggles by the Egyptian working class – despite the military regime’s attempts to ban strikes. It must be resisted. Check back for more information on solidarity actions soon.
For more information see the CTUWS website.
Statement by Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions
Translation by MENA Network
5 September 2011
Over the coming few days hundreds of thousands of workers will exercise their right to strike and organise sit-ins, in defiance of all attempts to intimidate them and prevent them from exercising these rights, such as the law criminalising strikes and protests. The 22,000 textile workers of Misr Spinning in Mahalla have shown that this law does not frighten them, and it will not prevent the strike that they have set for 10 September demanding a new rate for the minimum wage, a 200% rise in bonuses and increased investment and the provision of the necessary raw materials in order for to the company to operate.
Hundreds of thousands of teachers in six provinces are also threatening to join protests on the same day followed by strikes to demand that their colleagues on temporary contracts are given permanent jobs and a 200% rise in bonuses.
Postal workers in several provinces have already been out on strike this week to demand the restructuring of their wages, increased bonuses, equal recognition for educational qualifications and an end to corruption. Even before Eid, 5,000 workers at Kabu textile mills in Alexandria went on strike demanding that corrupt bosses are brought to justice, the payment of delayed wages and permanent contracts for temporary workers. Staff working in cultural centres demonstrated for raises to their bonuses, permanent contracts for temporary workers, an end to corruption and the sacking of management consultants.
Assistant train drivers on the Cairo Metro organised a strike and sit-in demanding permanent contracts and equal rights for fixed-term workers at Demerdash station yesterday, afterwards transferring their protest to Martyrs’ Station in Tahrir Square. Today workers at the Aviation Information Centres began an open-ended sit-in calling for the resignation of Mohi Raghib. Meanwhile airport workers are also preparing for a strike and sit-in to bring down the Minister of Civil Aviation and all his crew.
Tens of thousands of workers in the Public Transport Authority are expected to strike on the first day of the school year if the chairman of the authority does not fulfil his promise to raise bonuses by 200%. Health Technicians are also threatening to strike at the end of the month as their demands have not been met, while health institutions and hospitals have been shaken by the anger of workers who have been waiting decades for permanent contracts and the rest of their rights.
Eight months after the victory of the 25 January revolution in getting rid of the dictator Mubarak, continual pressure from the revolutionaries has forced the supposedly revolutionary government to hold a public trial of the tyrant and a small number of the criminals, murderers and corrupt figures closest to him.
But workers have discovered that successive governments do not listen to their demands. For more than four years they have argued for a decent minimum wage and three years ago the rate was calculated three years ago at 1200 pounds a month. Today inflation has driven this figure up to 1500 pounds a month. Yet the governments of businessmen refuse to implement the minimum wage, claiming that there is no money to fund it. They rejected all the serious studies which proved that it is possible to fund a minimum wage with the very same budgets which have allowed the rich to loot and plunder, by setting some limits to exploitation and corruption such as implementing a maximum wage. It is completely illogical that a worker should be paid only 50 pounds a month while employees at the top of the payscale receive a million pounds a month. Likewise, the imposition of progressive taxation on capital gains and other similar mechanisms has been rejected by every so-called revolutionary government, which even tried to avoid implementing the demand for 200% bonuses in the municipalities and the demand for permanent contracts although temporary workers stood outside the ministries and the parliament before and after revolution demanding this.
The Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions announces its complete solidarity with workers who are exercising their right to strike and organise sit-ins in defence of their legitimate rights, the foremost of which are:
- A minimum wage of no less than 1500 pounds a month and a maximum wage which does not exceed 15 times the minimum, linked to the rate of inflation and price rises.
- Permanent appointment of all categories of fixed-term workers, taking into account years already worked.
- Scrapping the law criminalizing protests and strikes, and an end to military tribunals for civilians.
- Immediate implementation of a law on trade union freedoms.
- All those involved in corruption must be removed and held to account.
- Pump funds and raw materials into the Misr Spinning factory and other factories. Re-opening of companies which have been closed by their bosses under workers’ management.
- Reinstatement and financial compensation for all workers who have been arbitrarily sacked.
- Implementation of the law guaranteeing workers a share in company profits.
The Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions calls on all workers to organise themselves in unions to express themselves and win their rights, and to unite in order to achieve their legitimate demands.
Strike, strike – its our legitimate right!
Strike against hunger! Strike against poverty!
The strike statistics for 2009-11 from Egyptian NGO Awlad al-Ard (available at MENA solidarity network and the Daily News) show the explosion in labour activity during the revolution with 186 sit-ins during February. Workers hungry for change conducted as many protests in 20 days in 2011 as they managed in the whole of 2010.
While activity has now stabilised, there remains a constant stream of strikes, sit-ins and demonstrations by Egyptian workers.
In a press release the Centre for Trade Union and Workers’ Services reports on a direct confrontation between the new independent unions and corrupt state union federation the ETUF over who had the right to represent Egyptian workers at the International Labour Organisation.
The old state union federation ETUF and several of the official ‘syndicates’, which were the only legal unions under Mubarak, remain in existence and are still recognised by the current regime that succeeded him. The Minister of Manpower still allows them to represent Egypt at international conferences such as that of the International Labour Organisation in Geneva despite lobbying from the leader of the independent tax workers union, Abu Eita. (See here).
Kemal Abbas speaks in London
An interview with Kemal by Eric Lee and Gary Kent is on the TUC website.
CTUWS has issued a statement on the meeting of the Arab Labour Organisation, taking place in Cairo from May 15th. The ALO is largely made up of ministers from governments which have repressed their workers and tame state-sponsored unions and has failed to support workers’ free and independent organisation. CTUWS calls for the freezing of the ALO and its reconstitution as “an organization for active dialogue between the three parties of labour and until it performs its role to secure the international labour standards in work environment.”
The Daily News reports on the creation of two new journalists’ unions aimed at breaking the monopoly of the existing union. The official Journalists’ Syndicate is currently paralyzed awaiting board elections by the end of 2011 after mass resignations of its board members in the aftermath of the January 25 Revolution. Although membership in it is compulsory, it only recruited workers with full time contracts.
“A permanent contract is the carte-blanche to membership in the Journalists’ Syndicate. For this contract, you may spend several years of hard work yet it is not guaranteed if your editor doesn’t like you for some reason,” said Shaimaa Galal, cofounder of the Independent Journalists’ Syndicate.