By Emad Mekay
On Monday, I went out to the Nile Delta city of Mahala, the labor unions base. Mahala is exceedingly important because this is where the Egyptian revolution actually started back in 2008 when labor activists organized two days of massive protests that saw local residents joining in and pulling down Mubarak’s pictures and posters for the first time since he came to office in 1981. The April 6 Movement, which later organized the events of Jan. 25, 2011, took its name from that historic day.
Labor union leaders told me they were getting ready to align themselves with the wider pro-democracy revolution sweeping across the country. Tuesday alone saw at least 10 labor strikes and many sits-in across Egypt. Thousands of workers took part.
On Wednesday, the number increased and strikes reached farther areas. Today, Thursday, the strikes and labor rights campaign spread like wildfire reaching almost every sector of the already shaken Egyptian economy. Sensitive sectors such as the Suez Canal, telecommunications, electricity, coal and oil production are witnessing different degrees of labor action.
If the labor movement in Egypt gets further organized and joins in the larger pro-democracy movement in a big way, they could be a tipping force.
Mubarak is very alert to them though and the military regime is doing all it can to coopt them and buy labor rights leaders off. . The government is resorting to bribes at this stage. They offered government workers a 15 percent increase earlier this week and a similar increase to the Armed Forces staff.
In Mahala, the 24,000 workers of Egypt Textiles, the largest textiles factory in the Middle East, were offered a one-month bonus before Jan. 25. My sources there tell me workers were also promised another 4 months bonus to avoid them joining the anti-Mubarak protests. These are huge bonuses, never heard of before “not in the history of labor movement in Mahala,” as Mohammed Mourad, a labor rights leader in Mahala said.
Clearly Mubarak is getting the back of regional dictators, Israel, neo-cons in the U.S. and the hesitant Obama administration, of course, whose mumbling on democracy is seen negatively here. But on the other hand the popular pro-democracy movement is gaining in strength and is adding new numbers to the protesters by the day. It is adding space as it spills over even to desert oases and remote areas in the Sinai and the Western desert.
This is turning into a classic situation of big interests such as businesses, corporations, dictators and the military on one side and the people on the other.