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Strikes show Egypt’s revolution lives on

By Marcus Halaby

A strike wave has forced the resignation of Egyptian Prime Minister Hazem Al Beblawi and his cabinet, only a month after the military junta of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi rigged a constitutional referendum to enshrine its rule.

More than 20,000 workers at state-owned textile factories in Mahalla El-Kubra struck in February, demanding the dismissal of the company’s boss Fouad Abdel-Alim and a rise in wages from levels as low as 520 Egyptian pounds (£44) per month to the official public sector minimum wage of 1,200 Egyptian pounds (£105).

Textile workers in privatised enterprises, not covered by the minimum wage, have struck for their renationalisation, with employees at Tanta Flax and Shebeen Weaving factories demanding the implementation of court rulings declaring their privatisations illegal.

Workers at Cairo Public Transportation Authority, with 42,000 employees, whose wages range from 600 to 1400 Egyptian pounds per month, have also struck for the minimum wage.

Elsewhere, there have been strikes in manufacturing and in iron and steel production in El Asher, Alexandria and Suez, as well as strikes by doctors, pharmacists and civil servants in Alexandria, Kafr el-Sheikh and Cairo.

Overall, 100,000 workers have taken part in 54 strikes and occupations so far this year.

The minimum wage has become the focus for strike action precisely because Sisi’s junta promised to raise and implement it to win support for its coup last July against the Muslim Brotherhood-led government of Mohamed Morsi.

They appointed former Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU) president Kamal Abu Aita, as manpower and immigration minister to sell the coup to trade union members.

Since then, Abu Aita has used the excuse that the minimum wage falls under the jurisdiction of the National Council for Wages rather than his own ministry to argue that workers should negotiate their wages instead of taking strike action. The minimum wage is now subject to so many exemptions that the number of people benefitting from it has been reduced from a hypothetical six million to just 400,000.

Repression

This strike wave has taken place amid ongoing repression of Muslim Brotherhood activists and other political opponents of the military regime. The Brotherhood-led Anti-Coup Alliance has held demonstrations across the country every Friday, which have spread to provincial regions that had not previously seen mass protests.

Egyptian security forces now hold at least 692 university students in detention, while courts have sentenced 220 protesters in Alexandria to prison for seven years, and 21 students from Cairo’s Al-Azhar University for five years, for “participating in illegal protests”.

Hisham Kamal and Ehab Shiha from the Alliance have accused the security forces of subjecting female detainees to rape and sexual assault.

The banned four-fingered “R4BIA sign”, showing solidarity with the victims of the massacre of up to 2,600 unarmed protesters outside Cairo’s Rabaa Al-Adawiya Mosque on 14 August 2013, has become popular with protesters.

The Beblawi government’s resignation demonstrates how fragile the Sisi junta’s relationship with its bourgeois “liberal” frontmen is. Beblawi’s replacement as prime minister is his housing minister Ibrahim Mahlab, a former official in ex-dictator Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party.

Moreover, interim president Adly Mansour has reconstituted the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) under Sisi’s leadership as defence minister, rather than his own. This will provide Sisi with the option of continuing to act as the military regime’s real leader behind a screen of constitutional legitimacy and “emergency” provisions, whatever the outcome of presidential elections in March or April.

But this is a sign of weakness rather than strength.

Sisi’s military coup has not brought Egypt’s revolution to an end. What is now needed is to unite the strikes with the struggle for democracy and for the end of military rule.

But for this, the Egyptian workers’ movement will need to go beyond trade unionism. It will need to offer a united front to all those facing repression, Islamist or not, and to launch a revolutionary party to struggle for power.

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