“IT IS our opinion that if this revolution does not lead to the fair distribution of wealth it is not worth anything. Freedoms are not complete without social freedoms. The right to vote is naturally dependent on the right to a loaf of bread.” That was the view of a meeting of leading representatives of the Egyptian workers’ movement that took place in Cairo in late February.
Workers from the sugar refineries in Al-Fayyum and Hawamidiyya, public transport, Tura Cement Co, pharmaceutical workers, postal workers, employees in the Umar Effendi department store, and representatives of the property tax collectors were among the 40 representatives at the meeting.
This declaration is an important step, as it brings together a powerful group of trade union activists to assert their determination to achieve the revolution’s social goals.
Nothing approaching this level of co-ordination between strike leaders has been achieved in Egypt for decades, and their demands look far beyond the current capitalist system.
The meeting came as two conflicting forces jostle for supremacy in Egypt in the wake of the revolution that overthrew the dictator Mubarak.
On the one hand, perhaps more than a million workers across the country are engaging in largely spontaneous struggles to gain not just pay rises but control and dignity in the workplace.
Journalists at key state-run newspapers have kicked out their editors. Thousands of university students demonstrated demanding the resignation of their deans.
Austin Mackell wrote in newmatilda.com: “Outside any of the ministries in downtown Cairo you will to find groups of public servants from around the city and the country gathered to demand better pay and conditions.
“One such public servant, a 34-year-old sociology graduate and teacher named Ammar showed me his contract. It stated his pay is 110 Egyptian pounds ($18.40) a month with an annual Labour Day bonus of ten pounds ($1.67).
“Stories of such abysmal remuneration are common in Egypt. Money, however, is not the only problem. There is also, in many workplaces across the country, the issue of what is called a ‘little Mubarak’—a manager who either embezzles, underpays or harasses his staff, or otherwise abuses the power he has over them.
“Having seen giants fall, many Egyptian workers have decided that now is the time to challenge workplace tyrants.”
On the other, the military is attempting to rein in the struggle and consolidate its control not just politically but economically—the military is itself a central part of the business class.
As Mackell wrote: “When asked whether it was because the army high command had links to the business elite, Egyptian journalist Ahmed Atteya told New Matilda, ‘they are the business elite’. He described close links between business, the armed forces, and the National Democratic Party, with generals trading khaki for pinstripe.”
Everywhere there are signs of military leaders testing the revolutionaries—arresting striking postal workers in Al Fayyum, condemning a young demonstrator, Amr el Beheiry, to five years in jail after a military tribunal and killing a woman in Suez as military police broke up a strike by port workers.
Troops guarding a key torture centre in Lazoghly Square in Cairo broke up a large demonstration in early March, firing into the air and beating protesters.
As Ibrahim al-Sahary explains in an article for the Centre for Socialist Studies website: “The army council is leading the counter-revolution … but the people still want the downfall of the regime. All the regime. And so the revolution will continue.”
For the moment, the momentum is with the workers and the revolution as they push to dismantle the rest of the Mubarak state. Thousands of protesters stormed the headquarters of the hated state security police in Alexandria, Cairo and several provincial cities.
The movement began in Alexandria. Hassan Mustafa, an activist with the left wing Democratic Popular Movement, told Al-Badil newspaper that he saw state security officers taking bags of shredded paper out of the police headquarters.
Determined to stop the destruction of evidence showing the role of state security in torture, thousands surrounded the building and broke down the doors.
The following day, similar protests sprang up across Egypt. The government retreated, with the Minister of Interior, Mansour El-Essawy, disbanding the security police.
The revolutionary process is very far from over. Completing the process of purging the institutions of the state will depend on pressure from the streets and the initiatives of revolutionaries.
Successfully disposing of the “little Mubaraks” can open the way to even deeper changes in society and a challenge to capitalism itself.