The revolution in Egypt is gaining new momentum. The strikes that began in the summer have stepped up. The hated Hosni Mubarak is on trial. And steel tycoon Ahmed Ezz was sentenced to ten years in jail on Thursday of last week for corruption.
“Strikes are breaking out all over the place,” Sameh Naguib, a member of the Revolutionary Socialists in Cairo, told Socialist Worker.
“The government is running around trying to give concessions to stop strikes even before they take place.”
Schools and colleges have been one focus of strikes and protests, including the elite American University in Cairo.
There, striking college staff united with protesting students who occupied parts of the university.
As well as protesting over pay, contracts and student fees, the action was over management corruption and members of state security still holding positions in the college.
One demand was for an investigation into the snipers witnessed shooting at demonstrators in Tahrir Square from rooftops in the university campus.
Such struggles are breaking out throughout Egypt, despite strikes being deemed illegal by the military council. Many are localised, as trade unions start to take root and get organised.
There is as yet only fragile national infrastructure in the workers’ movement.
But some workers have pulled off wider action. The first national teachers’ strike since 1951 continues.
Strikers not only face harassment from their government bosses, but also intimidation by attacks from security forces.
Their demands reflect the aspirations of so many workers in Egypt to clear out all the “little Mubaraks” from every part of society.
So they are calling for the resignation of the education minister, who was a leading figure in Mubarak’s former ruling party, as well as improvements in wages and conditions.
One striking teacher from Fayyum said, “I have been working for 28 years as a teacher, and I earn less than 1,000 Egyptian pounds a month.
“The education ministry is stuffed full of consultants on huge salaries and teachers get nothing. It is not right that there are people earning 100,000 Egyptian pounds while teachers are paid so little.”
The teachers demand an increase in education funding to at least 6.5 percent of GDP.
They want a school-building programme and a reduction in class sizes to no more than 30 children. Many classes have more than 60 students—and some are double that size.
Other struggles include thousands of sugar workers on strike in the Upper Egyptian Sugar Refineries, who want better pay and conditions, and for bosses from the old regime to be sacked.
At one mass meeting the strikers chanted, “Open strikes till the fall of the regime.” They also debated the situation in Palestine and the role of Western imperialism (see page 9).
What unites the struggles is a fusion of economic and political demands. Calls for basic improvements in the standard of living sit alongside fundamental challenges to the military government.
There is deep frustration at the slow pace of change and the continuing presence of members of the old regime in positions of power.
The Egyptian revolution is not narrowing down to a series of economically driven disputes. Instead, the working class struggles are the force pushing the revolution forward on every front.
The challenge that socialists face now, says Sameh, is to bring these struggles together.
“Every week there are tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of workers on strike on different days,” he said.
“We are fighting for a general strike coordinating committee so we can prepare for strikes that can unite the power of all workers.”
Judith Orr, Socialist Worker UK