Thursday, April 17, 2008

EGYPT: Opposition Finds Renewed Strength

By Adam Morrow and Khaled Moussa al-Omrani

"CAIRO, Apr 17 (IPS) - What was planned as a workers' strike at a major textiles company turned into a nationwide protest against skyrocketing food prices Apr 6. Over the days following, the opposition has found renewed strength.

"April 6 was a watershed in the history of Egypt," Magdi Hussein, secretary-general of the Socialist Labour Party told IPS. "It will be studied by future students of political science."

Labour leaders from the state-owned Misr Company for Spinning and Weaving located in Mahalla town in Egypt's Nile Delta planned the strike against the soaring cost of living. The company's roughly 25,000 employees were seeking higher salaries and improved working conditions.

It would not be Mahalla's first serious labour action: in December 2006, workers staged a major strike over unpaid bonuses. The action -- after which company officials acceded to workers' demands -- encouraged a series of similar labour strikes throughout the course of last year in a number of industries.

The recent wave of labour unrest can be largely attributed to the rising cost of basic commodities, particularly food. According to recent estimates by the UN, expenditures on basic foodstuffs and services for the average Egyptian household have risen by some 50 percent since January.

But the Mahalla strike was destined to become something much greater in scope than originally intended......

As for the strike's principal supporters, several have since been detained by police on charges of instigating riots. These include several leaders of the Labour Party and the Kefaya movement, as well as a handful of the Facebook group's founding members.

Nevertheless, a second nationwide strike has been declared for May 4 to coincide with Mubarak's 80th birthday.

"The call for another strike, which we have endorsed, originated from supporters on the Internet," said Hussein. "It's becoming obvious that, in the absence of free and fair elections, political change cannot be realised without popular action.

"Fortunately, a new, politically-aware generation appears ready to lead it
," he added."

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